I'm not sure what will await me when I land at Ben Gurion airport next month for a long-awaited return visit to Israel. Like writer Jay Michaelson, I too have struggled with an on-again, off-again passionate love affair with the Jewish State. I too, am painfully aware that, forty-four years into the occupation, "The 'fantasy Israel,' the one many [North] Americans seem largely to inhabit, doesn't compensate for the erosion of the real one."
But still, over a decade since I was last there, after having lived there for three separate years in my twenties, there are many things I hope for.
I hope that my kids turn their heads hungrily toward the sound and sight of Hebrew. My kids will soon realize that their mom isn't the only mom who speaks only Hebrew to her kids. "Mom, you're addicted to Hebrew!" my 4-year-old son like to exclaim in exasperation.
I hope I can keep up with the slang, which changes quickly in Israel. I can picture myself using outmoded expressions, the equivalent of "hot diggity!" That won't get me very far in finding the new hip spots in Tel Aviv. When I lived there my friends and I hung out on Sheinkin Street, chasing a bit of Mediterranean bohemian. But I hear that Sheinkin is now yesterday's news.
I hope that Abulafia bakery in Jaffa still cracks an egg in the middle of its pita, its sunny yoke belying the violence and poverty of the adjacent Ajami neighbourhood.
I hope the bus stations still sell slim packages of Mentos candy, chewy mints I used to swallow after a sleepy morning bus commute from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, when I worked as a Knesset intern.
I hope that the tiny fish in Sachne, the dreamy, aquifer-fed Galilee oasis, still want to nibble on my toes. And I hope they might enjoy meeting my kids' toes, too.
I hope the wheels of my favourite Jerusalem potters are still spinning, and that I am able to make up my mind over which beautiful piece of ceramic art to bring back to the home-with-a-mortgage I didn't own the last time I was there.
I hope I am able to come to terms with the end of the kibbutz movement that I once poured my heart into. My kibbutz family and friends have since left their kibbutzim. Maybe visiting one that is a shell of its past will provide a way to come to terms with the waning of that collective dream, a dream I thought I might one day come back to share in. Maybe I can shoot some hoops with my kids, like I did with the kibbutz children when I was ten and stayed with my aunt and uncle on Beit Hashita.
But I know what I most long for. After I've ordered a falafel at my favorite joint on Ben Yehuda (the balls are smaller, rounder and fluffier than most), I hope to hear Israelis talking. I hope they talk of the Israeli Peace Initiative, the peace plan recently released by a team of Israeli political and defense elites. I hope the current hardline Israeli government listens, and is able to stretch its imagination to envision an Israel living alongside a Palestinian state.
I hope to see Israelis craning to hear across the Green Line. The sheket, the quiet, Israelis so desperately and understandably crave will only come from a serious political rearrangement of the territory which two peoples are awkwardly and painfully trying to share. Really listening to the Palestinian experience will be necessary for Israelis to contemplate a meaningful retreat from territory that Israel never even annexed. Not a retreat from the Zionist dream; a retreat from the folly of territorial maximalism.
Peace Now in Israel knows about the urgency of reaching a resolution. They have released a short animated video concisely describing what observant lovers of Zion have known for years. Of the three things that Israel seems to be chasing: democracy, Jewish state, and Greater Israel, only two can be theirs. Israel needs to decide whether it wants to be a Jewish democracy, a non-Jewish democracy, or a Jewish apartheid state. Israelis know that they can't remain in this suspended reality forever. And if not now, when?
I hope I hear some of my favorite Israeli songs. I like listening to David Broza's "Yihyeh Tov" ("It'll be alright") on my iPod while working out. But it will be even sweeter to catch it on the radio at one of my old cafe hangouts in the German Colony in Jerusalem, hearing Broza's honey voice calling for a reconsidered future.
This article first appeared in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
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