Am I supposed to be here?

It’s been 15 years since I came out to my family that I’d be moving to Israel after university finished. It was two years before the ‘disengagement’, it was during the second intifada, a couple years after Nefesh b’Nefesh started. I was searching for a lot of things, but I knew this much was true – I was definitely going to live in Israel and I was most likely not going to leave.

You could take any 15-year cross section of modern Israeli history and you’ll get more than a fair share of critical events, national milestones, ups, downs. It’s not that my 15 year cross section is any different or special. But it’s mine. And it leaves me hanging, grasping to pull myself up off the edge of a cliff and the thing is, I’m not really sure what is back up there where I have assumed I belong.

It’s different than being an American, I guess. Firstly, I’m an expat; I can get cross-eyed all I want at the State of Things but at the end of the day, aside from a bare annual tax return, I go to bed in my Israeli village. And America is a Big Problem, a Vast Problem. I’m not here to be part of that solution right now.

But Israel… it’s small. It’s mine. Isn’t that why I committed to here?

According to the acting government, it is – by birthright – and it isn’t – by standards I don’t share.

According to the citizens, well, it’s shred to pieces. King Solomon would be so sorry.

According to the Palestinians, it sure isn’t but it’s not clear what it indeed is, then.

According to everyone else, it’s no one’s really. It never really was ours and it never really was theirs.

I’ve watched promise after promise, government after government, coalition after coalition, liar after liar… polarization gets deeper. If the people who hold the power had their way, would they want me here? Am I supposed to be here?

So what happens next? I work hard and pay taxes and watch it all go in a direction I don’t want to be a part of? I always tell other people the pendulum swings back… but how long will this one take? Fight or flight. What’s the fight for this time? And how do we get started?

I used to feel like moving here allowed me to be a free Jew. I could pray freely, eat freely, practice freely. Except I’ve never felt so unfree ideologically. Whose Israel? Whose Judaism?

I don’t know. 15 years isn’t that long. It’s also really long if your Israeli and [secular/ national religious/ charedi/ reform/ liberal/ conservative/ unsure/ of European origin/ of Russian origin/ of Mizrahi origin/ of Arab origin/ of African origin/ gay/ refugee/ mentally ill/ physically disabled/ war veteran/ grieving mother/ chained wife/ farmer/ venture capitalist/ country folk/ city folk].

For better and worse, we’re all here. Beyond/despite/within 15-year intervals, I don’t think any of us are free.

To Be Israeli is to Be Free

2004. It’s really… just a dream.

What if we don’t wanna be the toy? A Eurovision post.

It’s can be so hard to be Israeli. It’s can be so hard to get shit all the time, from every direction. To never be able to ‘choose’ a side because the game is always changing and anyway, there is no side to choose; you’re at the center of it by existing where and when you exist.

It’s exhausting to read headlines. To constantly decide what to believe and by how much. To feel like a pawn. To feel out of control.

And… I don’t even like music contests.

But… hearing a woman who has the same name as my sabra daughter make the odds after two months of soft hype from all over Europe…

…carry herself with the confidence of a first world Olympics host country…

…win the goddam thing with message in tact…

…tell Europe to think different, celebrate diversity…

…dare to exclaim that she loves her country…

…and invites everyone to Jerusalem next year…

that just has to take the wind out from your chest, even for a few seconds.

You know what was weird? The feeling of waiting with bated breath for every country to speak their vote and to actually believe, truly feel, to, completely normally, expect, that any one of these countries’ representatives would let Israel float from their lips…

To be Israel, and feel normal.

I watched the second half of my first live Eurovision alone, in bed. When it started to look grim I felt a deep sadness that this fantasy would end but it was, after all, just fantasy. And when the ending became inevitable – when it wasn’t 100% yet but it just might be – I wanted to hold so many hands, nervously sway with so many people… And when second place was announced, I wanted to scream. I’m not a screamer. But from under my covers, in my little dark room, in my little suburban town, in my frighteningly small but mighty country, I wanted to run out into the street and scream and laugh and cry and jump up and down with everyone, with anyone, all the oddballs who call this place home.

After the live broadcast ended, I went straight for the headlines. Even though I usually avoid Israeli headlines. There’s only so much pain you can feel daily. I just wanted to see matching headlines. I just wanted to feel ‘normal’. And hovering above the smoke and gun powder and falling apart cement and police uniforms and rocket trails was… Netta. Was a winning Eurovision country.

Being Israeli is so damn hard. There’s no normal. There never will be. I guess every country has its shit. But I’m not convinced it has to be this hard for every country. But for a second, it felt normal.

…and then I opened Twitter.

