Is Israel Scary? Well, I'm From Chicago

Alonit is going to Berlin with a sadness of a Jewish mother.

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Noga Shachar, Adi Shachar and Jared Brown
Noga Shachar, Adi Shachar and Jared BrownCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Noga Shachar, 12, lives in Tel Aviv; Adi Shachar, 22, and Jared Brown, 23, live in Baltimore; Jared is arriving from Toronto

Hello, can I ask why you’re in Israel?

Jared: I’m here to visit Adi in Israel, and I’ll be staying until September.

Did she invite you before or after the war started?

Jared: Actually, I invited myself.

Adi: The truth is that I invited him before the situation began, but he came anyway.

How does it feel to be here?

Jared: For a moment, I thought I wouldn’t be allowed into the country, that I would be told to go back.

Why?

Jared: Because I was detained. After I got off the plane, a guy who was not dressed in a security uniform stopped me and asked to see my passport.

Sounds stressful.

Jared: And then I was taken to a room to wait, and they took my passport. The room was crowded – there were two large families there, with a lot of kids who were kicking each other and their suitcases to entertain themselves. I tried not to freak out.

Did the authorities talk to you?

Yes. After a wait, a girl from security showed up and questioned me. Where will I be staying? For how long? I didn’t sleep much on the plane, so I could only hope that I made sense. I was afraid they would think I was on drugs. But I was also lucky, because at one point I gave them my passport number in Hebrew.

Adi: I taught him.

Jared: After that they were on my side. The girl from security said “Nice, nice,” and I was released quite quickly.

So what exactly are you doing here?

Adi: I’ve been living in Baltimore for the past five years, and Jared and I are partners. We live together and also study together. That’s how we met. We’ve just finished school.

Where and what did you study?

Adi: At the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Jared: She sculpted and I did video art.

Adi: I’m so thrilled that he came here! He’s been hearing about my family for five years, and I really want him to be my guest and show him places. To work together.

Jared: We create art together.

What kind of art?

Jared: Electronic music.

Ambient? Industrial? Techno?

Jared: We’re still trying to understand what it is.

How did you meet?

Jared: We met on the first day of school. She asked for a cigarette lighter.

Adi: From then on we became friends. After a year we started living and working together.

Sounds intense.

Adi: We’re friends and not a couple, but it’s a serious relationship.

Who does the dishes?

Adi: He does. Mostly.

What have you got planned for him here?

Adi: I hope to take him to a concert and to travel around, as much as possible given the situation.

Didn’t you consider canceling when you heard what’s going on here?

Jared: I really don’t understand what’s going on here. Not in the theoretical sense. Naturally, after reading, and talking to Adi, I knew about the missiles and Iron Dome, but in terms of the conflict, it’s complicated. The only thing I can say for sure is that it’s impossible to find neutral information. It looks like each side is badmouthing the other, and each side wants pity. We talked about it a lot, and I feel that I have to form my opinion by myself. That’s what made me come. I think that most people in the United States don’t understand the seriousness of the situation in Israel, but they have a solid opinion, based on what they see on television. It’s presented there in a way to make people afraid, but without knowing of what.

Didn’t your parents object to your trip?

My mother and my grandmother said that if the flight wasn’t canceled, I should go and not be afraid. They don’t scare easily. We live in Chicago, which is where I grew up, and it’s a really violent city. In customs here, I was asked why I came. One guy said, “It’s really dangerous here and not very safe for you.” I told him I was from Chicago and am not easily frightened.

What are your plans after September?

Adi: We’re going back to the United States. We’ve finished our studies and now we have to think about what to do. Everything is possible.

Jared: We have no plans, which actually is a little scary.

Adi: Check me out again in September at departures. I promise you we’ll have a plan.

Alonit Bar, 55, lives in Holon; flying to Berlin

Hello, can I ask where you’re going?

Yes. I’m going to Berlin for nine days with my older daughter, to see her brother, who lives there. My son has lived in Berlin for the past three years. He’s working and studying ahead of entering university. Next month he’ll be starting business administration and law.

You must be pleased.

I’m pleased, but with sadness and pain of a Jewish mother whose boy is a few thousand kilometers away from her.

Is it especially hard at a time like this?

The pain remains, especially because some of the reasons for his decision to leave have to do with the social protest movement. There’s something to what he says about how it’s easier to live and study in Berlin than in Israel, and when he comes back with a degree, he will be in a better situation than others. But for me, an ardent Zionist, it’s painful. This is not how I wanted us to be. On the other hand, I’m sure that I will always stay here. There’s no chance that I will abandon the watch. I’m part of a generation like that.

Which generation?

In my children’s generation, the world is wide open, a global village. For me, brought up to be a good Zionist, it means being here for good and for ill. I still find it problematic that people leave for a while. I look at it like a mother and ask whether this means it’s best to educate the child to fulfill himself. Maybe I educated him too well? Does his choice to be there mean that I did subpar work? But he’s independent and amazing, and his decision was well reasoned, based on logic and ideology.

You sound worried.

I remember that when my daughter, Shir, became a mother, people told me I was entering a new phase, as a grandmother. But you don’t stop being a parent: I had simply entered another club – the grandmas’ club. A woman’s life is one of ever-expanding tasks.

The photographer: And a man’s isn’t?

Even in the postmodern world, a man’s work is simpler. Do you help your wife?

The photographer: I don’t help her. I do the work with her.

But even if you’re egalitarian, it’s the woman who usually bears the greater responsibility. Women are expected to have a career and be super-mothers and super-grandmothers, as well as being sexy. Men are allowed to have a beer belly, at least.

I assume you’re speaking from personal experience.

I am a busy career woman and work hard. I manage a unit in the ORT [vocational schools] network: innovative projects about identity and heritage, which also cultivate relations between Jews and Arabs. I work in a field that tries to get people to connect with who they are and also with other people. As a mother, I did not have the prerogative to decide whether I want edto stay home and raise the children. I kept earning money and also acquiring an education. Now I have a master’s and am waiting for the opportunity to do a doctorate. I would be happy to go on studying. I also make an effort to be a grandmother and visit twice a week. When I think about my visits with my granddaughter, I ask: Is that enough for me? I’m not sure. Besides that, we are vegan at home, which calls for time and preparation. I have three children, and even if they are grown up, they still need parents. There is always a sense of responsibility and concern. Relations with kids don’t end when they become independent, they change.

Sounds like you could use a vacation.

Definitely, but what I’m most proud of is that I was able to take my daughter with me; we decided to go together in a moment of lapsed judgment. I told her she deserved to rest a little. It’s the first time she’s going without her daughter. My daughter is an amazing girl and I would like to pamper her. Besides, it’s an opportunity for us to be together.

Do you get along well?

There have been ups and downs. I don’t believe in harmony: Stability is death, it’s not real. True relations require hard work. Love and responsibility and commitment are the foundation. [The philosopher] Asa Kasher said that it’s wrong to look for happiness, we need to look for meaning. I feel that my life is filled with meaning.

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