Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The first inkling I had that fear would inform at least part of my visit to the States came while waiting to board the first leg of my journey, Tel Aviv to Paris. I was on my way to visit my mother in Pittsburgh, who was about to celebrate her 91st birthday. An Arab sat down beside me and began to read a book entitled L'Or d'Al-Qaida.

As it turns out, the book is a thriller. But I didn’t know that, and the spotty wifi at the airport didn’t allow me the luxury of Google. I knew it was probably nothing to worry about, but I couldn’t take the chance of doing nothing. I decided I’d better tell a representative of the airline, Air France, of my concerns.

The representative waved off my concerns, telling me not to worry, without even bothering to get the details or look at the man reading the book. I was just some Jew worry wart, my report not worth serious attention.

And since I’d now given up my seat to tell someone, anyone about the possible security issue, I was now forced to stand until boarding, no empty seats now in sight.

But once that small concern came to me over a dumb thriller, I was unable to shake the feeling, my entire trip, that it might be dangerous for people to know where I live. I wavered between fear of discovery, and wanting to tell people the truth about Israel, wanting to inform, to fill in where there were gaps of knowledge because the real story is not being covered by the mainstream media.

Or because people are being fed lies.

At times, it wasn’t so much fear of discovery, as it was unpleasant to discover how people feel about Israel and Israelis. There was, for instance, the Air France representative in Paris, who asked to see my passport. I showed her my Israeli passport and she blanched. “This is a problem,” she said, and began asking me about visas and things.

I pulled out my American passport and asked, “Does this help?”

Much better,” she said.

I was left wondering about the real meaning behind her consternation. Was it visas that concerned her, or the fact that I come from Israel? Did she see me as an oppressor, someone who colonizes Arab land, a Zionazi, a sh*tty little Jew??

Or was I imagining all that?

Understand, please, that I live in a small town over the green line with an all-Jewish population. It is rare for me to see people from other cultures within Efrat, though I see plenty of Arabs at the supermarket and in Jerusalem. For me to be in Charles De Gaulle Airport, however, was to mix with European gentiles, and of course, Muslims of all stripes.

In this space, I was a minority. One that is reviled.

European and Muslim hate of Israel and antisemitism are not foreign to me as concepts, because of my reading and writing. So I believe my paranoia was well founded. Still, I was glad to get to the United States, where, I think, most people have a warm spot for Israel.

And still, I couldn’t quite shake off that fear.

When asked to register for the store’s card at Macy’s or JC Penney’s, I would say, “No thanks. I’m just visiting.”

They’d say, “It’s good everywhere,” and I’d have to reply, “I live abroad.”

Even in America, I found, I was afraid to say the “I” word--to say I live in Israel.

Because Pittsburgh, my hometown, is a friendly place, it got easier. Asked where I lived, I no longer had any choice but to speak the truth, “Israel,” I’d say, and wait, a bit worried, for the reaction.

I shouldn’t have worried. Almost every time I told salespeople and others where I lived, they’d be fascinated and want to know what it’s like, why I live there.

A longer conversation happened with Linda. My mother can no longer drive, or walk unassisted. She has Linda to take her around.

Once upon a time, Linda was a single, black mom, trying to get through college. My mom was typing papers to bring in some extra cash, having been widowed young, and possessing excellent typing skills. Linda saw my mom’s typing ad on Chatham's bulletin board and my mom began typing all her papers.

Some instinct told my mother that Linda needed a bit of mentoring. Her English writing skills were poor. My mother, at a certain point, not only typed, but edited Linda’s papers. Linda struggled to pay her bills and couldn’t always afford to pay my mom. My mom helped her anyway.

Linda told me, “I wouldn’t have gotten through college without your mother.”

I told my mom what she said and my mom said, “That’s true.”

I’d heard about Linda for years, but somehow we’d never met. Now was my opportunity, since Linda was the means by which my mom and I could go places together. While we were driving places, Linda and I were getting to know one another. She had a lot of questions about Israel.

Here are five things that Linda did not know about Israel:

1.       Linda did not know that jailed Arab terrorists receive stipends and their families, financial assistance for killing Jews (pay to slay).
2.       Linda did not know that Israel expelled 11,000 Jews from Gaza and Samaria to give Gaza to the Arabs asking nothing in return. She did not know we destroyed all those lovely Jewish homes, since the Arabs did not want them. She had never heard of Disengagement.
3.       Linda did not know that Israel has a housing crisis because every time there are “peace” negotiations, the Arab side, via the U.S., forces us to freeze the building of homes in our ancestral territories, Judea and Samaria.
4.       Linda did not know that in Israel, phone recordings and food labels are often in at least four languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and Amharic. She didn’t know there’d been a mass immigration of black Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

5.       Linda did not know that Martin Luther King was pro-Israel.

Linda did not know these things because the media is doing a poor job of informing people about Israel. It is clear that people are hungry for information, and fascinated by what I had to tell them. I told Linda, for instance, how my grandson Shmuel had his first haircut at Samuel’s tomb, and I think she grasped what a big deal that was to me as a God-fearing person.

Linda asked me what made me want to live in Israel. I explained that no matter whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew, you know that the Jews are the Children of Israel. That I had always had a yearning to live in Israel. That I believed that it was where every Jew should live. How today it is so easy to get to Israel, to have a real life in Israel, that there is no excuse not to live in Israel.

Once I told Linda about Israel, it became easier to tell the shopkeepers and salespeople, and whoever else wanted to know. People are just curious. They want to know about a life that differs from their own. At least that is the case in Pittsburgh.

I became ill on the second leg of my journey and as a result, required wheelchair assistance during my layovers there and back. While my wheelchair helpers on the way to Pittsburgh were Arabs, on the way back to Tel Aviv, they were not. In Pittsburgh, my wheelchair guy told me how he dreams of coming to Israel because as a Catholic, he wants to “walk in the footsteps of Jesus.”

His wife won’t go with him. Too terrified of terror attacks. But she has given him her blessing for him to go it alone.

I told him I live quite close to Bethlehem. He said, “I know that Jews don’t accept Jesus as their lord and savior, but most Jews think that Jesus was a great prophet.”

I held my tongue. The truth is, no Jew I know thinks Jesus was a great or any other kind of prophet, but rather a naughty little Jewish boy who caused untold trouble and bloodshed for his people. But I wasn’t about to say that to him. Let him believe whatever he likes. No skin off my teeth.

A lovely Ethiopian Christian woman helped me in Atlanta. When she saw my boarding pass, she was delighted to tell me about her dream of visiting the church in Jerusalem.

She told me her entire life story, how every time she prayed for something, it came true: the three beautiful boys she birthed, the new job, a way out of her troubles. We just had this wonderful rapport of one woman, one believer, to another (though our beliefs differed in the details). On parting ways, we agreed we’d see each other in Jerusalem someday. We thought this might really happen.

My travels accomplished their mission which was for me to spend quality time with my mother. I think I also learned that while it’s not safe to trumpet my country of origin to Europeans, it’s really nice to talk to Americans about Israel. They seem to want to know more, and their mainstream media is utterly failing them.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.


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