Gen-X Zionist

Gen-X Zionist

December 29, 2009 21:58


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The epic of aliya can be characterized by the transformation from idealist to ideologue to tired man. As the voyage taken transforms from army to school to employment, all-encompassing clarity becomes fogged with obligation and chore. With time and acclamation, the dreams that were the impetus for the journey become less vivid, and principle is replaced with responsibility. Of course each immigrant's story is different. Perhaps qualification is necessary - this epic is personal, and mine. Although raised on the seldom-told tales of my grandparents' escape from the czar or whoever else was trying to snatch up a Jew, the idea of a connected past was abstract. My family had made it. We were Americans. So red-blooded was I that in the early 1980s, my friends and I played "fight the Russians" games on the playground. At 13 I put a yellow ribbon on our apple tree. Later, I flirted with joining Bill Clinton's military - the papers to be signed were in front of me. I spoke one language. Without telling the story I've told so many times, I found my origins, my ancestral people and my place in life. Yes, I am a Jew. Yes, Zionism is cool. Yes, I want to be an IDF soldier. Upon becoming Israeli, the mind at first struggles with the awesomeness of receiving that national ID card to carry on our person at all times. Each step on each cracked or poorly paved road in Jerusalem, with the sunlight reflecting off its stone-faced buildings, is a personal achievement, a testament to predecessors' prayers. They ran to America. I chose to come here. I may not have walked thousands of miles from Africa or run from a dictator, but hey - I left the US Constitution, economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, customer service and order behind. That's gotta count for something. And it does. For a while. But the coolness eventually wears off. After completing a three-year Israeli degree following a few years in the army, the ideals involved in making aliya and becoming part of something bigger, of living that dream, withdraws into some corner of the soul. Each day of life becomes routine. Everything is an extension of the army. A truer understanding of the Israeli system, of university bureaucracy, National Insurance, banking, taxes and life as a not-so-special former lone soldier recasts the memory of "the old country" as an easier place, a more organized place, a place of comfort. No more are the relaxing two-day finales of hectic schedules. Six-day weeks are common. Friday may be a day off, but Shabbat is coming and shopping must be done. Saturday may belong to us, but coming from over there, it just never feels right as the week's final day of rest. That extra day of repose so loved, so enabling and empowering for the week to come, is just another manic start to the usual, over here. Sundays are truly gone. Terror attacks and reserve duty help form the basis of political views. Coffee can't be shared without sharing personal narrations of frustration and injustice, resentment and corruption. Yet there are jokes and laughs and smiles in that round of brewed Turkish. What's remembered is subject to choice. We go to work. The "cuteness" of a car parked on a sidewalk has become irritation and then anger as someone justifies leaving a child in a car while he runs into a kiosk. A bus increases speed toward a crosswalk as it plays Are You Faster Than a Pedestrian? The ideals are overcome by reality, and ideology is subdued by exhaustion. The dream becomes tangible and, finally, it can be grasped that the daily concerns of all people everywhere are constant here, too. Bills, taxes, politics, road rage and on and on are ours as much as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Yes, this place is a place of reality. But then someone walks up, smiles, and says, "Hello, dear Jew," wishing a Shabbat shalom even though it's only Wednesday. An old man in a line at some old Mandate-era office building goes wide-eyed in amazement and showers praise as he hears the story of a young Jewish man from the place where so many dream of going, who came here of his own free will and on his own, to make a new life. Native-born Israeli friends who can't pronounce the letter "R" declare you one of them, an honorary Kurd or Iraqi or Yemenite. And when some people talk of running if there's a war - The War - the thought of abandoning the nation is unfathomable. Friends get mad you're not around for coffee. And then one remembers all those people who came here shouting assertions of "Zionism forever!" after making the same journey from back West, promising to join the army and make the desert bloom, only to become disenchanted after failing to learn the language and being unable to find that job. They return to comfort. Gone. Aliya is rebirth. In that sense, we are all young, learning and trying to make it. Tired is something we all learn to deal with. Being tired is part of being. It can be lived with. And yes, the fatigue that led to collapse only moments earlier evaporates and a smile creates itself with the realization that all these little problems, inconveniences and daily aggravations belong to me as much as anyone else. In an instant, endorphins of romanticism are released from some long-dormant Zionist gland and you recall that over there, the same historical connection to the ground simply doesn't exist. Over there, not everyone encountered has a connection to you that transcends appearance, accent or degree of faith. You'll always be from over there. It's just the way it is, and thank God for that. A wonderful place, that, offering the ability to reach beyond the voluntary acquiescence of precedent and prayer, allows for the capacity to see beyond the next hurdle. How many people are so blessed to be raised on the ideals of republican government, with heroes like Washington, Franklin and Bo Jackson? But home is here now. And home is good. The strings of memory may never stop tugging from time to time. Post-idealist weariness is part of growing up. All that is required to end the turmoil is release and acceptance. Yes, being a capitalist is hard in a country with a socialist history. Yes, love and admiration of the Constitution and separation of powers can continue even when the system of governance here is a jambalaya of executive, legislative and judicial cramming together inside the overlaps of some Venn diagram detailing the party-bolting, coalition-concerned and proportional-(un)representation of the Knesset and its chosen courts. And yes, it's okay to contemplate what could be in our war-torn tiny land that has brought us all together. The army will be calling for another month of my life. There will be another election. Each day builds strength for the next. Our poets, singers, bartenders and cops all share what you feel. Nothing is easier over there, not in that respect. Breathe. Release. Accept. And then, and only for a moment, as the last words of this essay are penned, there is nothing more wonderful than living in Israel, freedom-loving, separation-of-powers-believing, line-wanting, falafel-eating American that I am. The writer is an internet editor at The Jerusalem Post.

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