By Ayal Feinberg, M.A. in Conflict Strategy and Diplomacy at Herzliya IDC
THE LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP. Like many American Jews, I grew up with an intense infatuation with Israel. My youth, from JCC camp to Israeli carnivals to spring vacations on Tel Aviv’s beautiful beaches, was shaped by a desire to explore and share what I considered an incredible culture.
This Israel fixation was only solidified in high school and college with the realization that many people didn’t accept my narrative. While passionately standing up to Israel’s detractors on campus, the same thought always leapt into my mind: if these people only knew Israel like I had they would never be articulating such fabrications. One thing led to another and my Israel addiction turned into a professional pursuit. I found myself living with my safta and studying for my MA in diplomacy at IDC Herzliya with the help of a generous Masa Israel grant.
MOVING IN. After a few months, aspects of daily life started to become aggravating. Why the hell does every Israeli drive as if they’re heading to the hospital with their wife in labor? Don’t people see me waiting in line? Will somebody please take care of all these stray animals?
Israel isn’t perfect. And after you’ve put it on a pedestal your whole life, these blemishes seem much more ugly. After all, this is the only Jewish country in the world, the land of my ancestors, a historical miracle… and we can’t even recycle glass here? These little frustrations often overpower the wealth of cultural and physical beauty for which Israel is famous. I feared these irritations would split my lifelong love and I apart.
THE CONFRONTATION. After sharing my growing annoyances with a few Israelis, I was rightly challenged. Is everything about the United States flawless? You Americans don’t have your own problems?
Well of course the United States has issues – a whole lot of them in fact. I was just accustomed to… oh wait, oh gosh, oh no! I was guilty of the same crimes I had so effortlessly branded Israel’s critics with. I was holding Israel to a double standard, an impossible standard.
TRUE LOVE. Israel is the only country in the world where you don’t have to explain to your friends why you don’t celebrate Christmas. Here you can go swimming and skiing in February on the same day. During the ride to the mall you might develop a genuine friendship with the taxi driver. Dare I say that the food you’ll eat in Tel Aviv is better and cheaper than what’s been hyped in New York City?
My experience in Israel has taught me meaningful life lessons and consequently matured me greatly. Nothing is perfect and we should never expect things to be no matter how hard we wish they were. Grounding yourself in reality allows you to appreciate how valuable your own contributions to solutions can be. Adopt the stray cat and stop for the biker on the crosswalk! If you do the hummus will taste better, the sun will be brighter and your experience in Israel will be so much more gratifying.