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Tag Archives: Israel

My Watchlist

 

Sometime last fall, one of my Mom’s friends told us about something relatively new at our local library, where you can sign up for the streaming services Kanopy and Hoopla, with your library card, and watch five movies free each month, on each service. One has more television shows (especially from Acorn TV), and the other has more art films, foreign movies, and documentaries. I don’t have Hulu or Netflix or Amazon, because they cost money, and my cable bill is already prohibitive. So I signed up for Kanopy and Hoopla right away, even though I wasn’t sure if these services would have anything of real interest to me. And then I spent hours scrolling through the options, and dropping dozens of movies and TV shows onto my watchlists. There are tons of television shows from outside of the United States on Hoopla that I’d never seen, and videos on psychological topics, and all kinds of music and history shows. Then, on Kanopy, I found a trove of movies from Israel, and the rest of the Middle East, some in Hebrew, some in English, and all new to me.

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“Je ne comprend pas, Maman.”

Of course, I started out with the TV shows, lots of mysteries set in Dublin and Australia and New Zealand and England. I watched on my phone while I was on the semi-recumbent bike, because each episode was the perfect length for an exercise session. There’s a show called No Offence that is absolutely addictive; a British police drama with a sense of humor and a uniquely female sensibility, including three female leads. American TV shows tend to run in seasons of twenty-two episodes, so the realization that each season of this show only had seven or eight episode was heartbreaking. But I made up for it by watching a lot of different shows.

No Offence

And then I pushed myself to watch the documentaries; some of it was hard to watch, and some of it challenged my prejudices, but all of it seemed to be expanding the world I could feel comfortable in, bit by bit.

There was a documentary about Autistic kids in New Jersey, on a Special Olympics swim team, and one about a high school for the Arts in Los Angeles, and then seniors in a Jewish nursing home, and training a guide dog in Japan. It took a while for me to be willing to watch the Israel-related movies, because I was worried about what I’d find. The most difficult for me to watch, months along in the journey, was called The Settlers, about the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlers in the West Bank. I knew about the settlements. I knew that Orthodox Jews had started to move into the occupied territories after the 1967 war, when Israel captured land from the surrounding countries, including the West Bank territories from Jordan, but I didn’t know how much violence was involved. I didn’t know how terrible the rhetoric was. It was extremely painful to see and hear terrorist ramblings from my own people; from people I could have gone to school with, or prayed with.

The Settlers

This documentary was aimed at Jews, like me, who don’t know enough about the settlements and the settlers. It is not a balanced view of the overall situation in Israel, because it assumes you already have that information from other sources. It helped that before I watched The Settlers, I watched a documentary about the kibbutz movement in Israel – a utopian social experiment that helped to create the country, but has largely fizzled out, though some kibbutzim are still trying to adapt to the modern state of Israel. And then another documentary about Modern Orthodox teenagers form America spending a post high school year in Israel.

I feel like my headspace is widening with all of these shows from other countries, making me feel less isolated in my own world. TV has always been my way of researching the human condition, because I found it so hard to understand the people I saw in person as a kid. I couldn’t figure out what was going on in their heads, or in their lives, but people on TV told me so much more about themselves and their lives. Watching on a tiny screen doesn’t really change that feeling of openness, except that now I have access to even more people and even more worlds I’d never otherwise see.

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“I need my own, Mommy?”

I can’t promise that I will watch every difficult movie on my Watchlist, because there are too many to choose from, but I feel stronger for making the effort. Now if only they had a category for movies about dogs, or better yet, starring dogs. Cricket and Ellie would love to meet some Irish Wolfhounds, or French poodles, or Australian shepherds with authentic accents. Cricket used to have an English Bulldog friend named Rupert, but he had a distinctly American bark, and that was disappointing.

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“Woof woof.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

Vacation

 

Possibly as an escape, I’ve noticed myself imagining trips around the world, like, visiting my high school friend in Israel, or wandering through the Luxembourg gardens in Paris, or trying out my tiny cache of Spanish in Mexico or Barcelona. I want to go back to Prince Edward Island, where we went camping when I was three and four years old, to see it again in person. Then to Montreal, to see what French bagels taste like, or what Yiddish flavored French sounds like. I want to go on a cruise to Alaska, or Newfoundland. I want to see more of the world, but not the hot spots. I can’t deal with the hot spots. I’d have to go to Israel in the winter in order to bear it. I’d like to go on the Orient Express, or something like it, and write mysteries as I go. I want to go to New Zealand and see all of the places Mom took pictures of on her trip ten years ago.

But I worry. Vacations have never quite gone the way I hoped, if only because I bring myself with me. I don’t get a vacation from self-loathing, or exhaustion, or physical pain. I want to be someone who can walk all day through the streets of Paris, or Montreal, or Venice (unless Venice is all canals at this point), but I know I can’t do that. I’d wipe out in the first hour and need to lie down and wrap myself in heating pads just to make it to day two.

