June 24, 2008 | 5:52 pm
You don’t mess with the Orit
Posted by Orit Arfa
So I really wasn't expecting to like the new Adam Sandler movie, You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Why would a heroic Israel counter-terrorist agent who's an expert at whipping evil Arab tuchus give up his heroism to become a hair stylist in New York, as the Zohan says, to make people's hair "silky, smooth?"
It all sounded so silly.
But a few minutes into the movie I already changed my mind. No--it's not silly, not silly at all. In fact, I can really relate to the Zohan.
Since moving to Israel almost nine years ago, my life has been a chronic quest for physical and existential survival. Once the intifada exploded a few months into my arrival as a new immigrant, I went from a wide-eyed Zionist reveling in a relatively peaceful Israel to a searcher grappling with questions of Jewish life and death. How should Israel deal with those bent on its destruction? What are the ethical parameters to the use of force? How should we Israelis conduct our lives amidst these constant threats?
I tried to enjoy my twenties as best as possible even as I mourned the dead and wounded. I toured the country, danced in its nightclubs, prayed at the kotel on a whim--but even in these normalized moments, a fear and frustration permeated my being: fear over getting blown up at any moment and frustration over the government's not doing too much about it.
I concluded, after being a believer in the Oslo peace process, that Israel must fight back and never retreat from its lands. And I fought for what I believed in--through op-eds, articles, and, most impactful to me, venturing into Gaza during the Disengagement. In Gaza I felt most like the Zohan--too bad my targets were my own countrymen. I snuck into the settlements of Gush Katif with a fake ID and flirted with and sang to the soldiers to get them to refuse orders to evacuate Jews. Unlike the Zohan, though, I didn't harm anyone--Jew or Arab.
I lost that fight, and the fight over Israel's internal injustices and external enemies is far from over. But I wonder if I have a standing chance. The collectivism, favoritism, and corruption rampant in both Israeli and Arab governments and society makes it difficult for me to create change. The political system is flawed, and I don't want to fight according to its rules.
Zohan left Israel because he wondered: what's the point? He had caught the wily "Phantom", his Arab terrorist arch-nemesis, but the government traded the Phantom in a deal. And now they ask him to fight again? For what? So they could give the terrorists back? So that all the lives sacrificed in the wars are in vain? Should I fight for harsh retaliation or for the integrity of the land when the government will trade my victories and only make Israel more precarious?
Of course, there is the less intellectual reason: I'm burnt out.
Sometimes I wonder what I would have done I had never became a Zionist or idealist. I probably would have stayed in LA and pursued a career in entertainment. Acting, like the Zohan's hairdressing, was always a little dream that I couldn't pursue in Israel as anything more than a hobby.
But now I'm thinking of moving back to my hometown of LA and becoming an actress.
I told my parents, and they reacted with the same skepticism Zohan got from his: "What, you want to be a struggling actress?" The profession strikes them as so undignified for such a "smart girl like you."
But maybe it's time that I, like the Zohan, fulfill my selfish dreams--take a break from the fighting, the wars.
No matter what I decide, I know my past will come back to haunt me--just like the Phantom came to New York to take down the Zohan. I cannot escape my love for Israel and my desire to fight for the good in it. Either I will return, or the fight will come back to LA, in some way.
Hopefully, I'll find some of my personal and national happy ending in America. The movie, perhaps unwittingly, offers a solution to the conflict: the principles of individualism still sacred in America. In the movie Israelis and Palestinians lived together because they preoccupied themselves with making better lives. In the US, the impartial, unpoliticized police force is charged with keeping order to prevent criminality and violence between different ethnicities.
I believe that ultimately peace will reign in Israel when the governments create the conditions necessary for its citizens to realize dreams with dignity and without fear: whether to become a hairstylist, a shoe salesman, a businessman, or an actress. I speak from experience when I say that living in a country run only by Jews will not bring Jews happiness--and I'm sure Arabs living under only Arabs will not bring them happiness. Feeling safe to pursue our passions (which do not include jihad) will.
I don't know if my journey back to Hollywood will be so "silky smooth." And, unlike, the Zohan, I don't plan to sleep my way to the top. But for now I'll stop trying to be a real-life heroine in the land of Israel. Hopefully, though, I can play one.
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