Saturday, June 8, 2013

Israel Day 8: Jerusalem: Closing Thoughts

We have three blissful hours to ourselves this afternoon after a solid week of planned activities--ok, that's a little bit of a lie--we've had a bit of free time here and there.  But it has been pretty busy nonetheless.  We will gather in three hours to head  out to our farewell dinner, then to the the airport to await our twelve hour flight home. I just discovered that I have a window seat, so I'll try and trade with one of my new homies for an aisle.

Some of the group have gone out to enjoy one last walk through the Old City.  While we are still in the Sabbath--meaning the Jewish Quarter is largely shut down, the Arab and Christian Quarters remain open for business.  I have yet to figure out what the fourth "quarter" is.  Yet another mystery of the Middle East. I have eschewed the afternoon walk, as it is mighty hot out and I have happened upon another serendipity.  I  called the hotel spa today as soon as we arrived from the Dead Sea (more on that) to see if they had an opening on the massage table this afternoon--and was disappointed to find out that they had nothing until after 7PM.  So I made myself a cup of Nescafe (yum) and sat down to begin this post.  Soon thereafter, the nice man from the spa called to tell me he could fit me in at 5PM.  So I have about forty minutes or so to screw around on the internet before going to my room to pack, as there won't be a lot of time in between the end of the massage and our departure.

In this morning's post, I skipped over the wonderful dinner experience we had last night in the home of two lovely Israelis, Jonathan and Naomi.  Parents of 5 children (only one of whom was home, bright and social David, 10), David is a Professor of Classics and Naomi is a worker at a non-profit.  They conducted for us a traditional Friday evening Shabbat supper, replete with prayers, singing, superb conversation, and a ridiculous amount of really good food.  Pretty much worldwide on Friday evenings, observant Jews do pretty much the same thing.  It is a grand ritual, and something to be considered for implementation in my own routine.  We couldn't have asked for more gracious hosts to help most of us experience our first Shabbat.

Both David and Naomi emigrated from America.  Both are outgoing, friendly, and admittedly politically liberal.  I had a wonderfully comical back and forth over dinner with Naomi, telling her about a TV show in America called "Family Ties" in which two very liberal parents have among their children a very conservative son.  I pointed at David and told her of my high hopes that David might be the next "Alex P. Keaton" of Israel.  She laughed and assured me that I didn't have to vest my hopes in young David, as her oldest was currently working at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan and was an ardent capitalist.

Which brings me to another sticky situation I've encountered here in Israel.  I simply don't know what to make of the American immigrants.  I am really conflicted over the concept of dual citizenship.  Here's what I mean.

I am an American of Irish extraction.  But the thought of emigrating to Ireland does not ever cross my mind, nor am I aware that there has ever been a significant "back to Ireland movement" akin to Zionism within the extended worldwide Irish diaspora.  We have met several people in our visit who left the US for Israel, some meaning to stay permanently and some who came temporarily and decided to stay.  Most left the US shortly after high school or college.  In order for anyone to understand what I'm going to try to convey here, I have to stipulate that the experience of the Jewish people worldwide throughout history and their historic tie to this land trump most other ethno-religious connections.  There simply isn't within the concept of "Irishness" a magnetic cultural and religious yearning which draws successive generations back.  I get that.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I have a tremendous amount of respect for the State of Israel--and that I cannot quibble with the individual decisions Jews have made over the years to move here--I have a problem with their retention of American citizenship and the concomitant extension of that citizenship to THEIR children (presumably ad infinitum).  Put another way, I find myself saying "you made a choice. Stop hedging your bets".  This feeling flows from my own sense of place--and that is, the United States.  I cannot conceive of my attachment to the United States and all that it stands for being any less strong than the forces which drew full-blooded native born Americans to Israel.  There is room for no other loyalty, at least in my tiny world-view.  Jonathan said at the table that he feels "fully American".  And as the rules of engagement at the table were Israeli cage match variety, I took him on, and told him flat out that such a statement was inconceivable.  He was clearly not fully American.  If anything, he was mostly Israeli.  After a bit of back and forth, he conceded my point, and even went as far as to say that as an immigrant, he will never feel completely Israeli.

Again, I'm being obtuse.  Here's the point:  Israel is worth living and dying for.  Most of these folks who emigrated served their requisite three years in the Army and many have seen combat.  Commit to it. THIS is your country.  Whatever reason you continue to hold an American passport for is not that you continue to be an American.  Now I do understand that both Israeli and American law permit this--but it rubs me the wrong way.  I understand the desire to be an Israeli--I simply don't understand the desire to do it half way.

Ok, enough heaviness.

We awoke this morning early and headed to Masada, site of a great battle in 73 AD between rebellious Jews and the Roman Army.  Some of you may know the outcome already--but in the end, the 967 Jews committed suicide rather than submit to the Romans.  Herod the Great constructed the citadel as one of a network of 7 such installations outside of Jerusalem, but this battle occurred long after Herod had died.  Sitting atop a large mountain, Masada appeared impregnable.  As we toured, I continued to wonder how the Romans force the Jews to suicide, and I suppose I settled on their having starved the Jews out.  But this is incorrect; the Jews committed suicide with full larders, in essence saying, "we will die now with full cupboards rather than submit to slavery".  As incredible an accomplishment of engineering and architecture as Masada was, the Romans topped it--by building a "siege ramp" from the base of the mountain to near the ramparts of the fortress.  This was done under fire--every day, day after day, over the course of what must have been months.  Quite an accomplishment.

After Masada, we continued south along the Dead Sea to a spa where we all put on our bathing suits and floated in the Dead Sea, something the Russian and Russian/Israeli tourists found quite entertaining.  If this had appeared on my bucket list, it was now crossed off, but I'm not sure that it did.  Glad I did it though...good bonding experience with my group homies.

And now the trip consists of a massage, a dinner, and a flight.

Thank you to the America Israel Political Action Committed and the America Israel Education Foundation for having me along on this fascinating week.  Thanks to Tom and Esther who served as our minders, and Avi, our wonderfully informative tour guide. And thanks to Richard Goodman, whose family foundation helps to fund AIEF.

I've got to go.  Need to get ready for my massage.


Mudge said...

Agree wholeheartedly with your view of dual citizenship. Choose one and if you can't figure out which one to choose, ask yourself for which would you be willing to die if it were, however incomprehensible it may currently be, to come to war between the two.

Thanks CW for a great travelogue from an important and, at least here in much of the US and the UN, profoundly misrepresented nation.

Unknown said...

Here's a question at 65 do they get social security? I have never like dual citizenship I think you have to commit to one country. It does not seem such a hardship to choose one.

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