Life after “Life After Zionist Summer Camp”

Thinking about the occupation, human rights, democracy, the demographic problem, and more at Zionist Massada. Or maybe just thinking that I'm getting sunburnt.

It starts the minute I read the first paragraph. That feeling of vague anger and helplessness. Because I’ve been reading and thinking about this issue ever since I decided that Israel was something I needed to be reading and thinking about. And I’ve been experiencing all of the things that Benedikt did for the past ten years, maybe more.  In different stages.  In different places.

The olives, the AIPAC meetings, the beach, the sunflower seeds, the 1967 maps, the rallies, the checkpoints, the walls, the 2006 war, meeting Sharansky, homeless people in Tel Aviv, the Wall, Yad Vashem, J Street, the Golan Heights. I’ve done it all. I’ve thought about every angle. I’ve thought, thought, thought. When I was on the plane. When I was on group buses. When I was in Hebrew classes.   When I was in hotel rooms, when I was drenched in sweat in apartments. When I was at my computer at work. When I am reading before bed. I’ve thought it this way and that way until my brain came loose from the see-sawing and took flight into a dream where I was speaking Hebrew on the moon and still thinking.

But at some point, I’ve stopped thinking. Because American Jews like me and Allison think too much. We are a nation, a tribe of over-thinkers, over-complicator, justifiers, neuron-processors. We like to hem and haw and on the one hand and on the other Israel until we are worn out.  We love to write angsty pieces and to have thinktanks and psychosessions.

Because no matter how hard we think,  all those problems will still be there.  And we don’t need to address them. Unless we live in Israel. And pay taxes to the State. Then we can sit in coffeehouses and debate thewallsettlementspeaceprocesstwostatesolutiongaza until our Turkish coffee embers run dry and the tide comes in so that we can walk from Tel Aviv to Yaffo in the shoreline.

But in the meantime, I promise,  Israel is just Israel. No matter how hard we think. Or are angry. Or sad. Or happy. Or no matter how many angsty essays we write, no matter how many rallies we go to, no matter how much we twist and turn our brains.  Just like America is just America. Or Pakistan is just Pakistan.  They each have their flaws.  They each do hideous, horrendous things. They each do wonderful things.  Because both sides of the coin are simply part of existence.

So, sometimes, actually, most times, Israel is just Israel. It’s not a grand conspiracy designed to give you angst forever.  It’s just part of who you are as a Jew. And it just is.

American Jews, I am giving uspermission to stop trying to understand our relationship to Israel.  Stop thinking of army helmets and prisons and double-meanings.  Israel just is.

Israel is just a fruit shake, made out of milk and strawberries that you’re drinking on the beach.  Israel is the soldier in the supermarket that tells you you have sunburn and you should put on lotion.  Israel is the bread at Abulafia. Israel is a little girl in a dress running to her mom, who’s not thinking about the conversion bill, but what she’s going to make for that little girl at dinner and then she needs to go to the store for some milk. Israel is the Banias waterfall, and the falafel place in that suburb outside of Jerusalem that you always go to.  Israel is people trying to make money the same way people try to make money everywhere, and Israel is a girl in a bikini just trying to get a decent tan.

What makes me frustrated about these types of posts is that some Protestant but not really Protestant anymore agnostic atheist post-modern hipster in Brooklyn will read this on his Macbook, sipping his latte, and make clucking sounds at all the appropriate and right moments.  And he’ll process it, and then read all of the comments by the Jews who were like, “Me too! Me too!”

And then later that night, he’ll go to a party, and someone will bring up Woody Allen and inevitably the Occupation and the hipster will say, “Oh, I just read an Awl piece about Zionism, and apparently they drill it into all the little Jews. Can you imagine?  That’s so crazy! But then they grow up to be normal, well-adjusted thinking adults.  And it turns out that Israel is something you have to think very hard about. Because they do. If Peter Beinart and Allison say it, it must be true.  Jews are conflicted and tormented. ” And then the hipster-chain will activate and continue to share.

I used to be.  But now I’m not.  Thinking hard about Israel is an American Jew’s martyrdom, a form of self-flagellation. And we want people to know that we self-flagellate. Because it makes us look good and moral and fair and balanced.

The last time I was in Israel, with Mr. B, sometimes I thought hard about all of this stuff.

But then, I gave myself permission to stop being such a self-righteous asshole and taking myself so seriously.  That was when we sat on the beach in Tel Aviv at night and ate watermelon and ice cream and I didn’t think about politics at all.  We just were. I thought about how good the ice cream was and maybe I wanted some more and I thought about how happy I was to be on vacation with my husband and I thought about the Mediterranean, coming in and going out quietly, and I thought about how I wished I had a hookah and about how loud the people at the next table over were being.

Not Israelis.  Not Jews. Just people.




