When I was four I went to Israel for the first time for my aunt's wedding in Jerusalem. My mom and grandparents took me around the country for a month afterwards, showing me so much of the country but I remember only bits and pieces, one vivid memory of the large Eucalyptus trees on Kibbutz Gezer where my parents met in the mid 70s.
Then I was back home in L.A. Back to life as a suburban kid who discovered his liberalism at a young age. I cheered for Dukakis in grade school, learned to despise Bush I and love Clinton. Not until I went to college did I discover my principles when it comes to politics in the U.S. and in geo-politics.
I saw on T.V. and the internet what was happening to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. I was ashamed that Israel did and does things that afflict the people there. I would regularly have nasty fights with my family over Israel. Eventually it became a subject that we agreed to disagree over.
I went to school in a red-state, but in a city that was a blue oasis. I knew there were tons of Republicans out there but the University seemed like a safe place from the hate I heard from Congressmen like J.D., we got Raul in 2002, so it seemed all good.
The more I got into politics locally and began working on campaigns and whatnot I met a lot of different people and heard views that were outside my experiences beforehand. Jokes against Jews weren't frequent, but definitely not uncommon, even in my Democratic clubs, in my presence. It made me think about the principles of peace and tolerance for all....but I shrugged it off, I didn't want to make a big deal of it.
I have been a big fan of Da Ali G show and when I saw the episode that contained this, I shuddered:
However, the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish anti-racism group, complained to HBO after Borat performed a Country and Western song that called on people to 'throw the Jew down the well', warning them that 'you must be careful of his teeth' and that 'you must grab him by his money' (The full chorus is: "Throw the Jew down the well, so my country can be free, you must grab him by his horns, then we have a big party") , to applause and participation from an audience in Tucson, Arizona.
Of course it was meant to be a joke by Sasha Cohen, also Jewish, but the reaction from the audience is what scared me the most.
In my last few months in Tucson after the 04' election, I played down my Judaism and hid it to some degree around people that weren't Jewish, partially out of fear, partially out of wanting to have acceptance. My actions were part of my character defects but the atmosphere certainly triggered them.
In February I moved to New York for a job and immediately felt the difference in the levels of acceptance and tolerance, it was unmistakenable. I hadn't seen Orthodox or Hassidic Jews in a while, especially when I go to Boro Park or Crown Heights.
A couple weeks after I had a vacation planned to go to Israel and meet my relatives and see the country. I had no idea what those two weeks would have in store for me.
I landed at Ben Gurion and felt lost until my cousin picked me up. I felt like I was a foreigner in a strange land. I took Air France from NY and through Paris, so Hatikvah wasn't played on the loudspeakers like El Al does. A couple people clapped but it wasn't what I would have expected on El Al.
The next day we went to my other cousin's house in Efrat, a small town south of Bethlehem. Anyone that knows their regional geography knows thats in the West Bank. I went with an open mind and went to see a settlement that has been slowly expanding since the 73' war. I am against the settlements personally, they cause so much strife between Jews and Palestinians. Yet out of respect I didn't argue with my family members who were so gracious in their hospitality towards me. Most of my family there is ultra-religious and as I learned quite powerful in Israeli politics for quite sometime. They are the ones liberals here disagree with so much.
I digress from the differences I have with my family. I spent shabbat with them a couple times but went on my own for the most part. I rented a car for three days and toured the north. Driving around was insane. Drivers there make New York cabbies look like pussycats. Yet each destination amazed me and I began to adore this country that seemed so foreign to me. It breaks my heart to hear about rockets hitting Safed (Tzfat), Akko, Haifa, Kiryat Shmona and so on, since I walked through all of those places just a few months ago. The rest of the time I walked all over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in awe of the history of Jerusalem. I used to be floored by things that were hundreds of years old here in the states, but there it goes back in the thousands of years.
It was an incredible trip that I will never forget, and now can't seem to get out of my head with what is going on now. It changed my perspective of the situation immensely. Not that I am a proponent of letting Israel run rampant over anyone they see fit, that DEFINITELY does not mesh with my principles as a citizen of this planet.
Sigh...now sitting here in the comfort of the Starbucks at Astor Place by NYU, I think about the suffering felt in Israel, the occupied territories, Lebanon and everywhere else that suffering takes place because of hatred from one human being to another. Sometimes I let my heart get weighed down by all the misery out there. Now all I can do is pray and hope for peace, even though the chance of it happening will be long after I'm gone, and I'm only 25.