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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776

Staying Put

December 2, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

We made aliyah on the day after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, so our “absorption year” was the year of the Gulf War, during which the five of us endured Scud attacks in our “sealed room,” wearing gas masks, together with the dog, the cat, and a hamster (who didn’t have gas masks). It was a time when many Israelis and many Jews spending the year here on educational programs left the country. And people said to us, “You sure picked a good time to make aliyah!” I’m not sure why it never entered our minds to leave. We don’t see ourselves as brave, we were not unhappy living in the US before we came here, we are not driven to be here out of a sense of religious commandedness, we are not so essential to the security of the state. Inertia. Adventure. A tendency to try to calculate risks rationally, not emotionally. Fatalism. Optimism. Unwillingness to admit a mistake. All of the above. In any case, it seemed the natural thing to do to simply go on with our routine and take the risk and fear and discomfort as an adventure.

And when people say, “You sure picked a good time to make aliyah!” we always responded, “Yeah, so when was there ever a good time to make aliyah?” Go to the microfilm drawers and pick a newspaper from any day in the past century. Try to find a good day for making aliyah....

In the past year, a number of our friends and acquaintances, and by no means only recent arrivals, have decided to take a few years (at least) “leave of absence” from Israel. It has not been a good year for optimists, and it has gotten almost impossible to find one. The screaming, bloody headlines attack you on one side, while the dull pounding of doubt about the morality of our collective behavior keeps at you on the other side. You really don’t see a way out, or what you can do to make a difference, or any leader worthy of following. You see the crowds of your fellow Jews and fellow Israelis chanting “Death to the Arabs” at soccer games and you wonder who made up the slogan “We are one.” You are tongue-tied when your kid asks your advice about signing on for an extra year, to be an officer. And to top it off, you see yourself fulfilling the old joke about how to make a small fortune in Israel (by coming with a large one).

You actually find yourself wondering whether this whole enterprise is right - and if it is, whether it is realistic. You remember how many times, in discussions of Jewish history, the question is asked, “How could they not have seen the handwriting on the wall?”

And yet, for us (and for most other Israelis, immigrants and sabras), the resultant of all these vectors is not a flight out of Ben Gurion airport. We complain and shake our heads, we share black humor, we turn off the news - and we go on with the routines of work and recreation, family and friends. The gas mask is in the closet. The kid hides his rifle under the bed on Shabbat. We open our bags automatically for inspection whenever we enter the mall. We know better than to believe in Bush, Sharon, Peres, and Arafat.

We make nasty comments about the lady who cuts in line in the bank and the guy who passes in the no-passing zone. We smile when it rains and thrill to the rainbow across the valley and the wildflowers sprouting among the litter. And we are sad to be so far from our extended family.

We know that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and while that is stressful, it is also exciting. Maybe that’s the secret of sticking it out here: being able to enjoy free-falling, knowing but not knowing that the parachute will open just in time. Consciousness? Faith? A personality disorder? Historical obligation or personal need or Divine commandment?

Can’t say. But in spite of everything, here we are.


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