The Things That Make Us Stay in Israel

Despite the annoyances about life here - and there are many - something strong connects us to this country.

Amalia Avital
A girl with a Star of David painted on her face attends a pro-Israeli demonstration near the United Nations in midtown Manhattan in New York City, July 28, 2014.
A girl with a Star of David painted on her face attends a pro-Israeli demonstration near the United Nations in midtown Manhattan in New York City, July 28, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Amalia Avital

Rogel Alpher’s articles nearly always stir up mixed emotions for me – agreement on the one hand, anger on the other. Once, when I met him in the supermarket, I introduced myself as someone who had responded to one of his articles. He told me he didn’t read the response, and I suspect he doesn’t ever read them. I don’t like that characteristic, either.

And here we go again. He writes of how he saved the life of his daughter and her children (September 20) by obtaining a U.S. passport for her. As always, Rogel Alpher apologizes when he writes about leaving Israel – between the lines, at least. He writes that he’s Israeli. Two days before that, he wrote (in Hebrew) about a film on Yafa Yarkoni, and explained why it is not a documentary. An intelligent fellow. It’s hard to argue with his motives. He is not happy with Israel. He chooses to give his daughter and her children the possibility of not living here. He, for some reason, stays. There’s something quite sad about a person who stays. The last fluttering of the will to imbue strength and hope into the goal of our grandparents’ existence when they came here, of our parents who were born here and built this country, and of our own.

I was born into an existing country. I had no ties to the Diaspora. I did not think the State of Israel was established as compensation for the Holocaust, as the thinking people have started to inculcate has it. My distant relatives died in the Holocaust, but for a long time I did not know this.

I was born when the state was 12 years old. In first grade, I stood in the same school courtyard as Gideon Levy. I had teachers who spoke excellent Hebrew, and we did not know what ethnic groups were. My classmates were Ashkenazi and Mizrahi (Jews of Middle Eastern origin). Somehow, we didn’t notice it. Near the school office stood – and still stands – a memorial plaque. I saw the names every time I went up to my classroom, recited them. Some had gone to the same school with my father.

Yafa Yarkoni (yes, it’s all connected) used to come and sing “Bab el-Wad” ("The Valley Gate") on Memorial Day, and we would all weep.

Things changed a bit in high school, but the army was the object of our aspirations. I enlisted excitedly. I served less excitedly.

Then came the Sabra and Chatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982, and I was in the “march of the 400,000,” and then the great aliyah from the Soviet Union. Unlike most people, I am not crazy about this aliyah.

I vote for the Labor Party and I was sorry they deposed the person who should be its leader – Shelly Yacimovich. And I am against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sometimes, when I see him on television, I think: Whose prime minister is this? Of what country? It seems he’s not sure, either.

Clearly, the State of Israel has changed in many ways. But there is something very deep that still links the people who are here, connects Gideon Levy to Ari Shavit to me, leaves Rogel Alpher a little beyond the rope – we can explain that another time – and allows Yitzhak Laor to spit and cry, to be the poet with a capital P.

There is something that connects the old Israelis to Israel: despite the electric bikes; despite the threats heard on the news from the direction of Iran (or from the direction of the Prime Minister’s Office). There is something here that connects us, although there’s no scenery and no quality of life; although people quarrel constantly and there’s lots of air pollution. Maybe it’s the desire to retain the correct Hebrew. Or maybe it's that there's no other country that would come together that way to release Gilad Shalit. Because of the sadness in one’s heart when Orna Porat and Meir Pa’il passed away. The real Israelis.

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