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It's the type of event that usually makes me feel uncomfortable; that underscores my American-ness, my otherness, the fact that - try as I may - I don't completely fit in here, and never will.
There they were, hundreds of Israelis milling around in the desert, waiting for the military show to begin. They had their food, their cameras, their extended families - they seemed to know what they were about.
Insecurity grips me in such settings. I get edgy knowing that by some freak Israeli law of nature, I - as a native English speaker - will inevitably find myself pushed to the back. I worry about my accent, concerned people will realize as soon as I utter a word that I am not a native son, and that this will color our interactions.
It's the feeling I get waiting to purchase a ticket for a kayak ride on the Jordan River during the intermediate days of Succot, when I simply don't have the tools to jostle and argue my way into one of the few available remaining kayaks.
It's the feeling I get at the supermarket on the eve of Rosh Hashana, watching in bemused superiority as throngs of people stockpile food; as if they've never gone three days without grocery shopping, as if the Scuds were falling again, as if they were about to be dusted by one of those meager Jerusalem snow-storms.
The wife, with her psychoanalytic background, reminds me that those feelings are coming from within, that this sense of inferiority/superiority (usually inferiority) has its source deep inside me, independent of anything the Israelis may say or do.
Maybe so, but it doesn't alleviate the feeling that despite 25 years here, I don't quite feel equal.
Sure, I grill on Yom Ha'atzma'ut like the rest of the country, but there is a certain "wannabe" quality to it. Granted, I go to the annual Va'ad Bayit (Building Committee) meeting, but I'm the guy in the corner the Israeli neighbors either want to stick with all the chores, because I don't know better, or don't want to give any of the responsible duties to, because I don't adequately know the ropes.
BUT LAST week, when the wife and I bundled three of our children up to visit the fourth at his army base, I felt equal. It was family day at the base, a somewhat strange permeation of back to school night, and for once I felt the same as everyone else.
My accent stands out? Too bad, my kid's at that base doing exactly what yours is. Wasn't born here? Stuff it, my son is putting his life on the line as much as the kid whose great, great-grandfather founded Petah Tikva.
I looked at the other parents gathered around my son's company commander differently than I would have had we been vying for the same kayak on the Jordan. I was not intimidated, I felt no sense of inadequacy. Here, we truly were the same.
We were equal in our concerns, our worries, and our pride. We were treated to a live-fire simulation of what our sons will be doing in another 18 months. There were hand grenades, and explosive-sniffing dogs, and anti-tank missiles and sniper displays and lots of machine-gun fire.
It was all very interesting, and it would have been downright fascinating and entertaining in an Arnold Schwarzenegger sort of way had we not known that in over a year, our kids would be doing for real all that stuff that was now being done for show.
"Some things we don't need to know," the wife said, arguing it was unnecessary for the IDF to offer parents this peek into their kids' futures.
I'm not so sure.
The first two months of my kid's service have been characterized by an openness I hadn't anticipated, but which I do appreciate.
VISITATION day seemed designed to allay parental fears, based on the premise that knowledge is good, and that in this case it narrows the imagination. For instance, I now know what to worry about. But by the same token, I also now know what not to worry about. My imagination can no longer run wild with my fears.
Base visitation day further left me with a good feeling about the lad's officers, especially one who introduced himself as being "25-and-a-half." The visit allowed me to exchange New Year's greetings with my son's immediate commander, who just two weeks earlier had sized up the wife and myself in our hastily-cleaned living room while paying us a home visit.
This home visit was base visitation day in reverse: the commander coming to our home to gauge where our son came from, what he faced at home, what baggage he carried.
"Poison his drink," my son joked when we told him his "mefaked" was popping in for a chit-chat. "Don't be nice to him. Don't give him anything to eat. And don't let him into my room."
The first three requests I could understand; a new recruit's relationship with his sergeant is generally not of the sugar and spice variety. But what's this business with the room? I asked the wife. Why would anyone want to see his room?
Nevertheless, the lad knew of what he spoke. About 45 minutes into the conversation, as the 21-year-old commander got up to leave, he asked to see the boy's space.
"Just give me a minute first to remove his dolls," I wanted to joke. But I didn't. I was overly concerned he wouldn't be amused, excessively worried he would misinterpret my shot at humor, too apprehensive he would think the family peculiar and, consequently, look at my son differently - as the product of oddball immigrant parents.