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My Nephew is Going to Israel

 

My nephew is going to Israel for his gap year between high school and college. It has become de rigeur for kids from orthodox Jewish schools to spend a gap year in a yeshiva or seminary (for girls) in Jerusalem, immersing themselves in Jewish studies, Hebrew language, and maybe even the political realities of the Middle East. I wouldn’t want to spend a year in Israel, though, even now. I’m kind of addicted to familiar things. I could manage a week away, maybe ten days, tops. Though even that would strain Cricket’s anxiety disorder to the breaking point. Mine too. I’m impressed by all of these eighteen and nineteen year old kids who have the self-confidence to go to another country for a whole school year.

And the state of peace in Israel is always shaky; flair ups can come at any time. The recent violence at the holy sites could be forgotten by the time my nephew even gets on the plane, or it could grow into a conflagration. Many parents will send their kids to Israel during wars or uprisings. I don’t know why they feel so confident that their children will be safe, but they do.

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This is how I’d feel about it.

 

My nephew probably won’t be visiting a kibbutz, because there aren’t many left. Israel is a tech crazy country with some of the best medical research facilities in the world; it’s not a country of people living on collective farms, picking oranges, anymore. Will the boys get to meet the Palestinians who live on the other side of Jerusalem? Or visit the Knesset (the parliament) to hear arguments from politicians from the many different sides? Or will they spend all of their time studying Talmud and meeting other Jews? Maybe even only other American teens like the ones they grew up with, instead of the Russian or Ethiopian or French or Indian Jews who have found their home in Israel.

It took me a long time to even dip my toe into the waters of modern Israeli history, and I still can’t say that I fully understand the conflicts and points of view of everyone involved. I know that my support for Israel is tribal rather than logical, but then, I think that’s probably true of everyone, on either side.

I have seen and heard a lot of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric recently, and some of it goes over the line into the anti-Semitic language used during the Holocaust. But I have also heard prejudiced arguments and comments from some Jews that are not only unconvincing but disturbingly racist in nature. Smarter and better informed people than me will have to figure it all out and find the compromises that will work. I don’t have answers, or ease, on this issue.

But what I do have is a deep understanding of the need to live somewhere surrounded by people who are like you. I grew up going to Jewish schools where we could each be who we were – the athlete, the musician, the artist, the brain, the druggy – and not be defined by everyone around us as “the Jew.”

I am an American Jew, though. America is my country, my home. This is where my family is, where my dogs are, living and dead. It would be nice to visit Israel, though, and see how it feels to be one among many, and no longer in a minority, surrounded by my people’s history, deep in the ground under my feet.

Unfortunately for me, the Jewish state is in the Middle East, in the desert, where it is too freaking hot. Maybe if the Jewish state were somewhere like Vancouver, I’d be more eager to go. I wonder how Cricket would take to traveling in a plastic crate under my feet.

puppy in October 018

I mean, she has fit herself into smaller places.

puppy in November 047

When she was a puppy.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

69 responses »

  1. A dear friend of mine from high school moved to Israel after college and lives in Jerusalem where he is a university professor. Even he says it is impossible to really understand Israel, much less explain it to me. So you are in good company.

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  2. Cricket looks so similar to our first dog, Buffy. I got her my first year of college and had to carry her in and out of our apartment in a bag of any sort since she was not suppose to be there. She was white and fuzzy and the same size as cricket. The stories I could tell of her travels to places that she was not allowed to be…

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  3. I agree with you that racism is on the rise. I believe that we live in a neo fascist era – this is the phrase I use to describe what I see on the news and it depresses me to see racial abuses to this very day. I grew up with racial abuse as did my parents back in their home country in Europe and post war here in Australia. We seem to learn very little from history. If only everyone did a DNA for genealogical purposes, I suspect that their attitude to other races would diminish into a more accepting one? I recently did a DNA analysis for my genealogical research and found that I am a blended human product from many different races, including a big element of Eastern European and a small element of Ashkenazi Jewish. We are the sum total of all our ancestors I say and I believe this. I just wish people would put aside their racial and religious differences and learn to respect each other and have happier lives. Thank you Rachel, for your interesting blog this week.

