It never ceases to amaze me -- the looks of horror I get when I tell people I'm sending my 16-year-old son to Israel for the summer. Even from Jews.
Well, I'm in the south now and down here people think nothing of asking you straight out, when they first meet you, "What church do y'all go to?" And then when you tell them you're Jewish and you don't actually go to church, but you belong to Congregation Shearith Israel, three minutes later they say, "Now what was the name of that church you go to?" OK, maybe it's hard to wrap your brain around the tangle of Hebrew that is Shearith (remnant) Israel (Israel). This stuff doesn't even rattle me. It's almost cute.
What I hate are the looks of grave concern when you say you're sending your child to Israel. You'd think I was sending the kid to Baghdad. In fact I'm sending him to his homeland, the most progressive, impressive and remarkable nation in modern history. He will be touring with other teenagers from North America, under strict supervision in what is turning out to be one of the most robust summer tourism season in a few years. Israel needs that badly.
I don't want to preach here or get too political on you, but this I believe. Israel is a brilliant democracy that sits in a very bad neighborhood. It is surrounded by neighbors who would like it to disappear from the earth. Egypt is digging tunnels to run guns and supplies to Hamas in Gaza. Syria and Lebanon, it's puppet state, have rockets aimed at the Golan Heights and Tel Aviv. And let's face it, Iran's nukes, whether you believe they exist or not, are intended for Israel. Only Jordan, ruled by a modern and educated King, understands the utility and potential of "making it work" with Israel.
My son will start his trip in Europe. He'll tour Prague and visit Auschwitz and see the remnants (that Hebrew word Shearith again) of once thriving Jewish communities where his ancestors lived, learned, taught, created and prospered. Then he'll sail into Haifa Harbor, like the Ma'apilim (immigrants) who survived the Holocaust and made new lives in the Jewish State. He'll see the good, the beautiful, the ugly. He'll see the security wall and the checkpoints. He'll see Jews and Arabs struggling to coexist in a complex shared destiny. He'll hear Hebrew, a language resurrected from the pages of the bible, as a living, breathing modern tongue with its own unique street slang and poetry. He'll see contradictions and complexities on every street corner.
Israel isn't neat and tidy. It's loud and messy. It is all at once western and eastern, orthodox and progressive, secular and religious. It is our pride and our pain. These ads express our immense pride in what Israel has achieved amidst staggering challenges.
And that's the way I want it. I cannot protect Grumble from everything. In truth, I think life in Israel is safer than life in America. People are connected there in ways that can barely be expressed. When you ride the bus and someone thinks your baby might be under-dressed and chilly, 5 surrogate mothers will step in and offer their sweater as an extra blanket. Once in a restaurant where my 5 year old wailed for pizza, the proprietor sent a waiter across the street and got my kid a slice. When Israeli soldiers were camped out in a field near Efrat during the 2nd Intifada, my friends cooked for them as if they were their own sons and daughters. That's the kind of place I want my son to experience.
There will be an armed guard on Grumble's bus. He will not travel outside the so-called "Green Line" and security reports will determine when and where his group travels. But there will also be songs and sights and stories I cannot give him in America. For 5 weeks he'll be in a danger zone. I wouldn't have it any other way.