Landing in Israel is like falling off a fast-moving truck. The bounce of the tires on the runway snaps you to attention before you start to fade again. Followed by the long wait in passport control, your aching legs and groaning joints slowly shuffling forward in line for inspection. You eventually slog past the crowds and slip out the door, only to be slapped by wave of humidity. You are confronted by drivers of shared taxis, each of them screaming orders at their zombie passengers. After forty five minutes of being passed off from one driver to the next, waiting in line, being told to board the taxi, then being told to get out, take off your bags, and get in that taxi over there, you're finally on your way. It's only two more hours to get back to your front door, a thirty minute drive in normal circumstances.
I always seem to land in August, in the middle of a dust storm. The radio blares about Hizbullah and missiles and oh man I'm just too wasted to start translating Hebrew right now. Looking out the window at the anonymous rows of red-roofed clone homes, I'm too tired to be a Zionist, too worn out for religious fervor, and while my guard is down the same thought always seems to percolate up in my mind. "What am I doing here?" I mean, I grew up as a smoothly assimilated suburban American Jewish kid with a good education and substantial earning potential. I own the passport with the eagle which millions of people in this world would gladly kill me to get a hold of, some of them living right here. What course of fate took me into this handkerchief-sized country with a giant target painted on it? And did I mention the dust?
Of course, I know a part of the answer to that: Because I'm a chosen person, and this is the holy land! Because I've never felt more at home anywhere. Really, because Israel is interesting, and boredom is my greatest fear. After a week or so, having readjusted from jetlag and getting back into the swing of things, the dust settles and Israel no longer feels like a foreign country, and I'm walking down Jaffa street asking, "How is it possible that any Jew could live anywhere else but here?"
But this time, for some reason, I've already been back for a month, but I'm still as disoriented as if I've just landed. Maybe it's that the girl I was dating dumped me on arrival; the startup company I was working on, which felt so close, seems to have missed its wave with the banking collapse; and my workload is slowing to a trickle as the American economy implodes. Whatever the reason, I seem to have lost some fire. I go to yeshivah and I wish I were somewhere else. I go home and wish I were out and about. I go to the mall and can't think of what to do with myself. I'm neither here nor there.
I remember during my time in Be'er Sheva back in 2000, it always struck me how many of the family-guy American olim had a burned out look ringing their eyes. I asked one American-born professor why he is in Israel. "Inertia." I davened hard to never end up like them; an inertial post-idealist skeleton, chained to Israel by the bonds of family but dreaming of being somewhere else, like the exhilic Jew in the shtetl of a century ago working himself to the bone silently dreaming of Eretz Israel.
Israel, in its current form at least, has a way of slowly grinding dreams to dust. I could complain about the government and Israel's ruling class, with its Star-of-David-clad flag but spite and revulsion for Judaism itself, the machismo culture where driving to the supermarket becomes a gladiatorial blood sport, or the general volume level in the grocery store itself. But really, I knew about those problems before I came, and they didn't bother me. After all, the saying goes, "If there was another Jewish country, I'd move there in a second."
I still love Israel. Torah, Am, and Eretz (Torah, nation, and land.) But I think I have a more holistic perspective on aliyah. When I first made aliyah, I felt pulled by an overwhelming force, that every Jew in the universe just had to live in Eretz Israel right this second, and if he didn't feel the pull, well, something was wrong with him. But on my recent trip to America, I saw plenty of Jews, even highly knowledgeable and observant ones, in chutz l'aretz (outside of Israel) who have made quite successful lives for themselves dancing between the raindrops of gentile culture, so much so that they don't even feel the foreignness of their surroundings. There's a lot of me which is very American too, instinctive emotions and reactions which couldn't be extracted without killing the patient. It was a relief to step into a bank in San Francisco where everyone stands in a straight line and speaks perfect English.
At this point that I feel that there is not an overwhelming force pulling me in one direction, but a balance of forces holding me in equilibrium. Family pulls me to America, faith holds me here. Parnassah (income) pulls me to America, friends hold me here. The easy English and easy-going culture of America pull me there, the deep-rooted Hebrew language and Jewish culture hold me here. I'm certainly not throwing in the aliyah towel, not by a long shot. Overall, the balance of forces has me firmly footed in Israel right now. But now, when someone tells me he can't see making aliyah because his family is unwilling, or he can't handle the culture, I understand.
Meanwhile, I will be in my twenties for the next five hours and twenty three minutes. The decade rolls over and I hit thirty at midnight. I'm tired of sitting in English-only classes, then coming home to my English-only American telejob, and watching the American news over the Internet before bed. It's getting boring already, and it's time for a new direction. So I've started circulating out my resume and seeking local employment. I even had an interview this morning, which I managed to do mostly in Hebrew (though some technical terms are still a bit tough.) Time to pop life's bubble and see what's out there.
G'mar chatima tova, wishing a new year of success for everyone!