Maybe it has to do with the Holy Land believed to be at the center of the universe, or maybe it’s the people, or the water, or the air, but the three years I lived in Israel feels like 10.
It’s seems like the dials of time move at a slower pace around here. The move from California to Galilee in 2011 is a distant memory. Don’t get me wrong. I recall the packing of the furnishings, the loading it all inside a 40-foot container, waiting for it to sail the oceans and end up at our doorstep two months later. I recall how we’d felt when we first set our bare feet on the cool tiles inside our custom-built home in Galilee. Outside, the air smelled different, heavier, as if it had substance, meaning. Less than a week later, my twin girls enrolled in a new school, in a new land, in a language they hardly spoke, in a language they did not read nor write.
In my first and second year report cards I spoke of crazy Israeli drivers; I spoke of the beer, the great coffee, the noise level, the creamy hummus of Nazareth, keeping time on a 24-hour clock, the shoddy imported products, on sticker-shock, from the price of gasoline, housing, to dining out.
Time does its thing. Drivers on the road are still insane but they no longer irritate me. I fill my Toyota gas tank, pay $100, and drive off. In social gatherings, people continue to speak at an ear-piercing volume, above the din of the always-on TV. Complete strangers will throw an arm around your shoulder, refer to you as: Ahi, Neshama Sheli, Mammy, Haver, Gever, Matok, Kapara (My Brother, My Soul, Mammy,Buddy, Macho, Sweetie, the Apple of my Eye).
The kitchen paper towels continue to disintegrate with the slightest contact with water. Toilet paper continues to crumble in the crack of my butt.
The garden hose in the yard. I want to strangle it, if I could. All nurseries carry same the same brand, cheap, from China. I turn on the water. The hose crimps, twists, bends, spits, sputters, clogs, flails, wrestles, jerks, drips, spurts, vomits — as if possessed by demons. I let the petunias and roses wilt in the sun. Why get upset?
My wife hates the grocery plastic bags that come in every size, shape, and color. They leak. And they’re noisy to the touch. Opening the fridge turns into a treasure hunt. Green apples inside red plastic bags are mistaken for peaches. Red cabbage inside a yellow a plastic bag is mistaken for a melon.
Speaking of fruits and vegetables, here in Israel we don’t have bananas from Honduras year-round, nor raspberries and blueberries from the Northwest, nor avocados flown in from Mexico. Seasons dictate what’s on the shelf. It’s all local and fresh. Want oranges in summer? Sorry, wait till winter. Bananas? They’re trucked from the coast or the Jordan Valley, 2 hours away, not a continent away.
Time does its thing.
In 2011, first thing in the morning, I searched the on-line edition of the Los Angeles Times. It was natural; I wanted to know what was happening at “home.” Months later – don’t know when exactly – I switched to Israeli on-line newspapers in Hebrew. Somehow, the hurricanes of the Midwest, the drive-by shooting in L.A, the severe drought, ObamaCare, illegal immigration – it all belonged with Americans. I was on the outside looking in, unable to influence the slightest thing.
From time to time, I’d open my desk drawer and fish out my American passport, just to remind me that I’m an American. And proud of it. I’m equally proud to be an Israeli. At the airport in Tel Aviv, I hand the officers my Israeli passport, answer a couple of security questions in Hebrew and then I move up the line. The American passport stays in my carry-on.
In Rome do as the Romans do. In Tel Aviv, do….Well, you ge the picture.
Typing the simplest message in Hebrew on my laptop was brutal. My fingers crawled over the Hebrew peel-off and stick-on alphabet on the English keyboard. I inadvertently erased entire sentences, text danced from left to right, from right to left, could not find the צ or the ק or the פ. I still can’t, but now I can start sending out a message in the morning and finish it before sunset.
War changes people. Israel has experienced more than 10 in its young history. War hardens people, makes them more suspicious, cynical. It also makes Israelis grab life with both hands, enjoy the moment, as there might not be another moment.
The current war against Hamas in Gaza changed my twin daughters, 15. They matured beyond their age. They still speak of American celebrities, idols, music, movies, fashion. But they’re more grounded in reality. They sense the fragility of life around them. And like most young people, they don’t understand why adults go to war.
My older daughters, 27 and 30, live in America. They’ve been to Israel several times. They learned firsthand about the complexities of the Middle East, that Arab and Jews are both right. And wrong. They’ve become goodwill ambassadors, able to carry a conversation confidently. And for that, I’m happy.
At the end of the second year in Galilee, I conducted an unofficial survey of our family’s adjustment in this new/old land. Now, at the end of the third year, it’s still a work in progress. As for our dog Max; he’s happy in the fields.
Years ago, in my early twenties, I enrolled in a “Tour Guide” course. Had I finished it, I could have taken tourists and shown them around Israel, for a fee. I distinctly remember the teacher asking: “How is American history different from Jewish/Israeli history?” Many of students tried to answer, including myself, unsuccessfully, according to him. He went on to say that the Jewish nation draws inspiration, validation, strength, justification, lineage and linkage – from its past. Prophets, kings, tribes, God himself gave us history.
On the other hand, Americans don’t have much of a history: the founding fathers, settling the West, the Civil War, WWI, WWII. Their history could be summed up in decades, not millenia, he said. Jews hark back to the past. The past chains you; it does not liberate you. Instead, Americans look forward. Americans embrace the promise of a better future, the pursuit of happiness.
In closing this 3rd year report card, I look to the future. I’m an American, after all.
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com