Remembering Israel at 50.

With all the Israel at 60 talk going on, I can’t for the life of me remember the Israel at 50 celebrations, which I would imagine were a bigger deal, as the Jubilee number as well as the generally accepted major number in counting anniversaries. I wasn’t yet in Israel at that point, so maybe it didn’t seem as significant.

Today, while searching through my old bedroom, I came across this token:

Israel at 50 pin

Whatever I was doing, I must have received that pin. One clue to the ongoing mystery…

There are no jukim in America.

Usually when I touch down in JFK, flying over Queens at dawn, I get teary-eyed and patriotic for my hometown. I’ve been pretty emotional about New York since I left; even before I left.

Maybe it’s because I landed here today coming off the Presidents Conference, or maybe it’s been a year and four months since I’ve last visited, or maybe it’s all the changes I’ve undergone since last time I was in New York… But as soon as I saw the straight rows of yellow lights lining Far Rockaway from over the wing of the plane, I don’t know. I wasn’t feeling it. I missed the chaos of Jerusalem streets. I thought about the forest I live in, the bare roads I take to get to work. The green, the brown, the blue, the white.

Usually when I get into my parents’ car our of JFK, driving through Queens and Brooklyn, I get culture-shocked in awe of the bigness, the vastness that I have so quickly forgotten in three and a half years.

Maybe it’s because I have really built a quality life for myself, or maybe it’s because I’m doing more there in Israel than I ever imagined I’d be doing in the New York daily grind, or maybe it’s because in Israel, every single moment seems to count for something… But as soon as we passed the giant shopping centers, when I saw the first advertisements off the highway, and after viewing jeep after 4×4 after four wheel drive… I don’t know. I’m not feeling it. I just start to feel really bad for people living here.

Have I turned my motherland into a place for fun shopping? A place to be in awe, but in a not so comfortable way? And wouldn’t that make sense, that she did it to herself? Staring at these over sized products, overgrown people, at these American phenomena…

I’m interested to see how this develops over the next week and a half that I’m visiting New York. Is this a no-turning-back point for me in my aliyah or perhaps in my self-imposed American exile? Is this something we all acquire with age? Or with stepping back?

If nothing else, I am really enjoying walking barefoot over carpet and inhaling the fresh smell of hardwood floors.

If Elie Weisel were my grandfather…

I want Elie Weisel to come tuck me in at night and tell me stories… They don’t all have to be depressing just because they come from a Nobel Peace Prize-winning, bestselling author of a Holocaust survivor.

Although they would probably all be dramatic. Here is Mr. Weisel telling his favorite, inspiring story at the end of his talk on the second day of the Presidents Conference in Jerusalem:

Chilling with the presidents: Peres conference overview.

I was fortunate enough to score an invite to President Shimon Peres’ Facing Tomorrow: Israeli Presidential Conference, which went down over the last three days in the ICC.

It soon became clear that the opening panel of the first night was the crux of the event, at least for me, holding more importance than President Bush addressing the audience last night. It was a panel of over a dozen presidents or former leaders of nations from around the world. That list included the past or present leaders of Albania, Croatia, Latvia, Mongolia, Palau, Poland, Rwanda, Slovenia, Former Soviet Union, Uganda, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

There are two incredible points I picked up from this opening ceremony:

As a colleague of mine pointed out, this was an amazing moment for recent history. Just twenty years ago, statesmen of this caliber and specifically of several of those nations would not have acknowledged the technological triumphs and creative spirit of Israel, never mind stepped foot on our soil to do so.

Yet here we were, me on one end of the room witnessing Mikhail Gorbachev and the presidents of Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and more singing the praises of the State of Israel. They expressed pride in the technological creativity of the young country, as well as pride at knowing there are citizens of their own countries living here and contributing to that spirit. I found that especially ironic, but let’s not dwell on the details.

This was a moment that our grandparents would never have dreamed of, and for better or worse, here I was sitting in that room, hearing it with my own ears (in Russian, at least).

It was also the first time I’ve been to a conference centered on Israel that did not focus on conflict, terrorism, Palestinians, peace processes – at least, solely. The aim Peres was going for was to celebrate the State of Israel in its sixtieth year.

Major PR stunt, yes, but why the hell not gloat about Israel’s amazing accomplishments with regards to science, technology, medicine, agriculture and more? Israel has contributed to the rest of the world over and over again and to focus on that for once made me incredibly proud to be in the audience.

In addition, conflict issues were mentioned plenty, enough to show that the peace process and two-state solution are something Israel is serious about, but not enough to overshadow and depress the goals of the conference.

I admire Shimon Peres’ worldliness and the way he is putting it to use in his presidency. The Israeli presidency is often compared to the British royalty, which I’ve always thought as unfair: it’s about the president and what s/he does with the position. Peres is clearly using it to build relationships as well as Israel’s modern, first-world image.

Presidents panel

The Presidential panel

Shimon Peres and Tony Blair catching up

Two old friends catching up?

Shimon Peres, President of Israel

Man of the hour

Presentation

Miri Misika and the conference theme

Miri Misika and the conference theme

Hatikva, lead by Masa and Taglit participants

Brand new Bamba for the same old Sabra.

Last week someone introduced me to a brand new concept for the makers of a very old concept:

Nougat cream filled-Bamba.

Bamba has been around for decades, having been created by Israelis for Israelis. I suppose that’s why its maker, Osem, decided to issue a brand-new flavor around the time of Israel’s 60th birthday.

It’s actually really really awesome (Osem?) and I would suggest trying it out. I’m not much of a Bamba eater on a regular basis but once in a while, a little taste of primitive Israel is nice.

Here are a few facts about Bamba:

  • Osem created strawberry flavored Bamba, shaped as spheres, a few years back.
  • The snack has survived since 1963 with no decline in sales.
  • It contains no cholesterol, food coloring or preservatives.
  • Remember when I had a dog? She really liked Bamba.

 

An Israeli county fair in the dream of aliyah.

Spent the evening strolling around the Yom Haatzmaut celebration going on in the Tzur Hadassah elementary schoolyard. Clowns, kids, silly string, shaving cream, noise makers, cotton candy, lights, balloons… This no singles’ event.

I started reading old entries from a few years ago, describing my purpose for moving to Israel, my role in the aliyah movement, my reasons for coming here. It’s only now that I’m starting to realize the actuality of all my fancy words and dreamy descriptions. I can have kids in this small town and they can run around with all kinds of different friends and come to a “county fair” on Yom Haatzmaut and not worry about having to explain what that means.

I can actually see this in all the other kids running around here. They never give a thought to what it might be like to be surrounded by people who don’t understand. This is life: small Israeli town, big Jewish holidays. Everyday life and Jewish meaning colliding. As much as we allow it. And, man, would I be willing to allow it.