Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jerusalem/New York


Very little has been written about the benefits of jet-lag, for instance, the fact that one can get a jump start on the new work day by being forced into wakefulness during the wee hours of the morning. Cocooned from daylight and the commerce of the woken world, mental preparedness can take place as well.

Sitting to my left at the dining room table at three in the morning is Little Babe. He, HOBB and I returned from our eleven-day trip to Israel last night and the transition back home could hardly have been more depressing. We left on a day of sterling clarity, cool breezes, shimmering Jerusalem sunshine, the wafting scent of trees and history and arrived back to gloomy skies, relentless rain, chilling winds and grey vistas along the New Jersey Turnpike, over the George Washington Bridge, down the West Side Highway and right up to the curbside on West 116th Street.

As the polluted rain pelted our windsheild, the final blessing of the weekly havdalah prayer kept running through my head: Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, hamavdeel ben kodesh l'chol.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, who distinguishes between the holy and the secular.

Being in Israel during Passover is one of the peak experiences of life. The weather is almost supernaturally beautiful, the country is united in a spirit of celebration and the complete cessation of work, the one-day chag comes as a revelation to those observant diaspora Jews saddled with the inconvenience of second-day Yom Tov and the often-dreaded second Seder, and the country at large seems to have fulfilled its biblical promise of redemption.

The Bungalow clan gathered in Jerusalem two Thursdays ago, Big Babe flying in from his writing perch in Berlin, Middle Babe joining us from her freshman year in college in Maryland, Little Babe in tow from New York. Though we had each been to Israel several times since our year-long sabbatical in 97/98, this was the first time in a few years that we were all together in the Holy Land.

Over the course of the eleven days that we shared, we figured out ways to blend and merge and diverge and pair off and try not to get on each others' nerves, our family of five ranging in age from 58 to nearly thirteen. Inevitably, there were dopey arguments and flared tempers and insults hurled in hotel rooms and on city streets, the rolling of eyes, huffy sighing and the temporary wish to be alone, however, an invisible, unbreakable thread of love and loyalty bound us together, an American Jewish family come to Israel two months before the Bar Mitzvah of their youngest member.

We shared a memorable seder with SOBB (Sister of Bungalow Babe) and her family in the glorious mountain-top community of Har Adar, took power walks through the hilly streets while regretting our failure to invest in local real estate, hiked in Ein Gedi during a hamsin, prayed at the Orthodox yet egalitarian Shira Hadasha service, now located in the Hartman Institute, hung out in cafes, went jet-skiing in Herziliyah, wandered through downtown Tel Aviv and sported on her beach, visited family gravesites, ate schwarma and kebabs, did the requisite mall-hopping, watched Al-Jazeera and BBC Worldnews and Skynews and Moroccan soap operas and Arab music videos and bad American movies and Israeli reality shows, meandered down the Ben Yehudah midrechov of Jerusalem, ate Kosher-for-Passover McDonald's Happy Meals, bought tefillin for Little Babe and a much-needed challah cover for our Urban Bungalow (our previous one got lost in last year's Pesach cleaning) and happily adopted the liberal Sephardic custom known as kitniot, feasting on chumus and felafel and bamba and rice cakes, experiencing a completely different taste of Passover.

As always, I experienced the revelatory normalization of being Jewish, of being am chofshi b'artzeinu, a free person in my own land.

Of course, there were the cabbies who cursed us out when we insisted on a metered ride, and the drivers bent on running over pedestrians and the pushing and lack of courtesy and the jerk who put his huge suitcase on top of my knapsack in the overhead luggage bin on the plane but these features of Israel suddenly seemed no more egregious than the hordes of Jew and Israel haters around the world, a surcharge, a small price to pay for being am chofshi b'artzeinu.

And on the very first day of our arrival, the root cause of contemporary anti-Zionism occured to me as I strolled through the streets of Har Adar: it is nothing rational or really political or related to land or territory or history but simply the resentment of all of this splendor, all that is beautiful and functional and right about Israel, about hilltop communities and cafes and malls and hospitals and schools and universities and restaurants and the simple if messy fact of Jewish nationhood.

And now, with the New York workday creeping closer and closer, I am left with the wrenching emotional process of reentry into my American life while clinging to the memory of the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, of walking through the streets of Jerusalem on the Shabbat of Pesach with my family at this moment in our shared and respective personal histories -- forty years after my first visit to this city in that glorious year after the Six Day War; seven weeks before the Bar Mitzvah of Little Babe -- of the hot dry wind of Ein Gedi and the sweet night air of Jerusalem mixing to form a balm for my recently exhilirated and now exiled soul.

2 comments:

Edoe said...

writing this comment from the hill tops of har adar... how right you are.

yeshar koach on a great blog post - capturing all the chaos of this energetic country that has its redemptive moments and airs to it.

welcome back to the big apple ;)

Alan said...

nice post. if you went to shira hadasha, you should be aware of the work the Shalom Hartman Institute does - celebrating the diversity you so eloquently describe. I won't use this space for a blatant plug, but our website has content and video that would be of interest.