Suddenly Sabra: Stalked by the future

I can see the missiles beginning to fall. I imagine the streets of Tel Aviv. Empty. Who will stay? At what cost?

Tel Aviv street 88 248 (photo credit: Oren Klass)
Tel Aviv street 88 248
(photo credit: Oren Klass)
"I don't know what I'm going to do once I actually have that passport in my hands," Orit told me. Orit isn't weighing her options for a trip - she's deciding whether or not to move to Europe with her boyfriend, Eyal. Eyal fought in the Second Lebanon War. Shortly after that, he decided to leave his country behind. Though he hasn't gone yet, Eyal has options. He holds EU citizenship, passed down to him from a European parent. From the other side of his family, he has inherited Argentinean citizenship - thanks to grandparents who immigrated to Buenos Aires from Poland and raised their children to be Spanish-speaking Portenos. Though Eyal, who has spent his entire life in Israel, speaks some Spanish, Orit's vocabulary is limited to words like por favor and gracias. "When we were traveling in Mexico," she recalls, "I felt too embarrassed about my accent to even say that. I would just smile. So how can I go live in Spain?" "You'll learn the language," I say. But it feels flimsy. I know that for Orit, it's about more than language. "When?" she asks. "We're not rich. We're going to have to support ourselves. What job can I get if I don't speak Spanish? I won't be able to use my degrees there because I don't have the language. But I won't have the time to learn it. I'm going to have to scrub toilets." I try to picture Orit's long black hair tied back into a ponytail. I imagine her dark hands, her delicate fingernails, scouring tiles on someone's bathroom floor. I don't speak what I am thinking - there are greater tragedies - because I realize that her decision is a tragedy, of sorts. Eyal has been traumatized by his combat experiences. He doesn't see any end to the conflict. He can't shake the specter that he might be forced to pick up a gun and fight, yet again. He feels his only way to escape it is by leaving. Orit doesn't want to lose him, but she doesn't want to lose Israel, either. I try to understand Orit's dilemma - I think about what leaving Israel would mean for me. I think of the neighborhood laundromat I use - the blue-eyed man there who greets me by name and speaks a slow, patient Hebrew to me, a Russian accent dancing on the edges of his words. I think of an old man who lives around the corner from me, who waves to me as I pass him perched on his balcony. I've only seen him on the street once - he was helping a little girl pick oranges from a tree. She pointed at the one she wanted and he obliged her, again and again, stretching to reach the fruit high above him. I think of the time I was caught in a winter shower, waiting to cross the street, my hair and coat quickly gathering water. A woman about my age called to me to join her under her small umbrella. I hesitated, but she urged me on. When I finally tucked myself into the space next to her, she laughed, asking me why I didn't come sooner. There has been speculation that Iran is seeking to supply Hamas with long-range missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv. In Boaz's apartment in the city center, there is a small framed picture of Theodor Herzl in the same pose as Uncle Sam, captioned: Israel doesn't want your sympathy. Israel wants you. Under his Zionist gaze, I ask Boaz, "What if they hit Tel Aviv? Would you stay?" "I don't know," he says, in Hebrew. I'd like to think that we would stay in Israel, if not in Tel Aviv. I'd like to think that our mere presence would be a way of fighting and that we'd wield this weapon in the face of personal danger. I'd like to think that we would put our nation and our home before ourselves - as Eyal has done in the past and as Orit might choose to do in the near future. But the truth is, I'm not entirely sure what I would do. I tell Boaz about Orit's dilemma. "She's on the fence," I say. "She'll go," he says. His voice sounds hard, cynical. "Everyone's going to go, eventually. In 100 years, only religious people will be left. And the religious people - Jews and Muslims - they'll be left to fight each other. Veh zehoo. ("That's it.") He shrugs. I tell him not to be so fatalistic. But that alternate vision stalks me, sometimes, when I walk through the city. I imagine the streets of Tel Aviv. Empty. I see buildings smoking, shattered. Maybe the orange tree stands, but there is no one left to pick the fruit. The writer, who immigrated in April of 2008, is writing a regular column on her wet-behind-the-ears experiences here.