12 March 2007

Why are we here?

This eternal question was brought upon my head by another piece by Seth Friedman, a member of that turbulent troika of False Dichotomies. Of course, it immediately brought up a memory of that undying Jewish joke that goes approximately like this:

A Soviet Jew got a permission to emigrate to Israel. After a year in Israel he asked for, and received, a permission to return back to USSR. After half an year he asked for, and received, a permission to emigrate to Israel. And so forth, with increasing frequency. Till a Soviet official that was dealing with these endless requests lost his patience and asked why does the man shuttle between the two places. "I feel good only in transit", was the answer.
Well, everyone and his own reasons for Aliyah (that's that special Zionist nickname for immigration to Israel, if you have to know). Apparently, Seth's chief reason is that "London life seems flat, the edginess here more real."

Now, I cannot say that there is nothing to this argument. And Seth, obviously, is looking for some excitement. At least, judging by that fierce look in his mug shot from CiF (already commented upon over there by one of the more irascible readers). What with being an Arsenal fan, there is a good chance that IDF will be able to make him over into a local version of a Tonton Macoute yet:

Sans that strange cap and with a modern ammo belt, of course...

On a more serious note, reading the article, I got a strong wave of deja vu. All the impressions of the new immigrant came back:
  • The lesson from a taxi driver: "You can't trust any Arab. They're all out to kill us - believe me, I know". Check.
  • These people live, breathe, and take up arms for, the cause... Check. (I left out the second part of the sentence, to come back to it later).
  • ...I find myself wondering if that guy's coat is bulging because of the wind, or because there's gelignite strapped to his midriff. Check, with a reservation - I knew even then that gelignite is not what you would use for the purpose mentioned. Besides, gelignite stinks to high heaven.
  • There is almost no street crime... Check (but B&E flourishes nevertheless).
  • And the feelings of insecurity that nag at passengers on the bus... Check. I had a difficulty initially in distinguishing Arabs, and there indeed was that feeling.
  • But, ultimately, the "situation" is on everyone's mind at all times, if not on everyone's lips. No one walks past a Palestinian on the street without automatically checking them for signs of a threat. Check.
  • No one can walk more than 100 yards without seeing a soldier, and being reminded... Check.
  • And so it goes on. Israelis always ask, "Why on earth are you here? Why would you want to live like this, all day, every day?" Check.
  • It's a challenge, it's high-octane, and it's more mentally stimulating than a lifetime of trading equities in some City ivory tower ever could be. Check.
It could be continued, but the list above will suffice for now. Because, while all of it is (was) true, it was true for a fairly short period of starry-eyed wonderment. It wears out, for some of us quicker, for some of us slower, but none of this stays. Dangers - real and perceived, soldiers every 100 meters, checking out your fellow passengers on a bus, and even (or especially) the high octane. And of course, this fallacy:
These people live, breathe, and take up arms for, the cause - and now, as an Israeli myself, they think it's incumbent on me to do the same.
First of all, "these people" live here for many reasons - but definitely not for the cause. "The cause" is a pretty murky business anyhow, and let's leave it to those in ideology sphere.
Secondly, "these people" is a clear indication that the starry- eye period is being far from over. Long as the new oleh (immigrant) uses "they" and "me", he/she is still only partly here.

You just pass through all this and look back with a slight smile. And the only question that remains unsolved is: why are we here?

After all, half a million or more of our brethren are out there, apparently being unable to feel here at home. Or to just be here. And some of the people here are dreaming about getting out, and many eventually do. And some of the people over there (like Seth and his mates) dream about getting here, and many eventually do. And we, the Israelis, ask them "Why on earth are you here? Why would you want to live like this, all day, every day?" But this habit is just a standard exercise, like an army drill, to check you out and far from being what it sounds like. And we will stop asking you in a year. Or two, or three years - or never, but it will mean that something in you still shows the "unabsorbed" oleh, and you better start figuring out what it is (a hint - it is not the accent). Because it may so happen that slowly and imperceptibly you will recognise that here is not the place you were actually looking for.

And no, I do not have a good answer to The Question. I know that I am here because. And the more I am here, the less of an answer I have, and the less I care about the answer and the question. As you shall too, if your journey is successful. And that is what I sincerely want to happen to you all.