The Prime Minister makes a PowerPoint

It’s night three of my daughter’s cough and it’s gotten much better. I’m sitting uncomfortably on the Hello Kitty stool next to the crib, with my forefinger making lines in her palm, my phone on ‘play’ in the other hand, and in my left ear, an earbud is loosely holding on.

The prime minister is making a point.

It’s been there all along. The Americans have been briefed. Iran lied, in large Times New Roman font.

A curtain is removed, revealing mischief, and another curtain is removed, revealing added mischief.

Binders and discs of menace. 110,000 shards of threat.

Slide after slide, graphic after graphic. Warhead drawing. Embedded incriminating video. Shabab in Times New Roman. Project Amad in Times New Roman. I wonder who was responsible for cleaning up the slides before they went on stage. I wonder if they felt like I do before my work goes on stage.

On some level, above or behind or despite the Prime Minister’s choicest phrases, we’re all wondering the same thing: how the hell did the Mossad agents on this project get away with this? And which non-Jew will star in the leading role someday?

The theatrical prime minister is making a point. In the age of social media, all he needs is a 90s-era PowerPoint, tens of thousands of documents stolen and smuggled from Iran in one January night, and Times New Roman.

Times New Roman, the universal language in making a point.

And then it’s morning, and I’m walking my daughter to gan, she’s shying away from the big black dog that hangs around the area. Parents are mumbling half-thoughts to their kids. Gates are squeaking open. Car doors slam. The sky is cloudy, the branches on the trees are ever-so swaying.

And looking around me, I remember last nigh. Huh. Just as simple as Times New Roman. We put ourselves out there in Times New Roman.

At 70, you get your own Snapchat filter.

Independence is affording the time to celebrate your existence.

Independence is getting your own Snapchat filter.

Independence is being proud of someone you never met named Netta.

Independence is the freedom to openly mourn your dead on your terms.

Independence is enjoying making choices on a global scale.

Independence is watching your kids grow up in a place where you chose to be and you are always.

Independence is being able to defend the people you love and the principles you live for.

We should all know and feel true independence, no matter where in the world you currently consider ‘home’.

Thoughts on another Israeli Memorial Day

All around, kids pick up bits and ask their parents…

“What is בן האבוד בלבנון?”
“What is מבצע אנטבה?”
“What does רומנטי mean?”
“Why is that kind of flower everywhere?”
“Did that שיר really happen?”
“Why do they put the flag down?”

On a walk through Har Herzl (Israel’s national cemetery) this morning, hearing about many many dead sons, it occurred to me that it will never matter what age my kids are; I will always wonder where they are, and the comfort of knowing where they are at any one time could maybe help ease the hard parts of being a parent.

And then I thought,

a., it’s not realistic, and

b.,

they may be somewhere that is as painful as not knowing where they are.

Oh, Jerusalem: High impact presentation of a high impact city

Every day I wake up, get myself and what feels like 3853075 other people ready for our routines, drag my ass to my car and eventually end up on the road into work.

The thing about that road is, it’s the road to Jerusalem.

And not just the road to Jerusalem, but the road to some of the holiest places, to billions of people.

And, begrudgingly, exhausted, sitting in my car, podcast-listening, sun-glare in my eyes, cursing at tunnel drivers, I forget this. Every, single, day.

But yesterday, I remembered. It’s been years since I looked around a room and thought, Oh, Jerusalem.

A co-worker signed us up for a 2-day intensive Dale Carnegie workshop on giving high impact presentations. I went in with no expectations; to be honest I’m too busy to have expectations these days. So I thought I’d get some public speaking tips and move on.

The course itself was incredible – an absolute mindfuck, actually – and maybe I will write about that another time. It doesn’t take a tenured psychologist to understand that my self talk when I present does not match the incredible feedback I got from peers (aka, in my mind, I have no right making  fun of Donald Trump for the insane shouting and hand gestures; I’m an ex-New Yorker too – but no one else seemed to see that or care).

By the end of the first day, after the 13 of us had each given several presentations, vulnerably, hilariously, warmly, I caught myself looking around and seeing the people in the room in a Jerusalem light. What a cliche, I thought. The Evangelical Christian, the Muslim Arab, the Hassidic Jew, the national religious Jew, the modern observant Jew, the traditional Jew, the secular Jew. Educators, non-profit do-gooders, community organizers, procurers of Zionist fervor, ambassadors of Startup Nation. European accent. Russian accent. Various Anglo accents. Arab accent.

So Jerusalem.

Then today, we came back. Presenting our passions – social causes, educating teens on dealing with academic stress, getting Christians and Jews to repair centuries of damage, making the Jewish Quarter of the Old City a more pleasant place. Creating opportunity for anyone to invest in innovation. Bringing young Jews to Israel to fall in love and move here. Empowering Jewish women to take back their power.