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    • Thank you. We were talking about this in synagogue this week: that there is no one way to look Jewish, because Jews have lived almost everywhere in the world and look like every kind of person. I wish that the muttliness of human genetics could lead all of us to better understanding, but it hasn’t worked yet.

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  4. I lived ten years in Jerusalem, and I’m a dual citizen. You shouldn’t be scared, Israel is safe. It’s different, a somewhat different way of life. Busier and a bit harder. But you shouldn’t be scared. After all, you’re a social worker. Kol tov.

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  5. Back in the early 90s Iwas fortunate to make several trips to Israel doing some work with the Tell Aviv airport authorities. I truly enjoyed my time there and made friends that remain close to this day. It is indeed a complicated and complex place and the politics were beyond baffling but the people were a joy to meet and I’d jump at a chance to return.

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  6. I really enjoyed your thoughtful blog post, and I cracked up when I read these lines: “Unfortunately for me, the Jewish state is in the Middle East, in the desert, where it is too freaking hot. Maybe if the Jewish state were somewhere like Vancouver, I’d be more eager to go.”

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  7. I grew up watching this conflict on television (as an outsider being neither Jewish or Arab) … I never in my right mind would have thought that it would still be ongoing in my middle age. I took a course on Israel in college to understand the conflict better but ended up really conflicted in my views. Growing up in Canada, I have Jewish friends and Arab friends… I love and respect everyone. I’m no authority on this and this is no easy conflict to get past but I do believe it’s possible if both sides can just put aside racial and religious differences… we are all just humans, after all.

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  8. Home is where you hang your hat. I think you should take a trip someday when the weather is cooler. Cricket would fit in your carry on.

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  9. As both Jew and follower of Jesus, I would like to visit Israel again. One visit does not do justice, but I don’t think I would go there for a year. The history, turmoil, religious significance, and the modern, technological country that Israel is, is a lot to take in. We have sufficient of all of those right here in the States. But I have spent a quarter of my life in arid and semi-arid climates. It’s not as bad as an August day in Queens or mid-town M.

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  10. I would love to visit Israel but with the huge number of people willing to strap bombs to themselves and kill as many people as they can… Not gonna happen.

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  11. You can train yourself for hot here in Arizona.

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  12. Yup, too freakin hot! Don’t listen to Kismet (above). She thinks Arizona isn’t too hot because she’s a tropical bird. Trust me, you won’t like it either!

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  13. Israel is a place I’d love to visit if I knew I’d be safe and if I knew there’d be no ramifications for visiting. Unfortunately, people seem to get suspicious and assume an ulterior motivation when someone with no family or religious ties wants to visit areas that have a recent history of conflict. I’d be interested in the history and the culture.

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  14. An interesting post Rachel that brought back happy memories from the time I spent in Israel more than thirty years ago. Growing up in The Netherlands many of us were encouraged to spend some time in a kibbutz, even though we were not Jewish. It was seen as a way of opening our eyes to other belief systems and life on a collective farm. I spent three weeks at Kibbutz Dorot, which still exists today, before backpacking and hitch-hiking around Israel and Egypt for another nine weeks, staying in hostels or sleeping under the stars. It was an amazing journey with warm conversations around campfires and a lot of laughter. No one spoke of politics – everyone I met was more interested in the beauty of nature and the meaning of life. I wish your nephew a wonderful time! ☺

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  15. It is true what you said about being surrounded by people who are like you- the feeling when there is unlike anything here. It is an amazing place to see- so totally different, and to walk where those we have read about in Chumash is an amazing feeling.

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  16. I was blessed to visit Israel once, about 10 years ago. I was with a Jewish based group. Everyone panicked when I said I was going. But I knew this country to be the safest in the world. Why? The best, strongest, smartest military and they are God’s people. I went in November, cool, dry sunny days. I hope you go someday. (It was only 8 days, enough so my dogs did not panic and my separation anxiety relatively mild) truly incredible experience for me, and I am not even Jewish.

