Israel at 70: How Israelis like me relate to a country that's an ocean away
April 20, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO (J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA)-My Dear Land, It is almost your birthday.
At 70, you are not a young country anymore. Some will consider me a stepdaughter because I left you, deciding to move an ocean away. I left behind me the battles, the traffic, the heat and the politics to become a citizen of the world.
Whenever I am asked where I am from, I hesitate a minute before I answer, then I carefully monitor the interlocutor's response. Some have no idea where you are on the map. Some give me a look that says oh, that country again. Some share with me their observations and opinions of you. I listen with curiosity, thinking to myself, don't they realize I am still a part of you?
First, I need to educate them about who you really are. Then I need to make sure they hear your side of the story, and to those with a very strong sense of justice, I tell them to mind their own business and attend to their own backyard. You need to know that I defend you openly, although sometimes it isn't an easy task.
Working my way up as an immigrant in the Bay Area, I founded an Israeli theater company, producing plays by Israeli playwrights. Your stepsons and stepdaughters here are thirsty to connect with you through stage performance and live theater. We keep your language, celebrate your culture and preserve the identity you have given us. When I am among them, I find myself pointing out your flaws, calling out your awful mistakes and worrying for your future. I also make sure they do not shut the door to others who claim that they love you. You see, loving you at times is not an easy task.
When I was a little girl, I believed that one day all the Jews of the world would move in with you because you are gigantic, sacred and the only home we have. "The Land" is what we call you. As if the entire world is composed of water and you are the only piece of land there is. Those of us living in the Bay Area say we only came here for a few years, to taste the water, broaden our possibilities and then return. Gradually, in the dead of night, we moved our books and poems, our family albums and childhood memories. We built temporary communities that resemble you, pretending we never really left. We adjusted to a time zone in which we are kissing you goodnight while we are waking up. We never fully realized that we have actually moved out. Admitting that is also not easy.
Perhaps it is a mature process of separation and individuation that pulled us apart. Perhaps the distance and perspective has allowed us to see you better, support you and present you to the broader world community, stating proudly that we, too, are your children. Maybe your diverse human kaleidoscope, your endless conflicts, your multi-religious focal points and the never-ending arguments of who owned you first is what makes us see the world from multiple perspectives, oftentimes antithetical one to the other, yet rich in human experience. Discovering that loving you from afar is just as good and just as possible.
We all need our Zion, a place that we call home, a place we long for, defend, belong to, move away from, criticize, come back to, care for, protect and claim as our birthright. Luckily, you will outlive us, age gracefully and be even more attractive, while we will grow old, and return to die and be buried on your Land.
Ofra Daniel is the co-founder and artistic/executive director of the Jewish Circle Theater. A native of Israel, Ofra is an accomplished playwright and performed with the Beit Lessin Theatre Company in Tel Aviv before moving to the Bay Area. She wrote this piece for J. The Jewish News of Northern California.