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By Shlomo Klapper, Yeshivat Har Etzion
Ah! What a romance! The times we had. Nothing could go wrong. Visiting her was Seventh Heaven. All the wonderful places and memories – the Israel Museum, the Kotel, Machaneh Yehudah – imbued with excitement, culture, history and mystery.
For me, the State of Israel was hitherto an ideal tourist locale, probably since the majority of my time here was spent, well, touring. After spending nearly a year in Israel, I underwent a mental shift as my relationship with Israel matured.
While some of the romance dissipated, our relationship's intensity did not cool off; on the contrary, it deepened. A marriage, for example, cannot forever be a honeymoon. Eventually real life settles in, and the relationship's mettle is truly tested. Does a couple love each other only when touring through Europe as newlyweds, or can that love continue in intensity yet adapt to raising kids, paying bills, and spring cleaning?
My relationship with Israel underwent similar emotional topsy-turvy. The romantic honeymoon eventually ended, and with it a romantic perception of Israel's state of affairs. Israelis are not always dancing the hora as in grainy, black-and-white films – not even on Independence Day – and there are serious social, fiscal, and political problems.
But trading romance for reality by experiencing everyday life with Israelis – eating the same food, living in the same quarters, crying at the same tragedies, laughing at the same jokes – solidified my connection to the Jewish people‘s collective consciousness, land, people, history, and destiny better than anything I saw as a tourist.
After doffing my rose-colored glasses, I realized that Israel is more than just a nice place to visit; Israel has revitalized the Jewish people spiritually, culturally, and physically, which is why I love seeing the Jewish people's vitality as a nation as manifested in normal Israeli life.
There is much more to the country than Jerusalem or tourist attractions. Now, some of my favorite locations are residential neighborhoods or popular hikes. Hebrew isn't a second language here; people speak their mother tongue while chatting, eating, and doing a myriad of other routine activities.
While my high school Hebrew teachers familiarized me with such Israeli literary luminaries as Bialik, Agnon and Amos Oz, I marvel at the revival of the Hebrew language in even life's most mundane aspects, like the usage instructions under the cap of the antibiotics being in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
Ethical issues are not only theoretical, but very real. For example, in the unfortunately all-too-common case of Pidyon Shevuyim (redeeming captives), disputes from classical Jewish texts play out in the Knesset's plenum chamber, Jerusalem's Balfour Street next to the Prime Minister’s House, or at a family's dinner table.
Perhaps the best indication of my shift from tourist to resident is my reaction to rain. Usually, when I wake up and the weather is frigid, raining, and bleak, I want to hide under my covers, go back to sleep, and wake up in Honolulu. Not in Israel, though. Not only is rain appreciated climatically, but all Israelis hope or pray for rain.
The Kinneret's water level is the talk of the town and often the topic of political agitation. But on the personal level, rain no longer elicits anger but rather joy and gratitude.
Often people ask me what I learned during my year in Israel. As much as I learned frontally, through books and lectures and classes, many important lessons were gleaned not through the learning’s content but by its context. The sheer quantity of time spent in a country engendered the shift between tourist and resident.
Simply put, I learned that Israel feels like home.