Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Walter's Israel journal (Part 6): Coming home

This is the final installment of Walter's report on his recent Israel trip. Although it only peripherally about our Israeli relatives, it sounds as if it could be the opening of a new chapter of Ruby family history.

As for myself, I made a decision during my two days visiting my cousins in Afeq and sitting with residents in the air raid shelters of Haifa; namely that someday in the not-too-distant-future I will return to live in the hometown of my youth, stricken now, but still achingly beautiful as it sits resplendently on the steep slopes of Mt. Carmel.

Over 25 years ago, I made a decision not to stay permanently in Israel despite my abiding love for the land, the people, the Hebrew language and the primal intensity of the place. I felt myself too much of a cosmopolitan Jew to stay permanently in a place that then seemed to me parochial and intensely nationalistic, and I was unready to join the IDF and take part in enforcing an occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that I found to be fundamentally wrong and immoral. Or so I rationalized it to myself then, yet somehow I have known in my bones during all the ensuing years that Israel is where I belong.

And then suddenly last week, listening to my aunt Penina narrate the story of our family and the role they played in the rebirth of the Jewish commonwealth in the land of our forefathers, and listening to Orly Magen express her profound distress on the emotional toll that the latest outburst of violence is exacting on her Etai and whole new generation of Israelis, I vowed to myself that I will return to Haifa to devote the remaining years of my life to doing whatever I can to help transform conflict into reconciliation so that the next generation of Jews and Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese alike, will not have to endure the horrors that have scarred the lives of this generation and the four generations of Israelis and Arabs preceding it.

Suddenly I remembered two things I knew long ago but had somehow since forgotten; that underneath their hard-edged and sometimes truculent exteriors, Israelis are kind, decent and profoundly vulnerable. Also that despite the hell visited upon it by recurring wars, the tiny jewel-like Land of Israel is the most radiantly beautiful place on earth. It is where I belong.

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