Welcome home: but which place is home?
Exactly a week ago today, I landed back in New York after my two-week reporting odyssey in (predominantly) Tel Aviv. Now that I’ve had time to get over the initial Israel euphoria phase/acute post-Israel withdrawal syndrome, I figured I’d write a bit about my experience there. During my two weeks there, I was assigned by The Jewish Week to conduct interviews and research for our upcoming Tel Aviv at 100 section (appearing May 22), but while there, I really was able to do much, much more. In those 14 days I think I learned as much as one entire year in college — no offense Penn, you know I love you.
Of the four times I’ve been in Israel, this was the first time that my purpose was work, rather than vacation. But I enjoyed this experience as much or maybe even more than my prior visits — this time, though I might have been staying with Lior’s family, I was navigating the country completely on my own. After two weeks there, I think I have the map of Tel Aviv memorized, as well as the Herzilyya-Tel Aviv Merkaz/HaShalom train schedules and many of the local bus routes. Despite my (embarrassingly) minimal Hebrew abilities, I was able to get around with absolutely no problem, as if I had been to the country 100 times before. I felt completely at home. And another part of home had come with me in a way — my parents decided to take their first vacation to Israel while I was there reporting, and I was able to see them briefly a few times.
While on this trip, I interviewed and met with so many brilliant, interesting people — just to name a few: my new good friend and fellow journalist Yoav Sivan; deputy mayor and head of Hiriya environmental development Doron Sapir; director of the municipal LGBT center Etai Pinkas; head of conservation and architect Jeremie Hofman; one of the mayor’s gay advisors, Adir Steiner; Technion environmental professor Emily Silverman, the only gay Knesset member, Nitzan Horowitz; Filipino caregiver Jonny; and the Abramovitches, a nearly 100-year-old Tel Aviv couple who have been married for the past 70 years and also appear in Centennial photographs by Dani Eshet.
Among the most interesting places I visited was Hiriya, the garbage dump turned recycling center, which is now being redeveloped into a huge park of greenery and wildlife — out of the way and near no public transportation, but definitely, definitely worth a visit. The innovation going on there is unparalleled, and engineers have devised such advanced recycling techniques that now only 20% of Israel’s waste ends up in landfills. I think that more and more, the world is recognizing just how advanced Israel’s science and environmental innovations have become.
In addition to Hiriya, another thing I was thoroughly impressed by was the municipality’s direct contributions to the city’s huge LGBT community. I feel like in the United States, gay organizations only exist through private funding, and this type of step is very honorable on Tel Aviv’s part — though, of course, they may have other motivations in keeping this population happy, with the sheer number of LGBT Tel Avivians involved in politics alone. Crazy/amazing that such a liberal city could exist just 45 minutes from Jerusalem.
Speaking of Jerusalem, I did spend one day there, where NY media consul David Saranga and press officer Noam Greenberg worked really hard to get me into the official Yom HaZikaron-Yom Ha’Atzmaut ceremony at Har Herzl. That evening provided a great window into the importance of Israel’s military culture and really emphasized the sacrifices that all Israelis make in order to keep the country a Jewish homeland. The ceremonies, which also paid tribute to Tel Aviv’s 100 years, quickly jumped from somber to celebratory, eventually bursting with fireworks. My only problem with that evening — I forgot to bring a sweater because I didn’t realize that Jerusalem evenings are about 20 degrees cooler than those in Tel Aviv. Luckily, the woman sitting next to me covered me in a blanket. Sure, Israelis are known for rudeness and brusque behaviors, but they should also be known for hospitality.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut I spent with my amazing friend Liron Mark and her family in Haifa, where we also visited the Air Force base at Ramat Avid — the one day of the year that the base is open to the public. Missiles and aircraft were on display, and war planes swooped in formation above in a sort of sky show. One thing that really, really surprised me while I was at this base, however, was the fact that nearly half of the many visitors there were Arab. Not Druze, but 100% (Israeli) Arab — and so many of the parents took photos of their kids in front of the missiles, as if this was a theme park. I really regret that I didn’t go speak with some of them, and ask them why they had decided to come for a visit that day — Do these Arab families side with Israel and dislike nearby Hezbollah as much as their Jewish neighbors do? Or are they Palestinian supporters who want to explore their enemy’s military culture? Or are they neutral civilians, who simply wanted to take the kids somewhere new and exciting to play that day? I guess I will never know that answer to these questions.
I learned so much in Israel, yet so much remains unanswered. Could I ever live there? Do I want to live there? Could I learn to speak fluent Hebrew? For the moment, I am happy in New York and have a great job, but I constantly think of the possibility of one day spending more than just a couple weeks in my favorite place — in Israel. Well, who knows what will happen. And with that uncertainty, I need to be satisfied because really, I guess anything is possible.Share