Greetings back from Eretz Yisrael

Dear Friends and Family,

As most of you know I was fortunate enough to go to Israel over the American new year and early into January. I returned to New York from the land of my ancestors January 12th in a daze, I left Tel Aviv at 6:15am Thursday morning Israel time, parked myself on Karen’s couch at 7:30pm New York time Thursday night. Friday my flight was delayed 7 hours and switched airports which put me in bed in Oakland at 3am Saturday morning. I woke up with the same feeling I have felt since, damn I miss Israel. There was so many reasons why I loved being there, and enjoyed my first trip there, first and foremost being a deep sense of belonging to a place where I only spent 10 days. The Israeli’s that joined us on our Birthright tour bus gave me my first sense of what it really meant to be a part of a Jewish nation. During a game and discussion of issues around Jews abroad and their relation to Israel, 6 out of 7 Israeli’s around my age and currently serving in the IDF moved to the “Completely Agree” section of the room when asked “Should the role of the IDF be to protect Jews all over the world when in danger”. I disagreed with their position, because I think humanity is in trouble if every ethnic group needs its own army to protect its people (even in a diaspora) from persecution. Nevertheless, it was just one of many statements of brotherhood the Israeli’s showed us as Jews living abroad. Until meeting and hanging out with young Israeli’s I hadn’t really felt the extent of the meaning of this connection.

Our tour started in Tel Aviv, of which we was saw just a small part during our ride from the airport to hotel, and heading to the north (HaGalil) the next morning. As would be a theme for the rest of the trip the first night in Tel Aviv consisted of addresses by Avihu, the director of the Stand With Us Birthright Tour which were slightly uncomfortable if not a little nauseating. Unfortunately Stand With Us Israel like many other Israeli/Jewish organizations believes that it needs to be exceedingly pushy about Israel and Judaism and exaggerate the millions of Goyim who are out to get us. In order to get their point across. I was nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to go to Israel for free and of course got what I wanted out of the trip.

The north is a beautiful landscape that for all intents and purposes could have been transplanted straight from Northern California, with the added element of being the front lines on Israel’s battle with its neighbors. Part of the reason I wanted to go to Israel was because of my great interest politically, and journalistically in the country. I wanted to get a sense of the reality on the ground, and hearing how Israelis look outward at the world (through the slits in their bunker) was extremely valuable. Ive come to see that even with all their power, technology and “support” among the western world, they really don’t trust anyone to protect them but themselves. That combined with the Israeli, we don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks of us attitude, leads to some unfortunate, and ,in my view, self-defeating actions. This was especially evidenced by the trip to see the Lebanon border where Israel fought its disastrous Second Lebanon War in 2006 and talked to a militant man who talked about how the Arabs were always trying to kill him. We could see the Hezbollah flag in eyesight from Kibbutz Misgav Am and the question which arose in my mind, was; how long can a country truly flourish surrounded by barb wire? In the Golan, a place I saw before merely as a piece of land to be returned in an agreement with Syria, I fell prey to the Zionist propaganda, found attachment and fell in love with a beautiful place that felt like Muir Woods. Getting to know the geography and landscape of Israel also provided the Zionist conspiracy with another convert. The Golan was full of evidence as was Mount Hertzl (like Arlington cemetery) of the amount of blood that it took to build that country into what it is today. This experience gave a desire I would never have expected myself to have: to join the Israeli army (as a reserve soldier and a journalist). Of course unless Yossi Bellin (an Israeli “Peacenik” MK) was elected PM its likely I wouldn’t agree with any war fought, but if its existence was in danger I would defend that country to the death.

All joking aside, despite their decidedly propagandistic strategy to get me to support Israel by painting it in a perfect light, the reason I chose to support Israel is much more personal. I chose to support and defend it as a nation in spite of its many grievous actions. The reason that Israelis feel no one cares about Israel is because, well, why should they? Israel is simply a powerful military oppressing a desperate population to some, or a “beacon of democracy and western power” to others. I care about Israel because it is a country of my people, and I don’t need to be pushed to support it. I care because I have seen the country and conversed with its people as brothers and therefore my vehement criticism and my vehement support comes from a place of love. That is why when I see or hear people try to demonize or use Israel’s wrong action to justify violence against it, I feel the need to fight back. I hear people refuse to acknowledge any other storyline but the one they choose, be it blind support or blind criticism. I hear evangelicals or western power brokers condemn Israel for doing their dirty work and hold it to a higher standard then themselves or applaud Israel for their own benefit. I see the US refuse to support a ceasefire in Lebanon where hundreds of innocents die. Or Cuba, chairing the human rights commission in the UN and making Israel a top agenda item. I see the lack of care, I see right through all the bullshit. Outside criticism is both warranted, necessary and inevitable given the mistakes of Israelis and their leaders, but before you fall into a storyline, take a step back and speak with perspective.

From the north we drove through the West Bank on an Israeli only road and entered Jerusalem from the east. My experience seeing Jerusalem reflected the conflicted nature of the trip. After taking off my blindfold I saw the old city in Jerusalem for the first time, I saw into the history of my people for an instant, then heard the Azaan (the Muslim call to prayer). Without doubt it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life and kindled in me a desire to live there. I said a prayer for peace in Jerusalem at the Kotel (Western Wall), and next to the holiest of holys, close to where the original Ark of the Covenant was housed. It was preceded by an uncomfortable experience of having the tour bus blindfolded and the curtains closed right before we went through the border post entering Jerusalem, making me wonder what they were trying to hide from us.

Israel simply felt like so much more meaningful a place than the US with all these bullshit existential crises because of the insulation and excessive comfort and security that doesn’t exist in the rest of the world. If I was living in the beautiful city of Jerusalem doing my life’s work (working for peace agreements and co-existence, working on alternative energy and community, journalism, etc.) it would mean that much more.

Israel is in many ways opposite of the US in ways that are quite refreshing. With such a small space to work with, society seems very space efficient. There are none of the huge open expanses of streets like you would find in American suburbs or malls. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are both full of apartments and people but neither seemed overcrowded, or overwhelming the way Manhattan was. The Mahane Yehuda Shuk (market) in Jerusalem was exciting and good test for the Israeli tradition of impoliteness in needing to push through crowds of people getting ready for Shabbat, at the same time as smiles and Shabbat Shaloms all around. It was so much more of a rewarding experience getting food there than a bi-monthly trip to Trader Joe’s and the seeds of my love for Shoarma and Falafel has been planted. I also was lucky enough to get a taste of the best rugalach in the entire world (according Ron our Israeli-American tour guide) and I can confirm this is in fact true.

There were many joys in my connecting with my culture, people and heritage, not the least of which was learning many new Hebrew words. I can now greet a good male friend appropriately, tell someone to fuck off or that they are ridiculous, and converse with gorgeous Israeli girls (At yafa!). I was disappointed that I didn’t have time to meet more Israeli Arabs besides the one that sent his kids to a Jewish school, and I now have more desire to into the Palestinian territories, because to me Israel and her neighbors are inseparable, for better or worse. Its probably one of the happiest times of my life, being surrounded group of Jews from all over the US diverse in both perspective and cultural background.

I figured I would send this e-mail as a summary of my experiences and thoughts since being home, so I wouldn’t have to tell the same story over and over. That said, now that y’all know about my trip, I am more than happy to answer any questions anybody might have about it.

Ciao and Bivracha,

Ryan

P.S. Turkish Airlines is lame.

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