Saturday, June 30, 2012

Traveling and then going home

To me, the best traveler is the person who can go anywhere and ensconce themselves so deeply into their surroundings that they can easily imagine settling down and living in the alien land. That person was me. Until about two days ago. Everywhere I went, I hung on to every detail of the foreign life I could live there. Imagining myself waking up in the mornings, walking down the picturesque streets, catching the various forms of public transportation to my job, lunching at the local cafes, partying with friends at the city/town/village's expansive nightlife, and taking day trips to the sites that dotted the outskirts of wherever I happened to be.

This yearning to live wherever I happened to travel brought me to live in some of the most interesting and exciting places in the world - Shanghai, Beijing, San Francisco, Jerusalem. Over time, though, the feeling of needing to live where I wasn't began to make me feel extremely unsettled. I imagined life in Kauai, Portland, Boulder, Burlington, Berlin, Charlottesville, New Orleans, and essentially anywhere I traveled. Returning home to wherever I happened to be living at the time brought with it a feeling of unease for giving up on an exciting new life full of possibility.

I spent the last ten days Amsterdam, a city touted as one of the most open, diverse, and sophisticated cities in Europe. Its streets are clean, historic, and lined with the most elegant sites - canals, houseboats, handsome multistory row houses, open-air cafes, tall blondes on bikes, flower shops, and museums galore. The city has a vibe of calm prosperity and order. It's the type of city that would have me endlessly daydreaming of my life as a Dutch resident as I wandered Amsterdam's streets for those ten long days.

But something was different this time. I managed to observe Amsterdam as a settled outsider. I enjoyed everything as a passerby might, knowing that the ten days would soon end. I had the things I wanted to do, the places I wanted to go, the delicacies I wanted to eat all lined up and went through them one by one. Visiting the Van Gogh Museum, getting lost in the Jordaan, dipping a fresh croissant in steamy hot chocolate, and riding a tour boat along the canals were among some of the
 highlights. And as the time wore on and the trip began to come to a close, I longed for Israel again.

I missed the shuk, the streets teeming with emotionally charged people from all over the world, our Prius, our beautiful spacious apartment, the cool evening breeze, the pool up the street, the feeling of being amongst family, the idea that simply living where I'm living has a meaning of its own. Essentially, I missed home.

Returning to Israel with a renewed sense of respect for where I live and what I'm doing here was the most valuable experience of this trip to the Netherlands. Back at home on my couch, sipping homemade hot chocolate, overlooking the wide valley that snakes beyond our veranda, through the hills and off to the Dead Sea, I feel very much at peace. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Amsterdamse Bos

Here I am writing from just outside Amsterdam, in a small town surrounded by forest, rivers and marshy canals. I'm staying in a "camping" resort, which essentially means that our room is a self-standing cabin structure with its own bathroom, kitchen, sitting room, television, and wide array of Ikea-manufactured furniture. I prepared lunch with the windows open to temper the heat from the stove with the cool, moist air from outside. As I write, I'm surrounded by the sumptuous smells of fried onions and wet grass. A choral of birds is my background music, the songs occasionally muffled by the roar of an airplane flying overhead. The campground is not far from the airport.

I'm in the Netherlands because my husband is on the Israel National Lacrosse team, and the European championships are taking place this week. So far they're just starting with scrimmages against the teams that they will play when the tournament officially starts tomorrow. Yesterday was the Netherlands, today is Ireland. The team is made up of a mix of American-born olim chadashim and Israelis who are now living in the US. After this tournament, the team returns to the US to spend the summer introducing the sport to students across Israel through training sessions and clinics.

As an observer, watching the Israel lacrosse team play makes me feel more patriotic than I felt at the height of my aliyah process. Seeing the team cheer "Am Yisrael Chai" before games, admiring their myriad of Zionist and Jewish tattoos, hearing them yell to one another on the field in Hebrew, and watching them stand up bravely against the gargantuan, aggressive players on teams like the Netherlands.

The most amazing part of all of this is that here in the Netherlands the Israel team will parade in their striking blue and white uniforms with pride for the next ten days, and they will do extremely well in this tournament. The Netherlands gave up more of their Jewish population to the Nazis during the Holocaust than any other nation in Europe. Only one in sixteen Jews survived. Here we are again, and now with our own country to represent and to return safely to.

This trip reminds me of why I made aliyah in the first place, and it reminds me how lucky I am to live in such a special country.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Arsonists in my Neighborhood

I was enjoying a calm evening in the apartment, checking email and eating dinner when I noticed flashing lights outside our window. I thought little of it, since it seemed from the corner of my eye just a traffic jam. I continued my meal until I began to notice the rapidly familiarizing scent of burning brush. I looked outside once again, and at the base of the wadi, across the street from a row of town houses, an enormous fire blazed in the wheat-colored grass.

A fire engine had already pulled up next to the fire, and several men appeared to be spraying the fire down with hoses. I assumed they'd put the fire out quickly, so I went back to the computer. About fifteen minutes later, I looked up and the sky was full of smoke, and from behind the houses around the corner, I could see the blaze flickering and a new brown-colored smoke rising as well.

This is one of those times I wish I had thought of taking a picture ...

We've been having a little trouble with fires in our neighborhood over the last week. Last Saturday a fire caused 30 homes to be evacuated up the street from our apartment. Little damage was done, except for three cars that were completely consumed. There have been several more brush fires in the wadi as well.

On my walk the other day, I just so happened to notice charred trees and a half-burned dumpster still full of detritus that spilled out onto the streets over the strings of melted green plastic.

The fires are supposedly being caused by arsonists, and supposedly the arsonists are teenagers from a neighboring Arab village. I guess it's been a few too many fires to continue to believe that people are accidentally throwing their cigarette butts in poorly chosen places. Needless to say, this seems like one of my many initiations into the conflict part of the Israeli experience.