What is real?

At lunch we were talking about the Israeli army.

S is here for a 6-month project and me and M work full time, year-round. We’re also both Israeli citizens, though I’m an immigrant and she’s a native.

S could not understand why Israel even needed an army. “Israel’s not at war.”

M and I stared at S and then I said, “Are you kidding? We’re always at war. There is no such thing as Israel not at war.” M went on to explain that Israel is surrounded by Arab countries who hate our existence. S asked, ‘If Israel has one of the strongest armies, and the Arabs were disorganized, why did we still need all this protection?’ I then countered, “In 1973, if Israel had not had a ridiculously strong army, there would be no Israel. No one was expecting that. How can we not be ready for another surprise? How do we know what is yet to come?”

Together me and M took S on a journey of our dangerous, yet necessary, existence.

Afterward, M pulled me over.

“I didn’t realize how knowledgable and intelligent you are.”

“Why of course, I’m so smart. I’m a genius,” I joked.

“No, really. With knowing all the stuff about Israel.” M looked serious.

“Oh. Well, that’s all I cared about for 5 years before I got here.”

“But the history, the facts… It shows you’re not just another American here to play games.”

“Oh… Did you think I was?”

“Well… you are American… They usually are, ‘I made aliyah, I am so great.’ And then they leave.”

“Mmm.”

“But you are not. You’re real…”

I looked at my shoes.

“…and you actually said ‘we’ like you’re really one of us. Like you actually served your ass in the Army. Gave away the best 2-3 years of your life to your country.”

Then I felt really stupid. I hadn’t served in the army. I only got here a year ago. I partied in college while she wore an itchy uniform and daydreamed about dancing. Who am I to include myself in the ‘we’ of Israel?

My embarrassment must have showed.

“…But you really care about it. None of it matters – You really are one of us.”

And then I felt like there was no where else I could have possibly wanted to be at that moment. One of my biggest fears had been disproven: a real, authentic Israeli friend has accepted me, for all my Americanness, for all my former life, for all my heavy accent, for all my not having served or grown up here.

The numbers of my teudat zehut, being earned everyday, are dancing before my eyes.