Dear Israel: I Love You, But I’m Losing You

Dear Israel,

I love you.  With all my heart.  And yet, I am afraid we’re growing apart.

I love you because you are the home of my parents.  They were born there.  My mother’s mother’s side was with you for generations.  You saved my mother’s father from the Holocaust.  You brought in my father’s Iranian family with love.

You’ve guided my growth as I’ve become religious, helping me realize what it truly means to be a Jew.  I’ve walked through your ancient streets and lived with you for years.

I love you because you’re complicated.  I love how my grandmother’s family was saved by her neighbors, a Palestinian family, when other Palestinians were rioting, hunting for Jewish blood.  I love how that description alone defies any political delineations.

I love you because you’re beautiful.

I love you because of the way your people talk, and their beautiful accent and intonations.

But, like I said, I fear I am losing you.

I moved back to America two years ago.  And since I have arrived, that feeling of losing you has gradually increased.  Step by step, moment by moment, I’ve been falling out of touch, falling away from our love affair.

When I was with you, I saw you in reality, away from hype, away from controversy.  I walked through your marketplaces, ate from your food, came to know your people, whether they were religious, Jewish, or otherwise.  I knew you as you are.  With your beauty, your warts, your failures, and your successes.  You were as anyone is: a flawed divine creation.

But now I’m here, and I see you only through a filter.  I see you the way the news sees you.  The way the media, and Facebook, and everyone else discusses you.

And the way they discuss you has nothing to do with what you actually are.

The world has turned you into a political animal, an existence defined based on one sliver of your identity, one that isn’t even permanent, but has come to appear that way because of the obsession of the world.

That’s your “conflict”.  Your difficulties with the world, with the Palestinians, with foreign relations.

BDS.  SodaStream.  Peace talks.  John Kerry.

These are the words that surround you now.  Not “beautiful spices” or “place of spiky honesty covering soft love” or “refuge, savior, of my people”.

You have become politicized.  People are polarized.  No one actually looks at what you are, but at what they want to turn you into.  Even worse, they define you by a reaction to their adversaries.

Your “enemies”, they’re obsessed with taking you down.  Like conspiracy-theorists, they refuse to look at any evidence that perhaps you are more complicated than an evil entity acting out the same horrors your people escaped from.  There is no subtlety when it comes to these people.  They want to destroy you, whether by destroying your identity or your actual existence.

These are the loud, shrill, ones.  The ones that troll you on the net, that find every article about you, no matter how disconnected from politics, and remind us that every and all discussions about you have to return to that.  That you can’t just be.  That you have no identity outside of that.

And then there are the ones whose side I am supposed to take.  Because my parents are Israeli, because I’m technically “pro-Israel” (what does that even mean?), because I love you.

AIPAC, StandWithUs, every campus lobby group, pro-Israel writers… all of them, they’ve turned you into some sort of saint.  Some sort of do-nothing-wrong entity.  They write about how you go to Haiti and save little orphans, how you are a home for homosexuals, how you are the freest place in the middle east.

All of that is so true.  So true, because you really are wonderful.

But when that’s all one hears about you, when that’s all you’ve become, when you’ve become your own PR tool, just something that exists to make itself look good (in their eyes), then you become inhuman, you become hard, empty, and unreal.  All those acts of good lose meaning because they seem like advertisements instead of acts of genuine good.  Like “NBA Cares” or other empty corporate shtick.

You are your own propaganda.

And with each step forward into that realm, as each side tugs on you, and makes your identity not just more polarized, but completely and utterly polticized, I know you less and less.  I am pushed away from your reality and towards the fantasy epic, Lord of the Rings-style battleground that the world loves to turn you into.

I don’t want that.  And I think the rest of the world doesn’t really either.

Why does Birthright succeed?  Because people actually get to meet you, get to know you, even if only briefly, even if only through a lens.

Who are the people that seem to be willing to either defend you or at least not go after you with bile? The ones who have visited you, or worked with you, or worked with your citizens.

Because when you get to know someone, things change.  I had the same experience with Palestinians when I worked as an extra in a movie.  It’s through the knowing that we see the shades of reality.  It’s through interaction that we look past politics and towards personhood.

You are no longer a person to the majority of the world.  You are a politician.  And people feel they have some moral obligation to vote on whether you should stay in office, or at least whether they agree with you or not.

But you are not a politican, you are a living breathing, creation.  One that doesn’t deserve to be dehumanized by both the people who hate you and the people who love you.

You deserve to have an identity beyond politics.  Beyond “pro” and “anti”.

Then, and only then, will the people outside of you understand you, connect with you.  Only then will there be any fruit grown from the positive message your lovers try to spread about you.  Only then will real peace be achieved.