25 thoughts on “Life after “Life After Zionist Summer Camp”

  1. speaking as a mac-book owning post-modern non-religious ex-atheist protestant, I’m not sure Jews can afford to view Israel in the way you suggest. Because anti-Semitic nut-jobs across the globe will never stop viewing Israel as their enemy, and relaxing the angst on one side can be perceived as lowering your defenses.

    It’s as if Luke were to say, “Wait, there’s snow on Hoth ALL THE TIME??? Snowboarding for life!” as he disappeared over the horizon with the empire’s AT-AT’s cresting the ridge. Then what would have happened to C-3PO?

    Sold back to Jabba for duty as a waiter on his sail barge, that’s what.

  2. I read the article a while ago and it just bugged me, especially the “woe is me” vibe.
    But I (goy/Gentile/what have you) over analyze Israel too.
    I guess it’s because I’m always told not to criticize Israel publicly? That if I ever intend on running for public office it would be “bad for me”. That Israel is sacred or holy.
    It causes me more angst and guilt (I don’t know where that came from) than any other geopolitical conflict.
    And for me realizing that Israel is just Israel but it’s as though it’s not caused my angsty teenaged concern instead of getting rid of it.

    And the hipsters! Oh, the hipsters who are insanely smug in their progressiveness and so much better and more worldly than “rednecks” but then sit up there and judge and stereotype an entire ethnic group because the poor lady is not very well-adjusted and has an asshole for a husband.
    And then there are the people who compare the hipsters and the husband to Hitler because obviously referencing the Holocaust when discussing Israel is not *at all* counterproductive and useless.

    That is all. *exhale*

    1. That’s interesting. Who tells you not to criticize Israel publicly? I think this is the first time I’ve heard this from a non-Jew. 😀

      As for the rest, exhale is about right.

  3. I actually think the overthinking is necessary. I just find it embarassing that young people, who HAVEN’T really thought very much, are trying to lay their non-thoughts out in public, right where those of us who have studied and dealt with these issues for decades as adults will read it. I’m embarassed for them, for their naivete, for their lack of sophistication.

    When we had these sorts of thoughts, we had discussions with a couple of our friends over rum and cokes and clove cigarettes. And then we lived through corrupt elections at home, as well as abroad, read through entire grad school careers worth of political economy and realized the issue is hopelessly complex and ridiculously simple – we are all fucked. Unless you’re a millionaire, you’re not going to change anything, here or there.

    1. OK, I think I am officially the most cynical Genx commenter on your blog. But that’s probably because I identify more with the Tauntons than with Luke… 😉

    2. Yes, but how many times can the same thought be laid out in public? The happy medium is being well-educated and relaxing, not so much angsty.

      1. But I think young people HAVE to be angsty, it’s how they process things until they finally realize their opinions don’t matter to anyone.

        The embarrassment is, yes, that they’re doing it so publicly. Love the response from Rabbi Bachman. She’s pretty typical, though – a lot of my non-observant in-laws of this generation try to delete the things they don’t like, rather than reinterpret. I think that was the basis of Reform J, no?

    3. Hate to put a damper on your elegy for our doomed world (“we’re all fucked” how quaint) but none of our politicians (in Israel) are millionaires- that’s an American phenomenon. And you don’t have to be a millionaire to vote in elections. If you don’t like Israeli policies, all the rum and cokes and clove cigarettes in the world aren’t going to change them. Nor will they even help you begin to understand them, unless you’re talking to an actual Israeli or Palestinian and even that’s suspect, because you’re only getting one person’s opinion, without any context. Only by moving here and actually live daily life with all of its crazy contradictions will you actually begin to understand our problems.

      If you don’t like how we handle our problems, you’re right in one respect. The answer is ridiculously simple: move here and vote for change.

      1. That’s partly what makes me angry about these types of essays. People will go on Birthright and be like, “Oh well this one solider told me X” or they’ll go on the anti-Birthright and be like, “Oh, well this group of Palestinian school children told me Y.” I’m all for anecdotal evidence, but you have to be immersed in life to completely understand. When I was doing my internship in Israel during the 2006 War, I wasn’t a citizen, but I sure felt that everyone in the U.S. commenting on what Israel should or shouldn’t do or how Israeli citizens should or shouldn’t feel, safe from their New York homes, were assholes.

  4. What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing at J Street meetings? That’s a hipster hangout! 😉
    My favorite strategy for dealing with hipsters is to ask them a gotcha question, like Jordan: Is that a Palestinian state? When was the PLO founded? Where was Yasser Arafat (or Edward Said, if they heard of him, lol) from? Where are the majority of Israeli Jews from? That will shut them up.

  5. Like it or not but ‘not-thinking’ is your stated position on the “issue” of Israel. Where did I go wrong?

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