September 13, 2010

“You want to live here?” he said, standing in the doorway with his helmet on. “You want to live here, in the Middle East, in this hell?”

I was used to this by now; sometimes it came later in the conversation and sometimes it was immediate, a reflex.  Why would anyone leave the comfort and ease of America to settle into a country plagued by war and prejudice?

Our laundry man (machines in Israel are more of a hassle than they’re worth thus laundry pick-up and drop-off services are commonplace) watched as our faces changed.

“But it’s Israel, you know?” Four American girls smiled back at him.

“Yes, I know,” he laughed, “And there’s nothing like it.”

What is it about Israel?

In a country where each day brings the possibility of real violence and persecution, the supermarket is about as tense as it gets in Tel Aviv.  Upon first glance, two Israelis seem to be arguing religion and politics near the pasta aisle; one throws his hands in the air, the saliva flying from his mouth as he shouts and points.  But alas, this interaction is a standard Israeli conversation–loud and passionate.

“Where can I find whole-wheat spaghetti?”

“I don’t think we have it! But what’s wrong with regular spaghetti?”

I am aware of the disconnect between my life in Israel and that of the native Israeli; I don’t have a relative in the army, I myself have not served in the army, and I don’t know a family member or a friend that has been killed defending Israel.  But even our laundry man, who expressed his initial astonishment at our plans to move here, understands the connection.  The country is hot, the people are loud, things tend to take longer than needed, and there is a constant fear below the surface; but the struggle is worth it.  So what is it about Israel?  I guess I’m still waiting for the words.