Live from Israel
I’m sitting and panting in a hard-won seat on a British Airways jet airplane in London’s Heathrow airport. My flight from Newark, N.J. got delayed a whole hour by thunderstorms, and so I had to race through Heathrow Airport’s terminal five as soon as I got through security (you have to go through security again in Britain after coming off a flight to connect) to get on my flight to Tel-Aviv, Israel before it closed completely.
Still, I got it. And now I’ve got some space and time in which to sit and think or perhaps even sleep and make up for my jet lag. I’ve lost a whole day, leaving at 6:30 p.m. from Newark and arriving at 3:30 p.m. in Tel-Aviv. Why the hell am I doing this? Let me tell you.
I signed up to spend five months – starting in August and ending in time for me to come back to the University of Massachusetts in January – doing volunteer community service in Ashdod, Israel. I did this because I like the country, because I am a Zionist and because I feel an obligation to walk the walk on things I believe.
To really explain why I’ve done such a crazy thing as to take time off from UMass, I need to explain Zionism. Hell, I ought to since it gets bandied about so much in UMass’s thriving public-policy debates, despite the fact that neither the people in favor of it nor the people against it ever really give a thorough definition or justification for it. So I begin simply: Zionism is the belief that a Jewish state ought to exist in the historical land of Israel, also sometimes known as the Levant, Palestine or Judea.
Diving further into the subject, why should a Jewish state exist? Why not just draw a polity on whatever boundaries look geographically nice and tell everyone in there to get along?
To answer this, we have to go back to the aged idea of self-determination. Self-determination is the principle that every people should have a place in which they subject themselves to nobody else’s will and can make every decision of their own governance for themselves. Notably, all the most stable and peaceful countries on Earth were founded on this principle. When we apply this principle to Jews, we arrive at Theodor Herzl’s early political Zionism. From there, the Zionist movement required a land in which to create its state, and to sum up decades of history in a single blithe sentence, the Zionists decided that modern Jews felt the greatest emotional connection to and the greatest moral right to the historic Land of Israel of everywhere on Earth.
From there, history took its course. I think that rather than lecture on the history of Israel here, I’ll leave it to my readers to remember their high-school history of the 20th century or to take a course at UMass. I personally want to focus on the present rather than the past.
Today’s Israel was not merely born, but built in a mere century. It has a culture far more similar to the rest of the Middle East or Mediterranean region than to Europe or America.
People in Israel drink wine instead of beer, crowd and shove instead of queuing, negotiate over everything, consider hard-and-fast rules anathema, spoil their children absolutely rotten, send them to the Israel Defense Force as soldiers, send them to university afterwards and then finally hope they get jobs.
People in Israel have no manners whatsoever, but live up to their usage of “my brother” and “my sister” as second-person pronouns. Even my flight-mate, who says all Israelis are crazy, has picked up their attitude. When there’s no kosher brunch for him he’s fine, because nobody was killed or wounded.
Israelis also value contribution, a value I share with them. Despite rising rates of draft-dodging among young Israelis, people there still consider it a basic duty to serve one’s community and country, to contribute to the common good. I have to get my assignment figured out once I land, but serving a community is exactly what I signed up to do. Crazy or not, I’m spending the next five months in this new country, so I want to make it a little better in whatever way I can.
And of course, I’ll be reporting as much as I can back to my readers at The Collegian. You guys deserve to know what’s really going on in this place that everyone spends so much time arguing about.
Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.