Because you can’t find peace with a zombie, a lifeless existence. You can only love a person.

  • Shoshannah

    Wow – no words other than I am sharing this Todah!

  • Rick Rotman

    True of any meaningful relationship (person, place, thing). You can only truly know something through first-hand experience. Of course, readers will tell you to move back to Israel if you feel you are losing her.

    • Shoshannah

      That’s very ironic actually – other nations telling the Jews to go home.

  • gabi532

    The irony is that this also sounds like a love story by an adoptee visiting their birthland for the first time…Food for thought.

  • HS

    Hmmm…I think it, and you write it. How are you doing that?
    But to be clear, I think this black-or-white image of Israel has been created by American Jews that either feel guilty for not living in Israel (AIPAC, etc) or that feel guilty for feeling guilty for not living in Israel (anti-Israel/”Pro Palestinian” Jews) and both groups have just become reactions to the other, instead of reacting to the real Israel.
    The average Israeli will be the last person to claim that Israel is the “best” or “perfect”, and also the last person to say that they don’t support Israel.

  • Guest

    As an Israeli, Living in Israel I’m feeling quite the same, For me the military service in the west bank was the point of change for me, seeing nice Palestinians that brought me and my friends food and greeted us, and on the other hand seeing settlers that told me to not let a Palestinian construction worker get inside the settlement and let him wait for an hour outside of the settlement-during that time He talked to me and I saw a man that just want to feed his wife and 2 children, he suffer from the conflict for what purpose?
    what we accomplish by that?

  • Dani

    I Can Tell you As an Israeli, Living in Israel I’m feeling quite the same, For me the military service in the west bank was the point of change for me, seeing nice Palestinians that brought me and my friends food and greeted us, and on the other hand seeing settlers that told me to not let a Palestinian construction worker get inside the settlement and let him wait for an hour outside of the settlement-during that time He talked to me and I saw a man that just want to feed his wife and 2 children, he suffer from the conflict for what purpose?
    what we accomplish by that?

    • Milhouse

      What we accomplish by that is that the Jews living in that town (which you call a “settlement”) will not be murdered in their beds. Because you have no way of knowing that this Arab was not planning to do so, or that the next one will not. If there were no Arab murderers there would be no need to guard Jewish towns and villages; but there are, so all the nice Arabs must suffer too, because we cannot tell in advance who is nice and who is not.

    • Lucy

      In all fairness, there were many cases of construction workers attacking Jews for absolutely no reason other than Jew hatred:

      http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/23371/Default.aspx?article=related_stories

      The settlers have reasons to fear for their safety, the Arabs don’t.

  • Bentzy

    Best line: It’s through the knowing that we see the shades of reality.

  • Rachel Landes

    This is amazing. Your writing fills an aching void in the Jewish world.

  • Milhouse

    Of course Israel is very far from perfect. But put it this way: if someone accuses your mother of some horrible list of crimes, you will defend her, you will stand up for her, and you will recite all of her good points, while taking care not to draw attention to any of the flaws I’m sure she has. You will make her out to be a saint, even if you know she isn’t, because saint or not she is completely innocent of everything she’s being accused of. She isn’t accused of the things you know need improvement, so you have no need to acknowledge them in your interaction with her accusers. When talking within the family you may mention them, but they are nobody else’s business.

  • Lucy

    I have to disagree when you try to draw a paralell between the attitudes of Israel’s enemies and of pro-Israel orgs, as if they were opposite sides of the same coin. This is simply not true.

    While Israel suffers with an unjustifiable campaign of delegitimization, most pro-Israel groups just try to show a positive — and unseen — side of the country, while asking its critics to judge it by the same standards as all others countries. Even the most extreme pro-Israel groups criticize the country and its government.

    This part of the text reminds me of something that Richard Landes calls “the blindness of even-handedness”

  • Guest

    I have to disagree when you try to draw a paralell between the attitudes of Israel’s enemies and of pro-Israel orgs, as if they were opposite sides of the same coin. This is simply not true.

    While Israel suffers with an unjustifiable campaign of delegitimization, most pro-Israel groups just try to show a positive — and unseen — side of the country, while asking its critics to judge it by the same standards as all others countries. Even the most extreme pro-Israel groups criticize the country and its government.

    This part of the text reminds me of Richard Landes “The Blindness of Even-Handedness”

  • MisTBlu

    My experience of Israel, both while I was there and with the Israelis I met while traveling outside the country is that NOTHING will change until she does away with mandatory military service. It poisons the minds of young people and with rare exception, freezes an image of “the enemy” that is almost impossible to thaw. Groups such as Breaking the Silence are vital to an understanding of how/why the tensions continue and why the efforts toward peace are so fruitless. https://www.facebook.com/BreakingTheSilenceIsrael