First thing in the morning. Miami Beach. I walk up 14 blocks and make a left on 71st instead of a right to the beach. Find my way to a bridge over the canal to the other side.
Early morning temperature. Humid. 80°. People in cars going to work. Or to wherever. Feels like Tel Aviv.
The Tel Aviv in my heart.
Just turning 22, more than 40 years ago, I stopped by the Kotel (the Western Wall) asking for a blessing. Is it OK that I go to medical school in Tel Aviv and not in New York?
Mom is pissed. (Bless her soul.)
My father calls, not easy peasy in 1978.
Dad, I tell him, if you can tell me I can live between 22 and 26 years old again in my life I’ll come home.
Otherwise, I’ll do as I need and deal with the consequences.
My father had wisdom.
Can’t argue with that, he said.
A waiter emerges; a little place called the Latin café – quintessential Miami.
It’s a nighttime city, but they’re open, and Mitchell, smiling, tattoo-laden, every bit Latino, every bit Tel Aviv, comes out with my latte, aka café hafuch.
It’s not what he’d call it, but we know.
The Latin café has outside seating, neat, smallish tables and chairs. It is now 7:45 AM, and the couple next to me prefers to make out over having their breakfast.
Traffic coursing by, it could be the corner of Ibn Gvirol and Dizengoff, with Sderot Rothschild nearby.
Hashem (G-d) moves to and fro among the stones of the Kotel. Even more so, He/She surely moves within our hearts.
You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that we are powerfully reinforced by external factors. Our parents tell us how to behave. They model what a good life is – and as flawed creatures – what not such a good life is.
It’s the human condition.
It’s us as well.
In fact emancipating from the inevitable second part of that equation is an essential part of maturation.
May we all emancipate from the burdens our parents (and ancestors) gave us – often unwittingly – to give the next generation a better chance.
It is for our generation to get over idealizing Israel, to love her for who she is. Inviting the best of her while acknowledging that we are all a work in progress.
It’s a kind of redemption.
And a better form of idealization.
I reflect on so many years in Israel. The classical music concerts on Saturday mornings at 11:11 AM. The London Mini-Mall if I remember correctly.
The Batsheva Dance Company. Long walks to the beach. Considering getting an apartment in Yafo (Jaffa) and commuting two hours every morning to medical school. Didn’t happen.
Yes, being a young man a bit on the make coming out of Vassar College.
What can I tell you.
My teachers. My endless teachers. The pediatrician we called the gentle giant at six foot six. Dr. Katzenelson of Israel foundational fame, teaching us a methodology for raising children.
The cutest couple – both cardiologists – whose names escape me. A patient struggling in the early stages of psychosis who generously allowed me into her story. Professor Davidson teaching us the humanity of good psychiatric care.
Teachers come in all shapes and sizes.
For 40-something years, they keep appearing. Countless faces. Countless interactions. Moments. Why don’t you move to Israel, the old lady on the bus asks me. I smile. Twenty-three years old, enamored with the experience. Wondering what if? Yet also looking forward to going home.
A class I’m now studying with, each and every person a living prayer.
And the land itself. I would study for anatomy, an exacting discipline, at a small café called Aladdin in Yafo, drinking the same hafuch (Israeli cappuccino) I’m nursing this morning. Two or three open books. Alone ordering coffee after coffee peering at the Mediterranean and Tel Aviv beyond, as well as ligament attachments.
I think you get the point. Magic. It was the magic of religion. It was magic of self. It was magic of place.
The magic of Israel.
When Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, teaches about the oneness of Israel, of the land, the people, the faith... the aspirational journey – he’s touching magic.
The mysticism of the ordinary.
Taking a place and transforming it; a moment and making it special. The universe, to paraphrase Blake, in a grain of sand.
This is how I came to religion. Not the drip drip drip of: you’re not good enough. Rather, the soft insistent breeze of possibility.
There’s been some sobering since my 22nd birthday. Israel is a complicated country. Judaism – cohabited by people – has many faces, many agendas, and yet underneath it all is an opening, an opportunity for magic.
Mitchell comes out with my breakfast. The omelet is soft, the way I like it. Yes, I’m in Miami Beach, Florida. But as Hashem knows, we are eternally in Israel. Aspirational. And now for a moment, material.
May you and I find redemption – Israel too. May we find peace with our neighbors. An impossible messianic task. And may we find peace between ourselves – and in ourselves.
That’s my Tel Aviv.
That’s my Israel. ■
Dr. Mark Banschick, a psychiatrist based in Katonah, New York, is a co-founder of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), a partner with StandWithUs, and the author of The Intelligent Divorce book series. He completed his medical degree at Tel Aviv University, followed by specialty training at Georgetown and New York-Presbyterian Hospitals.