This Hyphenated Life / How to visit Israel like an Israeli
For those of us in the know, admit it: we both love the country and hate it, sometimes at the very same time.
The question gnaws at us.
"Nu, when are you coming for a visit"?
If you are an Israeli living abroad, a former Oleh (immigrant) who has returned to his country of origin, or simply a 'lover of Zion,' the onset of summer is frequently accompanied by the urge to jump on a plane and fly to Israel.
If only it were so simple.
So many obligations tying us down right here: work, family and friends.
So many pressures, and a hurting pocket book, in this economic crunch.
So many other places in the world to see especially when we've already been to Israel countless times.
So many excuses not to go.
If the prodding of friends and family in Israel is not enough to do the trick, then you can always look to the Government of Israel for a little reminder.
This post of This Hyphenated Life on www.haaretz.com is far from an ad for the Ministry of Tourism. In fact, I find the new campaign www.goisrael.com/tourism_eng to be vapid and one-dimensional.
The results of focus groups must have indicated that showing lone Israelis (when is an Israeli ever alone?) and dressing them up as chefs, ballet dancers, and even cowboys, then plopping them into various touristy settings, preferably with beige backdrops of ancient stones, is a sure fire way to get them to book their trip.
If you're a student of archeology, maybe, but for the rest of us, I have my doubts.
Plus, with a tagline like,"You'll Love Israel From the First Shalom".... it comes close to being misleading advertising.
"You'll Love Hawaii From the Very First Aloha," I might say, but Israel is more of an acquired taste.
Rather than the smell of sweet flowers in Honolulu, Israel's legendary rudeness greets you immediately when you first hit the ground at Ben Gurion Airport.
Israel is a complex place, with complex people, and it inspires strong and conflicting emotions. While I wouldn't suggest it as the tagline for Israel's next tourism campaign, for those of us in the know, admit it, we both love the country and hate it, sometimes at the very same time.
Those who just love it are naive 'friareem' (suckers) forever in a starry-eyed honeymoon stage, while those who just hate the place are much worse of course.
I recently had an acute onset of the syndrome known as, "Israel: Love It and Hate It." (ILIAHI)
Case and point is an odyssey I went on this spring, which was intended to remove an impediment to my visiting Israel.
It began by learning a new word: "Apostille."
My well-versed Israeli friends warned me that I was about to enter bureaucratic hell. For those not familiar, I experienced a chavaya (an experience not soon to be forgotten) that only a small subset of Israelis have endured.
The government (Ministry of Interior) requires you to renew your passport when your marital status changes. Since I was issued my last passport more than ten years ago when I was single, I had to get the approved seal (apostille) on my passport confirming that I am now married.
It is not enough to hand a copy of your ketuba, or marriage certificate, over to the clerk at your local consulate and call it a day. Not so simple. Nothing in Israel, or connected to Israel, ever is.
I bought extra time by getting an extension for a year or two, but now the excuses had run out and I gathered the courage to take the plunge.
If you want to return to Israel, even if you have an American or other passport, the law requires that you enter and leave Israel on your Israeli passport. Deciding not to play by the rules can be costly.
Rumor has it, either you get a pretty serious fine, or worse yet, you need to complete the process in Israel. Either way is enough of a deterrent.
After getting all kinds of misinformation, followed by a few hours of preparation, you then need to spend at least a half a day (sometimes an entire one) going from three different US government offices (city, state etc.) before you can even hit the lines at the Israeli consulate (save that for day #2). In my case, I only had the koach (strength) to enter 800 Second Avenue (the Israeli Consulate in NY) after a massive injection of Vitamin P (connections).
While I won't reveal my contacts, they escorted me to the appropriate desk and had me fill out a bunch of forms. Exhausted, I proudly became the owner of an updated and valid Israeli passport! Even my friends at the consulate were somewhat amazed that I would be willing to go to such lengths.
It's a tedious way of demonstrating the pull that a visit to Israel has on us.
So what's, your story? When do you know if it is time for a visit?
When your prism for looking at the country is largely through a political lens courtesy of the home page of your favorite news site.
When you feel out of it and disconnected (lo shayach).
When you need to feel the country's beat first hand.
When you're hearing of new things, hot places, etc. all second hand. When listening to Israeli music is not enough but actually induces a longing to be there yourself.
When your kids don't remember actually ever being there.
When you need a surge of creative juice and love.
For me, it is hardwired to return once a year and I'm overdue. These visits serve as a selfish act of rejuvenation. "Israel: Unlike Any Other Place" is the tagline for this trip and countless others before it.
By the way, as you have noticed, Israelis aren't big on planning in advance. It is not politically, or culturally, correct.
When I do try to plan these trips far in advance, and schedule get togethers like an American, it usually backfires. Instead, it's best to come with no warning.
"I'm here, let's meet."
Marco Greenberg, is a PR guy living in New York.