For Sayed Kashua, Life in the U.S. Is Good. But Still...

What assails him every morning is that he is approaching the moment he will need to decide: Stay or go.

Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua
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Illustration by Avi Ofer.
Illustration by Avi Ofer.
Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

It’s cold outside. The mobile phone shows that the temperature is minus-17 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit). Even so, I’ll soon go out for a smoke. I’ll put on the coat with all its insulating layers, don the wool hat and wrap a kaffiyeh around my neck. One hand will be gloved, the other will be bared so it can hold the cigarette. I’ll have to smoke it in less than three minutes, otherwise it’s liable to slip out of my fingers, which lose all feeling after a few moments at these temperatures.

It’s been cold the past few days, but it’s barely snowed yet. “You had a dreamy December,” the locals – who are still reeling under the trauma of last year’s winter – told us, adding in a tone of reserved sorrow, “although Christmas without snow isn’t a real Christmas.” And they’re right. Without snow, how could Santa get around in his reindeer-pulled sleigh and bring presents to the kids?

My son screamed wildly the first time he saw Santa, who was sitting on a chair in a decorated area of the local mall. “I want to go home!” my son shouted at the top of his lungs. It took hours after we left the mall and Santa for him to calm down.

If I’m not mistaken, the first column I wrote in these pages, 11 years ago, was about Christmas. I remember writing that I got drunk that night in the Talpiot industrial zone in Jerusalem, and tried to make my way home to the Beit Safafa neighborhood on foot. That I was lost until I saw a shining star, which I was sure was the Star of Bethlehem guiding me homeward. That I was overjoyed at this divine guidance and hurried toward the glorious star of salvation – only to discover that what I was seeing were flashing lights from a Border Police patrol car.

Soon the holidays will be over and everyone will go back to work and school. Soon we will have to decide officially what we are going to do next year: stay or go.

Sometimes I watch the news from Israel and find it hard to believe. I see election ads featuring Naftali Bennett dressed up as a reader of Haaretz, who thinks it’s perfectly okay to plunder homes, land, freedom and life without feeling the need to apologize. And I see Danny Danon in a sheriff’s outfit, ready to fight the Arabs. And it takes time for it to sink in that this is not a hallucination: These are real people who wield power and influence, and are shaping the face of the nation in their image. And saddest of all is when I read about the Herzog-Livni “Zionist camp” and no longer know what is preferable.

Not that I think the politicians here are any better, heaven forbid. For sure there are your local Danny Danons and Naftali Bennetts here, too. The difference is that I’m not yet familiar with them. One of the marvelous things about being in the United States is that American foreign policy doesn’t affect me the way it would, sealing my fate, if I were still in Israel – not to mention in the occupied territories.

Life’s pretty easy here, no doubt about it. But what price will the emotional disconnect exact? How alive can I really feel without politicians and media people who drive me nuts? How much creativity will there be if I’m so far away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s facial expressions when he appeals to the masses? What will I write about it if Ayelet Shaked stops trying to dictate my civil status?

“Do you feel good over there?” my father asked when he spoke to me via computer as he lay sick in bed. “If it’s good for the two of you and the children – stay.”

Good for us? I asked myself the question, but couldn’t come up with a true answer. I mean, yes, it’s better here, the children seem happy in school, you don’t have that existential background noise of a relentless political threat around you, we’re farther from racism than we’ve ever been in our lives. But still... That’s a “still” that I can’t explain but that assails me every morning anew.

The holiday break will soon end and we have to make a decision, a decision that will have many implications for our future path in life. It could be a completely different story from taking a single sabbatical year, after which we go back to what we left and continue from where we left off. It’s a decision that will have implications for our work – mine and my wife’s – and for the educational track we determine for the kids, and even for the languages we will speak at home and the books we buy for the children.

In the meantime, I need to take a vacation and ponder things deeply. I need to take a vacation from the newspaper, from writing, from this column and from Israeli politicians. I’ll take a break so I can disconnect for a moment from Israel, and see how connected I can feel to this new place. I’ll leave you to your own devices, and try to find Americans who can scare me like the people back home. Afterward I’ll come back.

Right now I’ll have a smoke and think about things alone. Happy New Year.



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