Tweaking perspective

Half a decade ago I thought of Israel in terms of holiness, Hebrew and Hebron (as well as Tsfat, Tiberia and Jerusalem). Israel meant Home. Israel meant hareidim. Israel meant chesed. Israel meant achtut. Then, my family and I made aliya and my perspective changed.

Some aspects of my altered outlook, in addition to some of the processes I underwent at some stage in my reeducation, were documented in The Jerusalem Post, in my 2006-2009 blog, “Old/New World Discourse,” and in my much shorter-lived, “She Said: She Said” blog. Other dimensions of my evolving viewpoint were published in worldwide venues including: The New Vilna Review, Scribblers on the Roof,, Mishpacha, Horizons, The Blue Jew Yorker, Fallopian Falafel, Poetica, Zeek, Language and Culture Magazine, Poetry Super Highway, especially Poetry Super Highways Yom Hashoah issues, Vox Poetica, and so forth. Still other of my expositions on the “Israeli experience” were invited to become chapters in anthologies.
For five years I gained a little more language prowess and a lot more attitude. I came to appreciate that Israel was, is and will always be the land of sanctity. Likewise, I came to be grateful that the four cities of Hebron, Tsfat, Tiberia and Jerusalem are timeless in their inviolability - despite the fact that Israel’s foes are trying to buy those cities from us, an apartment, or a goat at a time.
As per Chareidim, I came to be progressively more thankful for such human vessels of Torah and to buttress my conviction that I ought to hold in good repute such persons. I came to welcome that all individuals, regardless of their self-ascribed religious identity, are teachers from whom I can learn.
If it is possible to acquire the lesson of industry from the ant, and the lesson of fidelity from the dog, imagine how much more possible it is to learn from human souls! My current ulpan teacher, the principle of one of my children’s schools, my electrician and my acupuncturist dress differently than do the members of my family, and are priceless in their contributions to the wellbeing of the people about whom I care most.
Besides learning about the worth of the array of humanity, I reinforced my position that  kindness is a pillar in upon which creation rests. Such a quality will never be obsolete. In the least acts of helpfulness, the language of compassion and thoughts of munificence will never be passé. At best, such goings can raise me to a higher way of being, and perhaps, will save me from the worst results of crises. My faith develops, accordingly.
Unity, another invaluable human element, has increasingly felt indispensabile to the Nation of Israel. From the historic actions of the brothers Cain and Abel to the faults concomitant to contemporary political divisiveness, I’ve been made to get the message that when "The People" work against each other, rather than in unison, death and destruction transpire.
These days, Baruch Hashem, I can almost use grammatically correct Hebrew to order falafel. I can almost rationalize the necessity of driving assertively on local highways. I can almost take in the ingathering of Jews from all lands. I can almost avoid being positioned as a fiduciary fryer (sucker). I now am conscious that the shuk vendor who hurries my order isn’t rude, but efficient; his sales feed his large family. I can now comprehend that many of the foreign nationals living amongst us Israelis are not selfless, but are mercenary. I see that our poverty rate is astounding, and that the authentic goodness, not just of neighbors, but of individuals who are strangers to each other, is much greater within our homeland than can be grasped by younger, less traditional, more western cultures.
Whereas protexia remains an uncomfortable concept to me, given that my upbringing enforced beliefs about the ills of nepotism, I cannot deny that “knowing” select persons has benefitted my family. One of my children was helped to meet with a medical specialist during a health emergency, because of someone we knew who knew someone we needed. Another of my dear ones, an offspring facing a significant school problem, was helped because of someone else we knew knew that particular "someone else." In complement, my social connections have called on me to create commentary for editors or publishers I''ve never met, to drive food donations to families I never before encountered, and to otherwise come into contact with amazing individuals. Though I’m slow to embrace this manner of getting by, I would be dishonest to claim that social networking doesn’t work.
What’s more, I have discovered that “The Russians” are not  “the bad guys," that “The Arabs” are not necessarily merely neutral, moneyed businessmen, and that “The Americans” are not the friends of Israel I had long assumed them to be. Loyalty can be reach or ebb beyond the geography upon which one stands. Alliances can be built from more than diplomatic heritage.
Throughout the last five years, I’ve come to recognize that armed forces can be a source for career training, for lifelong friendships and for the building up of one’s self esteem. When my generation ran from involvement in the Vietnam Conflict, we were escaping from low status roles, relatively immaterial associations and responsibility. We espoused that there was more honor in smoking grass, wearing beaded, lengthy hair and in getting professional degrees than in defending rudimentary human values. In contrast, in Israel we consider fighting for "The People" as taking on a precious mitzvah. It signifies defending home and hearth. It signifies creating the opportunity for relationships that will likely last a lifetime.
In addition, back in the New World, though I knew grains and greens were good food, I did not have many occasions to share them with loved ones. Parties, work events and milestone celebrations were about animal flesh and white sugar. Here, I went through a reversal; beans and rice stand for dinners, salad stands for festivities, and few occasions are considered “properly” catered if not replete with some variation of soy, of tofu or of “exotic,” i.e. local, produce.
I always knew it was silly to spend significant funds on outfits and accessories, and therefore I preferred to dress simply both for professional and social roles. Back in the old country, my worth seemed to be measured by the vintage and cut of my clothing. Here, on the contrary - fantastic designers notwithstanding - I can elect to wear clean, seasonable, modest get-ups while being assured that I will be looked upon for my character traits sooner than for my labels or lack thereof.
My family’s fifth year anniversary in Israel, b’li ayin hara, coincided with my fiftieth birthday. The span of experiences from the morning I first stepped onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion until this moment not only brought me squarely to midlife, but also brought me to the comfortable knowledge that my rapport with G-d, my family and my peers are really the true measures of my fulfillment.
As long as I breathe, my adventure continues. Please join me in celebrating, explicating and in sometimes being exasperated over, the people, places and possibilities of Israel.
Suppose along with me that professors here will continue to be paid poorly, relative to North American and European standards, that self-styled writers will continue to be as common as lizards, and that herbalists will continue to advertise, without self-consciousness, here. Suppose along with me that Hashem has filled this holy place with enough beggars that even self-indulgent sorts will engage in benevolence, with enough beauty that even dim-wits will grasp the land’s grandeur, and with enough growth opportunities than even individuals, who remain irredeemably indisposed toward moving forward, will be forced to advance in order not to fall to pieces.
“Middle Eastern Musings” will lack some of the romanticism that filled my previous blogs, but will lack none of their wonder. Today, I know that while it’s impractical to wish that any particular, local cabbie will cease to weave among rows of crazed drivers, it’s reasonable to expect that any particular, local cabbie will engage me on issues of "The People" and our Torah.
In the next few weeks, “Middle Eastern Musings” will explore: relative responsibilities to the modern State of Israel, the value of providing for Shabbat guests, the art of sleeping on hagim, the realities of driving through neighborhoods governed by ethnic cousins, the perks inherent in studying scriptures with a partner, the good intrinsic to sharing one’s earthly stores, wonderful, hidden agendas in Israeli education, dating and mating Israeli-style, the importance of aliya, the qualified delights of living with jukim (cockroaches) and much, much more.
Stay tuned. Write in often.