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What this American dad wants his Israeli daughter to know about those United States
The moonscape of my life up until four years ago was dotted with the brittle remains of short lived relationships; charred memories of professional pratfalls and the burning wreckage of several misguided educational pursuits.
Though southern California pulsated around me, I existed in a state of suspended animation. Warm, sunny Los Angeles – inhabited by the most beautiful, eccentric and dynamic people on the planet – was little more than a barren, uniformly grey, wasteland to me.
And then I moved to Israel. While rarely easy, days lived underneath Mediterranean skies are infused with a vitality – an urgency even – that my parched soul thirsted for. This troubled, tempestuous land has provided the backdrop and soundtrack for the momentous scenes of my life: out of a chance meeting at the Jerusalem Light Festival with the woman who would become my wife grew the conviction that life is lit by a divine spark; the birth of my daughter in a Jerusalem hospital one early May morning forever intertwined Israel’s destiny with mine.
But what about the Los Angeles Dodgers?
While Israel is my home, the United States is my daughter’s birthright. Who am I to deny her the thrill of experiencing the greatest sustained drama in all of sports: “Tie game. Bottom of the 9th. Bases loaded. Two outs. Three balls. Two Strikes. And the pitch…”?
Why shouldn’t an Israeli born to American parents not be exposed to improbable, simplistically positive Hollywood endings or Elvis Presley, the man who came to embody the American mythos of sheer raw talent trumping biography and circumstance. Presley’s fusing of white country and black rhythm and blues created something called rock ‘n’ roll – and the world’s been gettin’ jiggy wit it ever since.
Truth is, I didn’t leave the U.S. in order to nullify my past. Rather, I longed to embrace my first and only true love: Israel. It turns out that the scents of baguettes dipped in Zatar and Turkish coffee sprinkled with Cardamom never left my nostrils.
Now, there are times when I miss the polite, measured, dulcet tones of a Verizon Wireless cell phone company service operator. Yet, I feel as if I’m back in my family’s Los Angeles living room when I hear an Israeli cell phone company representative tell me, with a thick Russian accent, that I’m “absolutely half-right, but…” when I point out a discrepancy in my monthly phone bill.
And while there’s no feeling quite like being ensconced in the spectacular wealth, unequaled power and boundless optimism that give America its swagger, my heart pounds to the rhythm set by chest-pounding Arab taxi drivers; the cobwebs of my early morning mind are eviscerated by the lyrical barking of Mahane Yehuda’s shuck hucksters.
In Israel, I think more clearly, breathe more easily and sleep more deeply.
But America wasn’t the reason for my cluttered mind, aimless days and sleepless nights.
To deny my daughter her slice of the American legacy would be to starve her of the values that fed my mind and nurtured my soul. Indeed, my moving back to Israel is the realization of the American ideal to “Go West, young man”. The belief that it is in Israel that my destiny lies is in no way inconsistent with the wish to celebrate the rich history, geography, folklore and cultural heritage of the United States.
Israel is a vibrant, if profoundly imperfect, democracy. As in any free nation, Israel’s lifeblood is the astounding diversity of its citizens. To be Israeli is to have an Azerbaijani mother, Ethiopian father, Ukrainian grandparents and American cousins. To deny or diminish where we came from is to aspire to a sterile, vapid uniformity, which is a non-starter in any society – except those that have been chucked into the ashbin of history.
As such, I think I’ll go ahead and spoil our little girl with sweet morsels of Americana. The only potential side effects may be that she’ll grow into a more interesting, more interested and complete Israeli woman.
Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone. After serving in an IDF infantry unit for two-and-a-half years, Gidon returned to the United States, where he embarked on a twelve-year run of half-baked careers and misguided educational pursuits. Today, Gidon is happily entangled and the mildly unhinged Ben-Zvis aspire to raise a brood of children who speak English fluently – with an Israeli accent.