I was hoping, in a way, that my return 12-day tour to Israel would strike me as less powerful than the first. I dreamt, perhaps naively, four years after first witnessing the conflict, poverty, racial discrimination, and social apathy that I would stand more confidently before the balagan and not be shaken.
Yes. And no.
Stand confidently perhaps I did, leading my guests through tangled messes of politics and communal whitewashing. Plus ca change, for despite the four years distance, the settlements still grow, the Jewish-Arab economic divide remains, the wall snakes further along a misappropriated line, and young Jews come to Israel with little concept of what they’re not being told.
But no, if I was hoping that a more mature activist, four years veteran now of pursuing this work in America, wouldn’t be victim to the swelling rage and fire inside, then no, no, and no.
Four years ago I worked in a small Bedouin camp outside Jerusalem. This time, I looked out the bus windows as Bedouin shanty towns stretched across the horizon, 360-degrees around the highway. My own previous lack of perspective was gutwrenching.
Four years ago I went through Yad Vashem with an eye to the story of my grandfathers’ homeland of Poland. This time, the stories and faces of the Warsaw ghetto uprising shook my genealogy thinking of his handwritten note just before he died at 103, naming his place of birth: “Prasnis, Warzcawa.”
Four years ago I knew few Israelis born in Israel, all activists. This time, I made new relationships and discovered to my chagrin that I knew more about their country, their conflict, their military life than they did. Stunning. And this time I reconnected with the soldiers I’ve met through Shovrim Shtika — slept in their homes, joined them at their work, an exchange for my hosting them in New York.
Four years ago I heard the voice of the Divine at the Western Wall, the first apology for a fucked up world as deep as this one. This time, there was no new revelation, merely a confirmation to myself that yes, this was my path and there was to be no escape. This is my path, my duty, and for no other reason than He Told Me So.
Four years ago launched an odyssey that I barely understood. Seeing more of it now, I still don’t understand it. But if a relationship to the positive side of Israel — it’s jokes, it’s music, it’s land — is my sail, then the rage and fury is the wind which propels me forward. Another step in a progressive relationship to a complex country that isn’t mine.
It might be time to consider a more lengthy stay in the future. But for now, 12 days was enough to remember it all.