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Being in Israel after 22 Years: A Reaffirming and Inspiring Journey

New and Old Tel Aviv

When I arrived in Israel in mid-October, I took the train north from the airport outside of Tel Aviv to Binyamina, the stop nearest where I would be staying. In the hour ride, I looked around the crowded train at the people working on their laptops, talking to each other or on their phones, gazing out the window, sleeping—people in the interim stage that is travel. Out the window I saw office buildings, strip malls, industrial areas, greenhouses, farms, neighborhoods of private homes and apartment buildings—and I thought to myself that the antisemites and anti-Zionists who want to destroy Israel don’t seem to grasp—care—that this is a real country, with millions of people living their lives. This is not a political statement; this is life. This is not merely a decision written on a piece of paper or a vote in the UN. This is not a military base. This is home to generations of Jews who are simply living their lives, as they have done since ancient times.

Israel has a robust infrastructure—one that is continually being developed, as evidenced by that train itself which didn’t exist when I flew out in 2000, and the light rail I took in Jerusalem, and the light rail being built in Tel Aviv, which made the traffic there even worse. This is not a temporary spot to move from. This is the place Jews have prayed to return to. This is home.

This should be the place to feel at peace, as when you get home after a long trip. After more than two millennia of being chased out of towns for trying to make a living in the only ways permitted, or being forcibly converted because we’re still waiting for the Messiah, or being burned for praying differently, this settling in should be lauded. Our ancestors were not all killed. They did not all give up. They did not fully concede to the majority religion wherever it was that they lived at that time. Seems to me that perseverance and dedication are behaviors we generally value and admire.

That the people who proclaim that no Jews should live in Israel are accepted astounds me. That the people who want to deny Israel’s right to exist—Israelis right to live in their country—that they want to give one group rights and then deprive those same rights of another group (not just of a homeland, but of life itself)—seems to be the definition of inhumanity and hypocrisy. In the twisted way the world and the mind work, they are seen as being on the side of freedom. Dangerous hypocrisy.

The absurdity in rising antisemitism, the throwing of the Jews—who are just people like all people, trying to live their lives—once again under the scapegoat bus of a world full of people who find it easier to hate and blame than to consider the challenges of someone else’s life situation, challenges my (natural) inclination to believe that people are basically good. This is a stark testament to the fact that this is not a time of enlightenment, as we had hoped. No, it is a time, just like any other, where there are advances and setbacks, a constant struggle. We are not better because we have indoor plumbing and vaccines. People are still people. But why does poor treatment of Jews always have to be a sign?

My month in Israel, with more trips on trains and buses, miles of walking along bustling streets, and people-watching as I sat at cafes, was inspiring. I remembered anew why I had moved there after college and why I had stayed for almost 20 years. To feel an intrinsic bond with the people around you is not something to take lightly. To see jelly donuts in bakeries as a sign that Hannukah is coming (yeah, this celebration of oil!), as opposed to the barrage of Christmas merchandise and programming meant that I didn’t feel excluded, that I belonged. Jewish people feeling safe in their own homeland should be the goal, not something to conspire against. Jewish people feeling safe wherever they live or travel shouldn’t be a goal, but the norm.

I wish that “people are people” wasn’t my sour understanding that people can be horrible to each other, to Jews, as they have been over the centuries. No, I wish I could interpret it to mean that notwithstanding our differences, we focus on the commonalities and that leads to curiosity and acceptance.

A commuter in Israel should not be a terrorist’s objective. It should be what it is, a person going to work or school, supporting their family, sharing ideas, overcoming challenges, helping those who need it. People living lives. Such a basic concept.

Downtown Tel Aviv



Laura, I can feel in your post the comfort, the general well-being, and peacefulness of your being in Israel. What a sensation of weight being lifted that must have been, knowing you were not in immediate danger of running into someone who sees you as "other," knowing you're able to exhale and be.

One of the most difficult things for me to accept as a human (besides the general concept of suffering) is that in this time where we are supposed to be moving forward, we continue to regress. While there are so many people working for equality, civil rights, human rights, there are maybe just as many (maybe fewer percentage-wise, I don't know) who cling to their old beliefs, who are fearful about those who are different, who want to take rights away from others and demonize anyone who doesn't share their narrow world view. There are studies that have shown that the conservative mind is one that tends to have a harder time grasping the concept of empathy for others, which makes sense to me. I like to think that people are basically good, but that seems like such a naive view when we know what happened in Germany. We see the parallels here, with those many in the crowd quite willing to follow and accept blindly the lies, propaganda, antisemitism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., shown directly to them and expressed openly by their chosen leaders.

All we can do is fight back when and where we can.

On an uplifting note, the subReddit normally devoted to the rapper whose name I won't mention (but who has shown himself to be a rabid antisemite) has been flooded with Holocaust remembrance posts. Many of his now-former fans rebuked him in the most powerful terms, with pictures and articles meant to educate those especially in the younger generation who may not be receiving the education they should. Some people's eyes were opened.

I have got to think that we will keep moving forward, but I really don't know what to think anymore.

Laura of RToaW

Margaret, Thank you, as always, for responding and giving your deep thoughts in response to my writing. I think we just need to keep pushing back against the lies and distortions and hate. Not see it as a battle, necessarily, but that being the accepting, positive person you are as a powerful response. Show and tell!

Here's to being a light and having others seeing and accepting the light.

Gwen Jones-Cintron

Our chance meeting in Jerusalem was filled with all the signs of why we connected in the first place. There is no doubt that although being born and raised in the most sterile and assimilated of Jewish environments that we both longed for a feeling a belonging. There is not doubt that , when I am in Israel, I truly believe that I belong. I feel bad for the Jewish people in my life that have not only never made that connection but see no place for any connection to their Jewish roots. I feel even worse for those that reject them. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the more extreme we are ..(whether the right or the left), that it does us more harm than good. It is ok to be proud of our Jewishness without being anti others. And finally..it is sad to say..but in the bigger picture..only Jews will actively pursue safety for Jews. I feel that is one of the major reasons for the Anti Israel movement. Regardless of Israeli's varied opinions they all recognize the need for security for the Jewish people,.

Laura of RToaW

Gwen, Amen to that! Amen for being a strong Jewish woman who believes that our heritage defines us. And yeah for our "meet cute" re-connection, and for continuing this conversation that we began many years ago.

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