How very… all over the place.

Our trainer from the States had to say it. I had wondered yesterday if he had thought it, and then here he was at the end of day two, and he had to say it. This place… it’s moving, it makes you think, it’s powerful. Look at all of you here, together. It gives you hope. 

You know, I should hear it more often. I’m in Jerusalem every day. Getting my things together, scrambling to the car. Foot alternating between gas and brake pedals, weaving past signature white stone. Driving on an ancient road that eventually gets you to one of the holiest places for billions of people. Just ten minutes from where I spend the majority of my day time figuring out new ways to invite people to invest in this place. Ten minutes from where billions of people throughout history have invested so much energy and time and emotion.

I should hear it more often – it gives you hope.

Oh, Jerusalem.

New parenting level unlocked: Israeli school children on Yom HaZicaron

Here’s the scene. A mother is playing out her son’s childhood through a laundry metaphor. First the onesie. Then the tzitzit. School uniform shirt. Pants. Teenager jeans. Button down shirt. Army tzitzit.

When she gets to the army uniform, there’s a ‘knock at the door.’ She sees the soldier. She crumples. He salutes. She cries into her son’s uniform.

This is the opening performance at my first grader’s school’s memorial ceremony for Yom HaZikaron.

New level of Israeli parenting unlocked.

I had arrived just a little early, to find my boy, and offer him a hat. I had forgotten to give him one and we’re out in the sun. I wave at him and gesture with the hat. He smiles and shakes his head. None of his buddies are wearing hats. Of course.

I’m watching this scene, this bat sherut (an 18-20 year old doing her national service) play out this ‘knock at the door’ scene – the same kind of scene Prime Minister Bibi described himself going through today. She’s playing this scene that her friends’ parents may or may not experience in the coming months. There’s been the stink of warmongering in the air. The soldier who knocks at the door is a boy I’ve known since he was a toddler. He’s in fifth grade.

I look at my son; I can only see the back of him. He’s whispering with his friend. The back of his neck is turning red from the sun. He’s so light-skinned.

When he’s in the army, will he remember sunscreen? Will he just burn all the time?

I’m watching the older grade school kids sing and speak of the dead. I’m watching the other grade school kids watch this, sitting cross-legged on the basketball court. The kids all look so serious. The older kids carry out their roles with a deep sense of urgency.

I’m looking around. There are kids here I’ve known since they were babies. Ten months. Two years. They are tall, skinny things now. Messy hair. Toothy smiles. Quick glances at their moms in the back row.

There are places my kids will go where there won’t be any sunscreen. Decisions they’ll have to make where there won’t be a right one. I won’t be there in that moment. That’s the reality, I suppose, of making the decision to create children. You just understand it way too late. When it hits, you’re too deep in love. You’ll never not feel this twisted pain again. Ever.

After the knock at the door, I look around at the other parents and notice we are all crying. A few of us are immigrants. Many lived through this as students, siblings, and soldiers too.

My son’s still whispering with his best friend. Two seven-year-old boys in knit kippot, scruffy hair, white school t-shirts.

Seven years in, here we are.

We’ve only just begun.

Questions I answer for my kids on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Winner of this year’s national Poster Competition for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.

I’m not against the early, introductory Holocaust education of nursery and kindergarten aged kids. I think it’s a reality and if done right and age appropriately, it can enrich as opposed to stir excessive fear. It’s a hot debate in Anglo-immigrant circles; many people are taken aback by the openness. But I didn’t move here to hide from reality. I would have stayed in America for that.

During dinner tonight, after my kids sang a song that involved a certain debatable chocolate cake, we got to talking about race – you know, the כושי conversation – and navigated toward American slavery – and swerved through what it means to have different skin colors – and landed on Holocaust. What can I say, my older kids had talks, lessons, ceremonies about it today.

“Those bad guys… ummm… what are they called again?”

“Nazis.”

“Yeah, Nazis – so did the Jews say nu nu nu to them?”

“Ummmm no…”

“But you said when someone is bad to us we should yell at them.”

“Yeah… but Nazis had a lot of power. The Jews had none. You know, a lot of people died.”

“Six million!”

“…oh. That’s precise. Did anyone say that had savtot rabot or sabim rabim that were there?”

“Yeah!”

“You know, ours weren’t. They were in other places. Like America.”

“And did they help?”

“Umm…”

“But America helped them?”

“…did they?”

“And England.”

“Yes… they eventually helped. England helped.”

“And Hashem!”

“Uh huh.”

“But if our savta raba is now 101 she was 30 when it happened?”

“I guess about that…”

“Because it was 71 years ago…”

“That’s also precise…”

“I did subtraction!”

“You sure do learn a lot in school.”