close and far away

I just discovered Google Translator, because I’m that behind in technology, and imputed the following phrases, to be translated to Hebrew.

1. I’m a writer.

2. I like to take pictures.

3. Do you have any coffee?

4. My Hebrew is terrible.

To be clear: I have had years of Hebrew language education. When I was in day school (one year) and Sunday school (until fifth grade, when I quit) , I was actually quite good at it. In college, I took it for eight semesters. So I know how to read, and I can get along effectively in a prayer-book and/or class, but if anyone with any significant Hebrew skill (i.e, a native Israeli) approaches me and attempts to engage in a meaningful (or sketchy) way, I might panic and throw up. I’m not proud, but there it is.

So in Israel, I’m just going to speak English, and that makes me feel awful. I aspire to feel a part of the place where I am, and to not be an annoying, fanny pack carrying (although they do provide a certain service), map toting, slow walking tourist, especially when the country is, like it or not, a place that’s integral to my identity.

It’s more of the idea that every Jew who sets foot in Israel will take to the interrupting and line cutting and eighteen year olds with guns as if it wasn’t anathema to our American selves, saturated as we are with Christian culture. Not to underestimate the value of communication here, but language aside, there are many reasons why being in Israel would be hard (hint: at the moment, one of them rhymes with “shmeligious”).

If my Jewish identity and practice can change and be challenged as much as it has this last year in the States, I’m skeptical that becoming better at Hebrew and living in a city where I can’t get on a bus from sundown on Friday until the next evening is really going to improve my outlook or practice of observant Judaism.

And yet, I still hold on. It’s hard to do that when it feels like everything is just getting more narrow, more suffocating, but maybe I’m just feeling that more in light of recent personal events. I’ve been thinking a lot about my selves: the writer, the artist, the traveler, the radical, the feminist, the Jew, the leader, the person who just wants to be left alone to sit in a coffee shop in Jerusalem while I attempt to anchor myself to something. In that moment, when my brain is quiet and yet busy, I’ll be trying to create something that has nothing to do with what’s around me. Maybe then, Israel will just be another place in the world where I’ve experienced joy and adrenaline, but somehow, I doubt it.

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