Culture

10 Ways My Life Improved Since I Moved to Israel

1. I put my money where my mouth is.

In my twenties in the U.S., I became intensely “pro-Israel.” I avidly followed its affairs, wrote letters to the editor, even got on the phone to solicit funds for it. I spoke of “the Israelis” as a race of ideal people, heroes; but that was guilt talking. I had to be honest with myself: what I was doing was not enough.

Now I’m here; I’m not just an observer or a fan from afar, but a player. Whatever happens here, for good or bad, happens to me. I walk the walk. I’m morally at peace with myself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0ytInWKL1k

2. I get to watch Israel grow.

Thirty years ago, when I came here, Israel was still in some ways a sleepy socialist backwater. The population stood at four million. Inflation was triple-digit, and public services were so sluggish that it took years—years—to get a phone from the state-owned telephone company.

Today the population stands at eight million. Israel is a world-recognized, high-tech and economic dynamo, ranking 16th of all countries on the Human Development Index. Living here these 30 years has been like watching a confused, shy, awkward kid grow into a confident young master of his fate.

3. I’m in the Land of Abraham.

Eretz Yisrael, the land to which God directed Abraham, the land that was the focus of yearning for two millennia of dispersion. Jews in places like Russia or Poland would cherish an orange from the Land of Israel almost like a sacred object. As I was growing up in upstate New York, images came to me from this land of happy people working and dancing in fields. They were romanticized images, but not totally.

Now I live in it; it’s my daily ambience. But I don’t get used to it; I watch its seasons and hues, its parched summers and moody winters, with an ongoing sense of wonder. Leave it? Unthinkable.

4. I’m always learning Hebrew.

I’ve seen those studies that say learning a language is one of the best exercises for the brain, a way to keep it young. I came here at 30 knowing very little Hebrew, and have been learning it ever since and always will be. By now I’ve conquered quite a lot of the territory—but there’s always more lying ahead.

And Hebrew is not just, of course, “a language.” It’s the language that Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David speak in the Bible, the rich ore of Jewish culture for thousands of years, now chattered at every street corner in the old-new land.

5. I got to serve in the Israeli army.

At the time I immigrated, even (male) immigrants at my age were supposed to serve. At 33, I did two months of basic training for the Artillery Corps in the broiling sun. Then another two months in an artillery base on the Golan Heights, to learn how to operate the big guns there.

After that, 15 years of reserve duty, mostly policing tasks in the West Bank. Easy? No, it wasn’t. But if there was ever a richer experience available to me, I don’t know what it was. Meeting native Israelis and immigrant Israelis from all over the world, Jewish and Druze and Bedouin Israelis, seeing up-close the crazy-quilt of Israeli-Palestinian interactions.

6. I learned about Jewish holidays.

Of course, I already knew about some of them before I moved here—but only the ones that not-too-observant Diaspora Jews know. I didn’t know about holidays like Shavuot, Sukkot, and others that are intimately linked to the soil and seasons of the Land of Israel, having begun (probably) as harvest festivals among ancient Israeli Jews.

I didn’t know how such holidays have been brought back to life on a national level, how they’ve inspired new songs, dances, and customs, and become integral to the calendar of the world’s one and only Jewish state.

7. I got to know the Israeli terrain.

Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Galilee, the Negev. Just to say these words sets off powerful trains of associations in me. By now, in these and other such “exotic” places, I’ve lived intense and sometimes major episodes of my life.

The color and variety of the Israeli places, the mix of ancient and hypermodern, is a reality hard to convey. I somehow found someone who, like me, loves the Galilee most of all. We go up there in early spring when the anemones and cyclamens are first dawning on the green hills.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob6X07EzuX8

8. I get to write about Israel from Israel.

If I’d stayed in the States, I would have become a “pro-Israel writer.” There are people there now who do it well, and I respect them for it.

It’s not the same, though, as direct reports from the scene of the action itself. It’s all around me, kinetic and urgent, and there’s no end of things needing to be said about it. Straight from the Land to my head to the screen, from there along the instant causeways of the internet to wherever.

9. I get to feel fierce pride.

In the U.S., too, I was a patriot—of a great democracy a couple of centuries old with over 300 million people. Here, I’m a patriot of a lone democracy of eight million in a neighborhood of tyranny and terror, which has had to fight for its life for over six decades while blossoming as an incredible startup nation of dynamic creativity. “Fierce pride” is more like it.

10. My life couldn’t be more full of meaning.

Like everyone else I have my ups and downs. But because my life is welded to Israel like this, the “me” is smaller. I rise and fall with Israel’s ups and downs, too—and Israel mostly triumphs.

I can’t think of anything more unquestionably meaningful than contributing what one can to the survival and flourishing of the newborn Jewish state. It remains the world’s only country that many haters, terrorist organizations, and at least one vicious regime are working to destroy. Every little positive thing I do is a vote in favor of life, of productive, innovative, affirmative existence, and against the forces of darkness.