A Zionist Love Story II
This article expands the metaphor I drew of Israel as a “husband” which I introduced in my first blog of this series. Read it here.
When I got off the El Al plane with the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight, which I joined as in-flight press, I admit I felt like French-kissing the land. It had been year since we’ve seen each other.
Only my love was different than the starry-eyed love I encountered among the new olim (immigrants to Israel) about to enjoy the Nefesh B’Nefesh welcome reception, which I likened to a wedding ceremony with the Jewish State. Mine was a mature, sober, and oft-times embattled love I had developed as an olah of nine years.
As I traveled the road to Jerusalem, I felt like I was making love to a body of land I knew so intimately. I felt the muscular curves of the fleshy hills, the bristles of the leaves and grass, the thrusts of the stone towers. I could close my eyes and feel the enveloped in a passion that once gave me so much pleasure—and so much pain.
But I didn’t get too mushy or sentimental during my month-long reunion with the land.
For example, at the “wedding ceremony”, where the Nefesh B’Nefesh olim were greeted by Israeli dignitaries, I retained stoic cynicism as Knesset opposition leader Tzippi Livni declared Israel’s love to us, saying “there is no politics when it comes to you, and I represent to you today, not the opposition, not the government, but the people of Israel who loves you, wants you to be here, and welcome you today, in Israel.”
I observed with emotional detachment my lover’s achievements, which once made my Zionist heart go pitter-patter: names of streets and highways named after Jewish sages and heroes; the language of the Bible revived for Jews to conduct bank transactions and sing pop songs; the avodah ivrit (Hebrew labor) of the progeny of Jewish victims of persecution, now café owners, computer programmers, and fashion designers; the happening nightlife scene for stylish Jews whose ancestors wore long black coats in stuffy study halls.
And I had a wonderful time precisely because I wasn’t swayed by addicted, heart-throbbing love and lust.
This time Israel and I weren’t so possessive of each other, although my friends still exhort me to come back. I enjoyed the land without the pressure of “I have to stay here or our enemies will have won.” Talk about a romance killer. It’s like staying in a bad marriage for the kids’ sake. Marriage requires a sense of obligation, but there should also be the element of volition.
We didn’t get into too many fights (most of the time) because I already knew how to deal with Israel’s annoying idiosyncrasies. For example, aware of how much driving and parking through the crowded Tel Aviv streets frustrate me, I prepared my EasyPark (nifty pre-paid car meter) in advance while mapping out the roads so I don’t end up in another city. When I did get lost, I laughed it off, chiding Israel for being so convoluted.
But what I enjoyed most was the fact that Israel simply knows me so well—more than any other place on earth. In Israel, I don’t feel like a stranger. He gets me—my past as a Jewish day school student; my questions about Biblical texts that inspired the creation of this country; my mixed Polish-Iraqi Jewish ancestry; my yearning for world perfection. He appreciates the wild side of me that gets down on the dancefloor and the serious side of me that paints biblical portraits.
Within one month, I connected with several new people in ways I haven’t during my entire year in Los Angeles. We rarely had to make plans to meet (with one side flaking); rather, we met at a moment’s notice and talked about life and love as if we had known each other for years.
And even though Israel had jerked me around sometimes, he loves me. He’ll be there for me when I need him, to take me in his arms and protect me—or at least try to—from people who envy our relationship. He tries to be my hero. He tries.
Still, I feel like I got married to Israel too young. I made aliyah at age 20, and I never really got to experience the world as a self-aware, secular adult. I’ve changed, and, while I’d be in denial if I said I didn’t still have strong feelings for Israel, I want to play the field. I don’t want our marriage to turn into a bored, sexless rut.
I realize I never really divorced Israel. He never gave me a get (Jewish writ of divorce). I’m an agunah, and we are bound to each other forever.
So I’m having an affair with my old friend, America. We respect and admire each other, but sometimes I wonder if there’s enough passion. There’s very little possessiveness and we rarely get into fights. Our relationship is almost too respectful, sweet and polite. And women, whether we like it or not, always like a “bad boy” streak.
But I need a relaxed, low key relationship right now, one that will let me explore other sides of me without having any claims on my soul.
In the meantime, let my desire for Israel, and his for mine, build up so deeply that when I come back we’ll ravage each other, just like the fresh Nefesh B’Nefesh olim did as they made aliyah (ascent to Israel), but with a renewed brew of passion, reason, and self-knowledge.
And when I make aliyah again, which I’m sure I will, I won’t fall in love with Israel. I’ll ascend in love.