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November 9, 2010

‘That’s Israel for You’...and other Shtuyot

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/thats_israel_for_youand_other_shtuyot_20101109/

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A runner I happened to pass in Jerusalem one morning. Kol HaKavod (all the respect)! May we all follow his example!

“That’s Israel for you,” the police officer told me when I complained that people were littering on the beach.

“That’s Israel for you,” my friend shrugged after a granny elbowed me in the back so she could pass me quicker in the shuk.

“That’s Israel for you,” an oleh chadash (new immigrant) from my ulpan said after waiting two hours in the misrad klita (absorption office).

That’s Israel?

I don’t think so. And frankly, all that “that’s Israel”-ing is fraying my last nerve. See, it’s never said with awe or appreciation. Wouldn’t it be more apropos to come home from the Kotel on Friday night after witnessing the unparalleled joy, unity and celebration there to say, “that’s Israel for you”? Or, to look out the window on your drive north past the sprawling date orchards and vegetable fields using modern, green-friendly irrigation to then say, “that’s Israel for you”? Or to open the newspaper to Israel’s responsive, undiscriminating and sophisticated world aid and say, “that’s Israel for you”? But, no. Nine times out of ten, “that’s Israel for you,” is a socially-acceptable form of complaining; an all-too-popular way to dismiss all the beauty and merit of life in Israel and instead focus on the inconveniences, the negatives.

This came to a head one day when I shared with my ulpan class that I’d had to wait an hour in the post office to send a package.
“That’s Israel for you,” one classmate said.
Poor thing, I had to let her have it.
“No, it’s not!” I said, perhaps a bit too strongly. “It’s a post office and no matter where you are they are excruciatingly slow and stupidly annoying!” (Definitely not my most eloquent moment, but I mean, am I right or am I right? A trip to a Los Angeles post office also consumes an insane amount of time. At least in Israel, there are chairs and the staffers at my local branch have some enthusiasm about their work.)

Admittedly, my outburst was misplaced. (Sorry, Gila-le.) Truth is, I know my classmate appreciates Israel. She’s an oleh chadash. She sees so much good in Israel that well into her 30s, she picked up her entire life and moved here from Australia. That’s no small thing. But, she bore the brunt of my frustration because these thoughtless quips contribute to an unappreciative mentality that I believe, could ultimately be quite destructive.

While meant in jest, these comments contain truth, real issues that people have with life in Israel. That’s fair enough, after all, no place is perfect. But when these aggravations are used to summarize the entirety of life in a place, the consequence, however seemingly mild at the time, is negative. Those comments communicate “life is bad here and better somewhere else”; and easily lead to the thought, “so, I should leave.” Each time we put Israel down and boil her down to her imperfections, we strengthen this undermining train of thought.

Then, it should be no surprise that a shocking number of Israelis would leave Israel if they could. The West is overly idealized anyway. Israel is forever put down by the world and by Israelis themselves. So, congratulations to us all, by endorsing this form of self-hatred, we’re successfully contributing to such lack of appreciation that many believe the comments, and would leave altogether if given the chance. And why? Because we can’t help but exaggerate the hassle of waiting at the post office, for example, as if those annoyances don’t exist everywhere.

Nope, patriotism is so not cool today. I’ve seen it in the States. I’ve seen it in Israel. There’s this trend where it’s oh-so-chic to be blasé, to apathetically bemoan this or that.  Meanwhile – me? I love to see the flag waving in Israel. Sometimes I just stop and notice it. I think to myself, “I’m so lucky to live right now, where this exists. I’m so grateful that I realize how special this is. I am so happy to be here.” But as soon as I share that sentiment with certain people, I notice the eye roll. Cynical comments race between their ears. It’s visible. They agree with me, but expressing it feels overly-romantic, corny or naïve. It’s far more comfortable to criticize and whine. But, I don’t renig or apologize. Call me crazy, I think there’s room for simple appreciation. And Israel is a long-awaited, exquisitely-beautiful, priceless gift that deserves every drop of our adoration.

The absence of modern, healthy Zionism around the world, but particularly among Jews and Israelis themselves troubles me greatly. How will others recognize our value and merit if we don’t? One simple step we can all take is to watch our mindless blathering. Those carping comments don’t help. Israel is our home and she is good. And if we want to say, “that’s Israel for you,” how about we all open our eyes and use it to describe any one of the miraculous, beautiful, shining examples of life in Israel all around us. And, for those of you who don’t see the good, because maybe you heard the complaints one too many times, go to the Kotel on Friday night. Or, drive up north past the green, blooming fields. Or educate yourself on the numerous contributions Israel has made that the entire world benefits from daily. And you’ll find that swell in your chest and have reason to say, “that’s Israel for you.”

 

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