It was an extremely hot day. Hot even for the Dead Sea valley in Israel. That day, I drank over six liters of water and never even needed to visit a toilet. I was taking a break in the shade near a fresh water spring in Ein Gedi national park. In spite of the little snail creatures living in the water, the map said that this spring was safe to drink. I was hesitant but when a young ranger joined me to relax in the shade, she encouraged me that the spring was, indeed, safe.
She interviewed me for a while, curious about my trip and what brought me to Israel. “Business travel,” I answered. I was living in the Netherlands at the time and Israel was close enough to be considered part of our European territory. I had been to Israel a couple of times already, but this time had a weekend to see some sights.
Suddenly she asked “when are you going to move here?” The question took me completely by surprise. “Why would I do that?” I asked. She explained that Israel was my homeland, of course. I’d gotten used to the fact that Israelis have Jew-dar at least as accurate as homosexual’s reputed gay-dar. I don’t see what looks so damn Jewish about me, but while U.S. American’s don’t always notice, Israelis certainly do. Still, “I live in the Netherlands now, but my homeland is the United States. I am quite proud of that, actually. Why would Israel be my homeland?”
She was unmoved by my American heritage and explained that it was my duty to return to Israel and help build the nation. I really like Israel too. The climate is much like California with both mountains and deserts. The people are attractive and the food is absolutely delicious. But I have no desire to move there.
It was difficult to understand where this young woman was coming from, until I realized, she was probably brought up by Zionists. For her, it is her duty and the duty of every Jew to return to Israel and build this nation. I can appreciate this view, but it gets to the bizarre notion that Judaism, unlike nearly every other religion seems to enjoy status not only as a belief system, but is also considered a race and a nationality.
I had been speaking with an orthodox colleague earlier in that trip and had commented that I am a terrible Jew and don’t even know about all of the rituals involved in being Jewish, let alone practice or even believe in them. He rejected this notion, saying there was no such thing as a bad Jew. I was still Jewish. I don’t mind telling you, this drives me crazy. To quote David Cross, I am Jewish, as long as my mother’s vagina was Jewish. What I believe in, how I act, or what I want, doesn’t really enter into it. It reminds me of being a high school and some adult claims to know all about you and what you think, even though they’ve just met you! No one wants to be pegged so easily; we all want a bit of individuality and mystery about ourselves and we offer it as a little reward for those who take the time to get to know us.
I still have no plans to move to Israel, and the arrogance of this ‘chosen people’ attitude comes through pretty clearly, but Israelis also enjoy a race-independent-welcoming to everyone (with a Jewish mother). Israel embraces new citizens, in spite of everything else. If I get kicked out of the the states someday for, I don’t know, inflammatory blog postings, Israel will grant me citizenship the moment I step off the plane in Tel Aviv. It’s hard to hold a grudge against that sort of unconditional (provided you’re Jewish) openness.
At home and abroad, people notice my “race” pretty soon after I start speaking, and while I am not going to start lighting a menorah any time soon, I won’t hide who I am. If an anti-semetic demagogue comes to power somewhere in the world, I won’t run and hide. Sure, I am concerned that the ranger’s blind zionist patriotism brings Israel no closer to peace (I’ll have a follow on post about that) but I won’t, and apparently can’t, deny where I came from even if I can’t understand how this one religion got the special treatment to be considered a race.