on the altar, hands bound

Some things you don’t write about. Not because they’re too deep or too shallow, but because they are too true. Some truths are deep and yet map-able; and so you map them, you draw their terrains and the slim curves and valleys and glistening streams of them. Some truths have been owned by you, have been toured by you, have been touched and felt by you, and some of them even claim your mind as their residence and so you cajole them onto paper because you can, because you know how. Then there are the other truths, the truths that defy your existence and slink from your pen and wriggle off the map and will never be owned.

I don’t know how to write about the truth that is Israel. I don’t know how to write the truth about a country that has somehow claimed my mind and soul, a country sweltering and swollen with my people, a country with an unworldly air and mystical, multi-layered secrets, a country torn asunder by conflict and violence, by contradictions and proclamations, a country always stunning and never lacking, but never fully complete, either.

I don’t know how to explain anything- not how I came there, accosted by the heat and white blue sky and the crowded narrow streets, overwhelmed and determined,  and not how I left there, ten months later, cramming chocolate on the plane, feeling devastated and ripped with the loss. I don’t know how to explain Israelis, the vitality in their eyes and the sharpness of their speech, and the nuances and heaviness and authenticity of their lives, and I don’t know how to explain the Arabs there either, and the difference between the ones that are apathetic and the ones that hate and the ones that respect. I don’t know how to describe the conflict between them, the terror of the bombings and the sirens and the stabbing; there’s the grand scope of historical context and a bewildering litany of wars, lessons that you can challenge yourself to, by reading fat books with small black print and a dizzying amounts of sources. Read like I did, and scavenge for the truth, and you will find it, and it will beat in the palm of your hands like a living beast and you won’t know what to do with it, just like me.

I do not know how to write about the fact that I plan to live there, that I feel a stranger now in the country I was born in, that I hope to move there within the next two or three years, and now in New York I am barely a native; I am almost someone just passing through. I did not know how to explain this to my parents, or to my friends, or to anyone. I do not think that my friends who say they understand, really do quite understand it, because I myself do not understand it, not fully. All I know is that I belong there because it feels like the center of the world and the rightest place to be and it doesn’t have to be logical and I am by nature a logical person but this needs no explanation. But I cannot explain any of that clearly and for that I am sorry.

Nor do I know how to write about the terror. I do not know how to put words together to create an image of the victims. Victims the world does not know of, victims the world does not bat an eyelash at. People are constantly protesting about some thing or other, yet most turn away in silence when it comes to the Israeli victims, victims of Israeli Arabs, victims to extremism and a doctrine of unstemmed violence and hatred. They turn away because they don’t care to know or because  it makes them uncomfortable. Because sometimes the truth isn’t cozy or clean or easy to swallow, and sometimes the truth can make you fall to your knees in unadulterated anguish, and the worst part of it is: there is nothing to make it better. Because there is nothing to make it better when young children witness the murder of their parents from the back seat of the car, on the way home from a family trip. And there is nothing to make it better when a family is broken apart; a young woman widowed and a two-year-old boy orphaned by an act of unjustifiable violence. There is nothing to make it better when schools are on lockdown and children are drilled to know how to react to rocket sirens and teenagers wear backpacks to lower the chance of getting stabbed, and it is frightening to go to the grocery for milk without pepper spray or a gun. There is nothing to make evil less evil, and murder less bloody, and loss less staggering. There is nothing to soften the truth, not when the truth is jagged and rugged and splayed out in its agony and ugliness.

Because truth is never simple; it’s not a muffin recipe or a chemical formula or a witty poem. It may be simple at its essence, but the road to its essence is not even a road- it’s a cave swathed in darkness, it’s a time traveler’s crazed scrawl, it is the nagging of your thoughts when you’re not yet awake and the smell of  morning rain wafts through your window and you know something you cannot put into words. Because the truth is precious and cunning and concealed and it’s unbearably frustrating and time-consuming to find. And so, oftentimes, we turn to the news reporters and the scientists and engineers, and we read their articles, comforted by the complexity of their vocabulary and their ideas. And so, oftentimes, most of the time- the truth we carry around is not even ours; it is stolen, borrowed or bought. And the thoughts that we fall asleep to, and the opinions we whip out at dinner parties, are not even ours; we don’t even know the details or basic makeup of them.

And so I do not know how to explain what I found there, in that country that lies tiny and fierce on the map, that country the size of the state of New Jersey, that country that is blared on the news and ripped apart by a media that- and you should brace yourselves here- blatantly, and purposefully, misrepresents the truth, and/ or outright lies. I cannot really explain to you the barren beauty of the Judean hills, and the prettiness of the Mediterranean shoreline, and the history nestled in between the creases of the stones glowing white in the golden sunlight. I cannot really explain to you the different people who live there with dignity and courage and chutzpah and fresh hummus. And also it’s difficult to express- what it feels like, keeping up with what is going on there during times like these. And so there’s a lot of muck and a lot of news and everyone is shouting, everyone is so angry or so self-righteous, and my Facebook feed is clogged with outrageous omission or Jewish agitation, and I am young and my thoughts are scattered; I’m amateurish and quite lost, and so I keep silent. Or, I try.

But- the truth is not a fatalist, and it will not  be cowed or ignored. And though I am uncouth and bumbling, there are others who aren’t- who are exposed to, and keening from, the truth, and explaining it and writing about it. And so, if you are intellectually honest, and a moral and independent individual, you will seek out these news outlets and sources. And you can search for the reports from both sides of the conflict, and you can weigh them against each other and you will come to your own conclusions, and you will touch upon a truth that will be wholly and inarguably yours. You have the entire Internet at your disposal and so much is available in English; so much is there at the tips of your fingertips, and instead of logging into Netflix, you can start by googling about the current events in the Middle East and its history and interviews of Israelis and Arabs both.  Because right now, your truth is lying on the altar, hands bound, under a gleaming knife, and only you can set it free.

There is something though, that I’d like to share with you. I’d like you to know that I’ve spent many months in Israel, and spent some time with, and talked to, a number of Israeli Defense Force soldiers. They are mostly teenagers and young adults, some of them not much bigger than their machine guns, mind you. For them the army was never much of a choice, but they still chose it with pride, and they still harbor their youth on their faces, still flirt with the other sex and tell bad jokes and randomly crave falafel. And I’d like you to know, when one of my friends- a bit of the radical- exclaimed once her opinion that Israel should just kill all Arabs, a young guy who’d just completed his service looked genuinely shocked. But they are not all bad, he said, there are good ones too. We talked about that for a while. I sided with him, I always have. But sometimes, I said, voicing a thought often crushing my brain,  it is our kids or theirs. Our eyes met and diverted; there was nothing to say. There are some truths heavier than lead- but they are truths all the same, even when it is hard to sleep or laugh or breathe with them inside of you. And I’d like you to  know that I spent a Shabbat in an ultra-Orthodox settlement near the West Bank, sprawled calmly in the desert. We stayed at my friend’s relatives; a family of 12. I’d have you know that these kids- aged 6 months to 17- have grown up with no TV or iPhones, with rocket fire last summer streaking cross a burning blue sky, exploding in the fields near their house with terrifying noise. I’d like you to know that these kids are clever and energetic, tanned by the sun and glowing with health and life. I’d have you know that Jews are obviously humanely flawed, and we struggle and mess up sometimes. But we were never taught to hate. Not ever. And that is a fragment of the bedrock of my truth. Now, go find yours.


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