And Cricket is a real obstacle. I’m not sure there’s any place Cricket would be willing to stay, without her humans, for more than two minutes. We used to go for weekend trips upstate, or to DC, and bring Cricket (and Butterfly) along, but Cricket is a lot of work on a trip, and doesn’t do much to ingratiate herself to outsiders. She’s a special horror in elevators.

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Miss Butterfly, with her roll of paper towels, on a road trip.

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Miss Cricket, helping Grandma drive.

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“Get me out of this elevator, right now!”

The other option is to go by myself and leave Cricket with her grandma at home, but that sounds awful to me. I had this idea for a trip across Europe, to follow in my mom’s footsteps from her solo trip when she was eighteen years old, and stayed in youth hostels, and went to acting camp in the south of France, and visited the Aran Islands, because they were the star of her favorite play. But I wouldn’t want to take that trip without her there to tell me what happened where and how things have changed since then.

And then there’s the logistics, like updating my passport, figuring out maps in strange cities, and getting any kind of clue about the exchange rate between dollars and euros. And would my cell phone even work? And, really, who could afford such a trip?

There’s one other thing that gives me pause.      My rabbi has a habit of saying that one of the few things he asks of his daughters is that they keep their passports up to date, just in case. And he doesn’t mean just in case they take a family trip to Greece. He means, just in case America spits us out as the strangers we are, and we have to be ready to run. This is my country. This is where I was born and where my parents, and three of my four grandparents, were born. This is my context. Long Island, New York, USA. It’s hard to see a vacation out of this country as a good thing, when in the back of my mind I’m afraid that I won’t be allowed back in, or won’t want to return, which would be even worse.

So, for now, I’m just going to live in my imagination, and practice my languages, and wonder what the trip would be like. Cricket likes this idea much better, too.

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Much, much better.

 

My Nephew is Going to Israel

 

My nephew is going to Israel for his gap year between high school and college. It has become de rigeur for kids from orthodox Jewish schools to spend a gap year in a yeshiva or seminary (for girls) in Jerusalem, immersing themselves in Jewish studies, Hebrew language, and maybe even the political realities of the Middle East. I wouldn’t want to spend a year in Israel, though, even now. I’m kind of addicted to familiar things. I could manage a week away, maybe ten days, tops. Though even that would strain Cricket’s anxiety disorder to the breaking point. Mine too. I’m impressed by all of these eighteen and nineteen year old kids who have the self-confidence to go to another country for a whole school year.

And the state of peace in Israel is always shaky; flair ups can come at any time. The recent violence at the holy sites could be forgotten by the time my nephew even gets on the plane, or it could grow into a conflagration. Many parents will send their kids to Israel during wars or uprisings. I don’t know why they feel so confident that their children will be safe, but they do.

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This is how I’d feel about it.

 

My nephew probably won’t be visiting a kibbutz, because there aren’t many left. Israel is a tech crazy country with some of the best medical research facilities in the world; it’s not a country of people living on collective farms, picking oranges, anymore. Will the boys get to meet the Palestinians who live on the other side of Jerusalem? Or visit the Knesset (the parliament) to hear arguments from politicians from the many different sides? Or will they spend all of their time studying Talmud and meeting other Jews? Maybe even only other American teens like the ones they grew up with, instead of the Russian or Ethiopian or French or Indian Jews who have found their home in Israel.

It took me a long time to even dip my toe into the waters of modern Israeli history, and I still can’t say that I fully understand the conflicts and points of view of everyone involved. I know that my support for Israel is tribal rather than logical, but then, I think that’s probably true of everyone, on either side.

I have seen and heard a lot of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric recently, and some of it goes over the line into the anti-Semitic language used during the Holocaust. But I have also heard prejudiced arguments and comments from some Jews that are not only unconvincing but disturbingly racist in nature. Smarter and better informed people than me will have to figure it all out and find the compromises that will work. I don’t have answers, or ease, on this issue.

But what I do have is a deep understanding of the need to live somewhere surrounded by people who are like you. I grew up going to Jewish schools where we could each be who we were – the athlete, the musician, the artist, the brain, the druggy – and not be defined by everyone around us as “the Jew.”

I am an American Jew, though. America is my country, my home. This is where my family is, where my dogs are, living and dead. It would be nice to visit Israel, though, and see how it feels to be one among many, and no longer in a minority, surrounded by my people’s history, deep in the ground under my feet.

Unfortunately for me, the Jewish state is in the Middle East, in the desert, where it is too freaking hot. Maybe if the Jewish state were somewhere like Vancouver, I’d be more eager to go. I wonder how Cricket would take to traveling in a plastic crate under my feet.

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I mean, she has fit herself into smaller places.

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When she was a puppy.