I consider myself a fairly Zionistic person. I give charity to Israel, nearly every international vacation I take has been to Israel, I have family, friends and history in Israel. I go to rallies and sign petitions and run pictures of Israeli flags on my websites.The first piece of jewelry I ever bought with my own money was a silver Kotel ring--which I wear to this day--from Baltinester on Jaffa Road. Israeli Independence Day always means a big party; I even observe a somber few moments on Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day). My blog's even in blue and white. When war struck the country as I was staying there, I didn't run screaming back to America...I stayed out the remainder of my trip and stuck to schedule. No one was going to tell me it was or wasn't safe to be in Israel. No one was going to take away my homeland.
But eventually, I did leave. I don't live in Israel. I didn't volunteer at hospitals or with families displaced by bombs lobbed at their homes. I was only visiting. I came back to America, where things are safer in certain respects. I don't worry about rockets overhead here, or suicide bombers in the supermarkets (which may be my mistake). Here is where my apartment is, for now; where my job is, sort of; where my family lives, most of it, anyway. Here, the army is optional. And my friends, my peers, the people in my life on a daily basis, have opted out of army service. For the most part, it's not part of the culture in my peer group.
Over in Israel, another cousin of mine prepares for his induction into the army. I literally remember him in diapers. Now he's got a beard and an enlistment date. I don't understand what that must be like, to send your child into a void for the sake of your country. I have worry, for him, his parents, his friends, and those who could easily be him, but aren't. Yet.
And it's not just him. My worries expand as I learn that someone else I care about is going. The move is unexpected; although I knew it was possible, I had thought that it wouldn't actually cross over into reality. I have precious little information about duration or tour of duty. It could be a short-term assignment, or it could stretch out longer. I don't know and even knowing wouldn't do me any good. I feel the pressure to say something inspiring, meaningful and memorable, words of wisdom and humor to comfort and embrace when I cannot be personally present, to impart a message of love and concern without sounding like a completely neurotic, overbearing caricature of the slightly neurotic, slightly overbearing woman I know I'm capable of one day becoming.
I opt for simplicity. But when I say "good luck and be careful," the implication of mortality is more than I can bear, and I'm tempted to say more, generate more words in an attempt to chase away the neurosis. But I don't. I couch my concern in terseness, and keep words at a minimum, lest too many of them escape and overwhelm. Send the message quick, without giving it too much thought, and you can push the interchange into past, looking toward future.
And there may be others. If I thought they were in harm's way just living in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, in cities targeted by suicide bombers...the induction into the army, the promotion of risk from civilian to combat, raises my alert level to a whole new color. Orange to yellow to red, at the apparent expense of the sanctity of the blue and the white.
This is where my Zionism breaks down, to the point that I wonder if it was ever Zionism to begin with. If at its core, how I feel about Israel is contingent on Israel not harming the people I love, even if it's in the service of the country, then my love for the land is not paramount. In admitting my preference for people over land entities, I violate basic rules of nationhood, and realize that soon, my tongue will likely cleave to the roof of my mouth, for I have not placed Jerusalem as the centerpiece of joy in my selfish and self-centered, privileged American life.
A thousand packages to soldiers cannot erase the guilt, nor ensure the safety of the people I love. And although I may love the land, its history, its biblical resonance, its flowers-from-the-desert miraculous beauty, on some traitorous level, I know that I believe that the earth is just earth without the people who fill it.