My Israeli wife

Why is my American gentile sweetie, with her radical-Left politics and principled abhorrence of corporate consumerism, more Israeli than a lot of Sabras?

IDF soldiers, March 9, 2014. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
IDF soldiers, March 9, 2014.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
It is extremely poor form to criticize your spouse in public. All it reveals is your questionable judgment in your choice of partners, and anyway, the old Schadenfreude’s always out there, prowling around.
It’s also gauche to preen. Nobody wants to hear how lucky and happy you are, and anyway the old Freudenschade’s never far from its pal.
Therefore, this column on my wife will neither carp nor brag.
It will, however, posit a question that has intrigued us ever since we got here in 2010. Why is my American gentile sweetie, with her radical-Left politics and principled abhorrence of corporate consumerism and Internet trash, more Israeli than a lot of Israelis? Personally, I’m as Israeli as I wanna be. I’ve been a Zionist ever since they taught me to sing “Hatikva” in Hebrew school; indeed, that’s about all I remember. In the late 1960s, I was engaged to a brilliant, beautiful Jewish girl (okay to brag on exes?) whose father was a strong believer in David Ben-Gurion’s dictum that every American-Jewish family should send one child to Israel. One night, I mentioned that I was considering aliya.
“Not with my daughter!” That first marriage went the way of so many first marriages back then. However, even as I was signing the get, my future wife, a Baptist/Catholic EuroMongrel, was discovering her family’s secret scandal: Jews in the family tree. Specifically, her mother’s grandparents had disavowed their origins and taken baptism when they came over from Germany, a fact that remained unknown to the descendants until some incriminating papers were discovered. Then burned.
Still, you can’t breed it out of ’em. Erin found herself taking Jewish history in college, befriending Israelis, going to Seders, etc. She was fascinated with how elegant and gracious Judaism could be. Loving Israel came naturally.
And there things stood for a quarter-century or so, until one day in 2001, I read her post on an Internet military list-serve (she’d been an army reserve officer and was wrapping up her master’s in military history). Erin was beating up on an old marine buddy of mine, and I had to come to his rescue. I reread Erin’s post, noticed that she had signed her screed V/R, “Very respectfully,” and decided to marry her. When she read my retaliatory epistle, she decided the same.
We phoned and emailed – she was in Washington, DC, I was in Seattle – for three years, decided to marry, then meet. Between meeting and marriage, she did Iraq and Afghanistan as a journalist and researcher for her first book. One night she called from Iraq. “Hi. I’m in Ramadi with the Marines. I like it better than DC.”
“I can imagine. Why don’t you quit your job, sell your house and move to Seattle?” “OK.”
Five years later, we began discussing aliya. We’re writers; we can work mostly anywhere. We were sick of watching helplessly as America slid down the tubes.
We wanted to go where people stood up for themselves and their country. We wanted to accomplish more than American culture and politics would welcome.
And maybe, as writers explaining Israel to America and vice versa, we could do some good.
“We’re going,” said she.
So we did. And there began an astonishing, ongoing culture shock. Not the predictable kind. The shock came with the realization that so many Israelis were so... passive. And so many of the women were so... weak.
I’m pretty laid back. But Erin has no patience with weakness or the nastiness it so often engenders, and gives as good as she gets. She’s physically tough; all those decades of weight-lifting, hiking, bicycling and horseback-riding have paid off.
Lots of women her age dislike her. Strangers glare. Why? Perhaps because they see in her some of what they should have, could have been? She knits complex lace patterns on buses and trains, drawing hostile grimaces from women tied to their iPhones or games. She refuses to defer to rudeness. Once, when a rather hefty, decidedly unkempt bearded gent in black and white kept trying to cut in front of her in a line, she snapped, “If you have the time to study all day, you have the time to stand in line behind a working woman.”
The people around her went silent, looked shocked, then applauded.
Such incidents have been many. And they continue to baffle her. Israelis, men and women, are supposed to be tough and honest and proud and jealous of their rights. Why do they put up with so much? From the government, from the tycoons and oligarchs, from large chunks of the religious establishment? From each other? And what’s the alternative? For women, especially? Or is there even an alternative, beyond that dreary troika of spasmodic protest, non-stop low-grade kvetching and “Ma la’asot”? Perhaps there is. Anyway, that’s the subject of Erin’s book-in-progress. Chachama: Craftswoman, Wise Woman.
Can’t wait to find out how it ends.
Philip Gold is an American oleh.