Culture

Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 5: Whichever It Is, I’ve Married It

PJ-my trip1

See the previous installments of P. David Hornik’s fascinating series:

Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 1: The Whole World Against Us

Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 2: That Bird Could Be a Mossad Agent!

Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 3: From Woodstock to the Promised Land

Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 4: Why Is Israel So Lousy at Making Its Case?

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Each time I fly, my ability to enjoy plane rides declines a bit further. Yes, there’s still something in me that likes the change, the adventure, being served meals in the sky. On the other hand, you pay over a thousand dollars to sit in a way that, on a bus or train, would be outrageously cramped and unacceptable.

That’s how it was in mid-August as I took a one-week jaunt—via Brussels both ways—to the U.S. and back. Instead of succeeding to sleep on the flights, my contorted attempts to achieve a comfortable position brought back all my ergonomic symptoms—sore shoulder, sore thumb—from the preceding year. In the twelve-hour layover in Brussels for the return trip, I felt so lousy—physically—that I didn’t even bother leaving the airport.

And yet…it was all worth it. Not only to go to my niece’s wedding and see various people again, but because, like all my trips to the States since moving to Israel 29 years ago, it had rich and notable moments.

PJ-my trip2

I was first at my sister’s house in upstate New York (joined there later by Tami, whom I live near in Beersheva). The house is an amazing pastoral retreat with a vast backyard leading to the Mohawk River, where my brother-in-law takes me for canoe rides.

One evening my sister, brother-in-law, and I took a walk on a secluded lane flanked by woods. That it was jacket-or sweater-wearing weather was amazing to me after the Beersheva summer, where even in the deadest dead of night a sweater would be unthinkable.

A brooding August dusk with lambent streaks of cloud in deep gray. To me it evoked a beautiful, melancholy mood of summer dying that I recalled from decades ago—at this time of year—when I still lived in the States.

Yes, you can forget that sort of thing when you move to a different world, one where late August is a time of anticipation leading to the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) in September. I had forgotten that rich melancholy—and I felt a twinge of regret, as if I’d abandoned it, not done justice to it by writing something about it while I could have.

Such twinges of regret I would feel much more often when visiting the U.S. during the first years after my big move. In those days something in me was still stunned at having taken such a radical step, still bewildered that, when I looked around me at America, it wasn’t my home anymore and wasn’t going to be.

But there was less and less of that as the years went on, as Israel became more and more familiar, more “home,” and America more foreign.

So it was noteworthy that, in the August dusk, there was still something—after all these years—that could reach out to me in the subtle key of the wistful.

PJ-my trip3

From there it was downstate for my niece’s (daughter of my other sister) wedding. The evening before the wedding, we were all given a sightseeing cruise out to the Statue of Liberty and back—a very stirring experience.

There was, though, a competition between the taped voice of the tour guide, strident and enthused, and the desire to mingle with people one hadn’t seen in years (or was meeting for the first time). In the end, undergoing an introvert’s difficulty with hubbub, I retreated to a chair beside the railing, a screwdriver in hand and Tami beside me.

Since I still found it hard to focus, I can’t give too precise an account of what I saw. But it recalled words from Thomas Wolfe’s remarkable novella (set partly in New York City) No Door, written eighty years earlier:

…and the great city is blazing there in your vision in its terrific frontal sweep and curtain of star-flung towers, now sown with the diamond pollen of a million lights, and the sun has set behind them, and the red light of fading day is painted upon the river—and you see the boats, the tugs, the barges passing, and the winglike swoop of bridges with exultant joy….

In short, I kept going with the screwdrivers. I said to Tami, “I work hard all year, I deserve this for one night.” She said, “Yes, you do, but I don’t deserve it.”

By the time we reached the astounding and otherworldly sight of the Statue of Liberty rising from the dusk like a goddess, I may have been doggedly singing the refrain of “America the Beautiful” over and over again.

PJ-my trip4

Toward the end of a very dreary day at Brussels Airport, I went as early as possible—because it was something to do—to the waiting room for the flight back to Israel. The best thing I can say about the day (spent alone, Tami having flown on to California for a week) was that I found a row of chairs without armrests where I could sort of doze or at least recline.

Now, in the waiting room, the screen stating that the flight would leave in another hour, I felt the relief of journey’s end. It was so quiet there that for a while I still managed to worry if there was some mistake.

But then the room did start to fill—with a large contingent of native Israelis. So many of them were teenagers and children that it clearly wasn’t a group of discrete families but some sort of larger group; of what kind, or what they were doing in Belgium, was not too evident.

But I found myself, again, confronting hubbub. Not raucous, fortunately, but feisty and buoyant as a large group of Israelis returning to Israel will tend to be. In the shape I was in, it was again somewhat of a trial for my nerves—but trumped by elation.

It was, after all, a Hebrew hubbub. This was the language I’d learned in midlife; this was the star I’d hitched my wagon to. This was the sound—a multitude of Hebrew voices saying ordinary things—that signified an astonishing, against-the-odds success story of return and revival. I was going home.