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  17. I hope your son has a wonderful time, perfects his Hebrew, and makes many new friends! I have friends who live in Israel and in Palestine, both say that the news and the media blow everything out of proportion.

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  18. I envy the “gap” years. Good for your nephew for having the curiosity and commitment to spend his year in Israel. I wish him safe travels.

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  19. There has been this tv advert on quite a bit in the last year advertising Tel a Vive and Jerusalem as a two centre break, from the UK.Looks gorgeous, but I must admit I would be nervous about traveling there. Saying that we have had our fair share of troubles with bombings in London and Manchester this year, and I have still visited both places since. Hope your nephew has an enjoyable and safe time. X

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  20. I hope your nephew has a wonderful time and stays safe.

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  21. Considering the constant terror attacks in so many countries, the USA included, it’s so strange that people still think Israel is more dangerous than any other place.

    If you’d visit Israel, you’d see it’s not all a desert and that there are still many Kibbutzim and advanced agriculture.
    You may also understand how small the country is, and that it has 20% Arab citizens, so there’s really no need to meet with any specific “Palestinians”, as Palestine was the name of the whole area and it doesn’t define a particular type of Arabs.

    It’s really sad that so many American Jews don’t understand the very basic facts about Israel.

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  22. Cricket will be just fine as long as she has you 🙂 Shes so adorable. I recently saw some documentary about Israel and wanted to go there. Sometimes we must do what our heart desire, whatever that means 🙂

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  23. I hope your nephew has a great, safe year. Maybe you and Cricket could go for a visit. I’m with you, though, I wasn’t mature enough, or confident enough, at 17 years old to venture to a foreign country for a year. I applaud those who are.

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  24. Even now I would love to go to Israel and walk in the footsteps of the Prophets- and others. I would like to say that I touched the Western Wall. However, perception is everything and while I am fully aware that Israel is a modern technological country with some of the best research programs in the world, I still think of it as I grew up learning about Kibbutz and Oranges and collective agriculture.

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  25. Will keep your nephew in my prayers and your family.

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  26. Israel-Wow! I think it would be great to go to Israel.

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  27. I find it amazing when young people are willing to travel so far. Good for him. I can’t even convince my son to apply for a college he can’t commute to. Lucky for me there are some great universities near us. 🙂

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  28. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live alongside one another in good faith, regardless of our religion or ethnicity?

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  29. What a wonderful chance for those who want to take it – it’s not for everyone, though.

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  30. It seems to be a time for racism and division, but I’m sure you need not worry. It will pass.

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  31. Good for your nephew! Hope you get to make the trip someday too.

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  32. If you have the opportunity to visit Israel, Rachel, we would advise you to go. It is safer there than in many places in this increasingly dangerous world and is full of wonders and complex things to consider. Such an interesting post. Pip and the boys

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  33. My neighbor spent a year in a kibbutz in Israel in the early 90’s, and it caused lifelong depression and PTSD. I will hope that your nephew has a better experience, and that he will find it enlightening and uplifting.

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  34. Rachel you MUST go to Israel! It’s the most beautiful place with a magnetic energy in the air. I just know you would LOVE it there. And for the record they have the best looking men on the planet residing there.

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  35. Rachel, this post is lovely.

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  36. I empathize with the emotions and ideas you have expressed. A tough decision to be sure. Since I have mived around quite a lot, I can no longer call any one place home, having left pieces of my heart in each of those places that I knew and made into that home.

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  37. I enjoyed your post. Your nephew has the right idea: travel when you can especially at that age when there are so many choices to be made (whose effects may not be felt for decades). I have family there. I, on the other hand, am totally anti-religious even if tribally Jewish.

    Ivy, the beast, couldn’t come. The only bag she’d fit in would be too big for me to carry. She might like IL. After Merida the temps would be acceptable (at my feet in A/C) & there would be so many people to protect me from, w/her 80lb bulk, big teeth and menacing growls.

    I hope he enjoys it, stays safe which he must do there, in the now-crazed USA, and here in MX…everywhere.

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