Obama-mania happened here in Israel last week. U.S. President Barack Obama finally makes a grand and charming visit to the Middle East’s only democracy in order to… well that was the interesting part. Why did here come here, now? My guess is that he can’t avoid getting his hands dirty with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore, although I don’t think he really delved too deep into that topic while here with simply and abruptly supporting a peace plane, encouraging discussions between Abbas and Netanyahu, and of course reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself and confirmation that a two-state solution is the only possibly way to end the conflict. Also, he briefly mentioned Syria – seems as though the U.S.is taking more of an active approach and supporting the rebels and opposition groups, which is good news but scary because well, Iraq. But seriously, how did the situation with Assad come to this without any serious intervention up until now? And can this be considered intervention? I think it’s too late to just simply slap on a band-aid now and hope for the best, aim with our eyes closed. Netanyahu gives a public apology to Turkey for the Gaza flotilla incident a few years back, because Obama urged him to do so and because everyone shares a border with Syria. Also, Iran was touched upon – same affirmation, different day: “all options are on the table, we think that this situation can be solved diplomatically” etc. etc.
So since Obama’s trip to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan was uninspiring, although their is buzz in Israel that change is afoot (Obama laid down the charm, clearing up any misconceptions about a feud with Bibi and probably pissed off the Palestinians with too much schmoozing), i don’t really feel like analyzing it any further because it was just a busier than usual day in the newsroom and an excuse to increase my coffee intake to 2-3 cups a day instead of 1-3.
So anyways, let’s discuss Paris. 🙂 I have just came back to Tel Aviv from a lovely, bitter cold and inspiring week in the most romantic city in the world. It was my first time and it was a special treat for me, considering the humid and moldy Israel air was suffocating me and because I desperately needed to create some space between the little bubble of an existence I have created for myself here. To be blunt, I needed to breath in some fresh air, be with my mom, and come back to my life with a new perspective on things.
We were in Paris, which is increasingly becoming known for it’s severe anti-Semitism, for Passover, but since we didn’t know anyone there we didn’t really celebrate one of the most symbolic and devoted of all Jewish holidays, one that means freedom from slavery, exodus to the Holy Land, and of course, connects the current struggle of Jews to biblical rationale of why we do the things we do (read – why Israel does the things it does). I don’t want to get to political because I never really celebrated or kept Passover as a kid, but the thought of an exodus was always appealing to me, as the daughter of two American immigrants who experienced their own Jewish, Diasporic (is this a word?) exodus to their Holy Land – America.
I’m continuously and increasingly noticing that although a few cultural and religious things have seeped in, my Jewish heritage will never be Israeli. To be honest, before coming to Israel I didn’t think of my Jewishness as such an issue, which I’m now realizing is because America is truly the best place for freedom of religion, even though they don’t want to allow gay marriage on a federal level. Europe, on the other hand, they say is the worst place to be a Jew. That’s what new Israeli immigrants from France, Holland and other places tell me, that’s why they ascend up these desert mountains and make Aliyah – a different type of exodus.
I ate a lot of croissants and french baguettes during Pesach this year and had no qualms about it. Roza and I went to the Musee Rodin and shopped in Le Marais (the older Jewish qaurter which has become, ironically, the epicenter of gay Paris) on Passover and felt very happy to be together at all, didn’t matter if it was a Jewish or Christian holiday. A holiday is family time and a few days off of work. However, I was a bit upset when I stumbled upon an old French synagogue on Bis Rue des Tournelles and was turned away by the security guard. Passover services had just ended and I wanted to go inside and take a quick peak at the architecture. I was told it wasn’t possible because services had concluded. I began pushing even more saying that I only wanted to look inside. They wouldn’t budge and I reluctantly left the small synagogue and small community filtering out of it’s open doors in disdain, saying “Chag Pesach Sameach” while giving the security guard the stink-eye. I understand that they have tight security on holidays and that they didn’t know who I was, but isn’t the very definition of Judaism and in its places of worship suppose to be open to all believers? Isn’t that the very meaning of Pesach?
I didn’t let this little incident bother me too much because I had other incredible and cultural experiences in Paris, especially waking up everyday in the stunning Hotel du Louvre, walking down the amazing spiral staircase to get my International Herald Tribune and then going into the restaurant for my morning coffee, but my Jewishness and newest prolonged exposure to Israeli-ness began questioning what it means to belong to a community. Before I came to Israel, I thought that simply being Jewish connected me to Israelis and French Jews alike, but this is not the case.
My French friend, Caroline, is currently trying to ascend to citizenship status in the Holy Land; however, because she converted (Orthodox conversion, mind you, which took only 5 years of her life) the Jewish Agency is giving her a hard time and making her write statements on why she considers herself Jewish and why she wants to make Aliyah. Most recently, they asked her for a letter from a Rabbi here in Israel as proof that she is committed to establishing a Jewish life. After five years of studying, wearing long skirts, and devoting herself to a religion she wasn’t born into, I can affirmatively confirm that she is more of a Jew than I am and I am more angry than she is about someone questioning her devotion. I understand bureaucracy in any country is a pain in the ass, but when it comes to the Jewish “Nation” and the Jewish people, which had to struggle their entire existence, when will the community consider us equals? “Us” being anyone who tries to get involved in the dialogue because they are interested, or inspired.
I wasn’t born into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israelis tell me this everyday and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about when I open my mouth with my opinions. I agree, I don’t know what it’s like to live your whole life here, but I’ve been here for a year now and am very proud of my unique perspective on things. But it’s a painful reality that equality, no matter what in-group you’re trying to be accepted by, is never a matter of justice or fairness but rather a matter of struggle and determination. If someone wants to be a part of a community and truly believes they belong in it, well then they’ll stop at nothing to acquire citizenship, a visa, an invitation.
I’m getting kinda tired of fighting. And as a very wise man once said in a beautifully catchy song:
“You don’t. Have. To live like a refugee.” — Tom Petty