I just got back from Israel. I went as a kind of pre-state pilgrim, but the circumstances and the trappings of the trip were hardly old-fashioned, or pious. My ever-generous in-laws wanted to show off their grandchildren at a wedding thrown by olim relatives, so the grandchildren’s parents got to come along. We stayed at the Sheraton in Tel Aviv: right on the beach, with the most amazing breakfast (forget about Jerusalem, how did I forget about Israeli cheese?) and hardly a black hat or olive uniform outside the pages of a newspaper to remind us of the bigger, more complicated reality we had entered.
I knew they called Tel Aviv Ha Buah, or “The Bubble” because I’d seen an Eytan Fox movie of the same name depicting a city of luscious bohemians, straight and gay, Palestinian and Israeli, protesting, partying and loving it up. But now I get it on a whole other level.
Basically, I was along for the whirlwind tour of my husband’s family: the olim whose daughter was getting married; the cousins who stayed in Palestine after the war when his grandparents opted to try their luck in the States; the kibbutz mom who adopted him when he was a “Chayal Boded,” or Lonely Soldier, during his years in the army. I asked only that we visit the Wall. I wanted to touch it, to pray there and to show it to my son, who will be 5 in October, in the hope that it would become one of his first memories and maybe inspire in him a sense of God.
For the rest — that bigger, more complicated picture — I wasn’t sure what to do as far as my son went. (I didn’t have to worry about my daughter. She only just turned 3 and even relatively straightforward conversations with her tend to take on a surreal stoner tone as when, to offer just one example, she mixes up yesterday and tomorrow.)
Of course, I wanted my son to have a good time. Of course, I wanted him to love and appreciate the land that birthed our ancestors, and our faith. But to totally ignore the messy truth beyond the Wall and the Bubble didn’t seem like either good parenting or fair to our hosts — in the broadest sense — who had made such sacrifices so we could drop in and enjoy. One cousin loaned us his car seats. And met us at the airport. Both coming and going. His oldest son, that sweet slip of a boy who spent much of the family barbecue bent over his phone, will be drafted at the end of the summer.
In the end, Israel, and its savvy leaders, and its economic boom, and its lovely people, made my angst irrelevant. The Bubble must have gotten bigger. No teachable moments broke through. No suspicious package, no haredim acting badly (well, one guy shoved me, but I didn’t do anything with it, chaval), no glimpse of the Other Wall. I felt relieved and, of course, guilty.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there, but around our dinner table, when my son was listening to me talk to my husband about my first day back at work after our trip. I mentioned that a colleague of mine had talked to me about how incredibly lucky we are to be alive in this moment of history when we can actually visit Israel. True. After all, if I had truly been a pre-state pilgrim, I probably would not have been able to make my pilgrimage. No Rothschild, or Daniel Deronda, I. It was at this point that my son, bless him, asked why are we so lucky?
My moment had arrived. It wasn’t hard to explain to a child: Jewish people lived in Israel for a long time, a long time ago, but then the Romans (he knows from Romans; he’s a typically bloodthirsty little boy) made almost all of them leave. And we only came back not too long ago, so we’re lucky because there was a long time when we couldn’t visit or live there. But when we came back, there were other people there, and they had been there for a long time too. We started fighting with them. And we’re still fighting with them.
It’s just like in Ha Buah, the movie, which ends when a gay Romeo-and-Juliet idyll is blown apart by a suicide belt. Even if you’re lucky enough, as we are, to not have to really worry about bombs, they will always burst the bubble.