Coming back to Berlin from Israel last month was a journey back home, a journey to a familiar and comfortable place, but one that is not my native land. My strong connection to Germany wavers at times. Like the other day at the grocery store when I patiently waited behind a woman as she went through the stack of baskets looking for one that met her hygienic standards. When I finally reached in to take one for myself, she snatched the basket out of my hand and let slip a rude remark. I stifled the urge to call her a bitch and calmly walked away. Perhaps this could happen anywhere, but I’ve never before encountered such aggression over a grocery basket.
People in Israel were more open and relaxed than I expected. I felt a kinship with all those short women with wild and frizzy hair and the older women with bright lipstick and flashy jewelry transported me back to my childhood on the East Coast. I also agree with my daughter that a lot of the men were “smokin.” But beyond these fleeting impressions, I developed a better understanding of Zionism through Simon Schama’s excellent BBC series The Story of the Jews, which we watched during the trip. I now have a connection to Israel, not so much as a Zionist, but as another place where I feel at home and where a cherished part of my family lives.
My feelings about Israel were refracted through the triplicate lens of my German-American-Jewish self. I’m glad that I finally made the trip that so many American Jews call upon us to make, if only to gain a better footing in political discussions about Israeli policies and the Middle East. As a German, I also felt proud to be among the many tourists who are promoting close cross-cultural ties between the two countries.
I hope to go back to Israel before long, but it probably won’t be for Passover. Stay tuned for a piece on The Jewish Writing Project with a few further reflections on that topic.