Anti-Semites who visit Israel

Tonight, I went to an English-Hebrew practice group.  Not because I particularly need to practice my Hebrew, since I’m surrounded by it all day and I speak it at every opportunity.  But because I wanted to make friends.

There was an interesting cast of characters, including a guy who claimed for 20 minutes he was a porn producer, only to say later he was not.  I spoke some Hebrew, others spoke English, all was fine.

Then I met an exceedingly handsome French guy whose Hebrew accent was to die for.  Even after he revealed he had a girlfriend, I couldn’t stop looking at his beautiful skin and face and smile.  Oulala!

Let’s call him Pierre.  Pierre has a very cushy job at a pharmaceutical company who has asked him to work in Israel for four months before moving him to London.  Not a bad life.  Pierre is actually not Jewish!  This surprised me, because actually there are a ton of French Jews here, many of whom are escaping rabid anti-Semitism in France.  He asked some thoughtful questions about Israeli politics, religious identity, and had an impressive command of Hebrew for someone who’s been here for a few weeks.

I decided he might make a good friend, so we walked for a while together after the event.  Sadly, it didn’t take long for the garbage to come out.  Perhaps feeling liberated from being away from a larger group, he started to tell me all. about. the. settlements.  Please don’t get me wrong- talking about the Jewish presence in the West Bank is a very legitimate political issue and one that is far more complex than the Western media makes it out to be.  I can understand why there are people critical of the settlements (their word) and- just as critically- I can understand why Jews choose to make their home in Judea and Samaria (their words).  There are genuine concerns about human rights violations and there are very real religious and historical reasons why Jews want to live in these places.  I’ll save the political debate for a future blog- the point is I try to have empathy towards different types of people.

Pierre was not so interested in empathy, but more in lecturing me.  The truth is I found it shocking, but not too shocking.  I’ve had many non-Jews, especially those visiting Israel, jump into long-winded speeches about their political beliefs.  Before really even knowing much about me or frankly, Israel.  Unfortunately, so many people around the world view this place solely through the prism of news articles and not through their own personal experiences and relationships here- both with Israelis (Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.

I often feel like the world expects Israelis and Palestinians to entertain them, like a circus.  One person dies here (doesn’t matter the religion or nationality), and the BBC cameras race to the scene.  It’s front page news.

Yet when a black kid is shot on the streets of D.C. or when hundreds of thousands of Syrians are butchered or when Tibetans are colonized by the Chinese government, the world barely blinks.  The conflicts go on, untended and unresolved.

It’s not that I’m arguing we shouldn’t pay attention to what happens here- we should.  It’s just that the amount of attention that the world puts on this tiny little place is absolutely out of proportion and exacerbates the problem rather than solving it.

In the end, non-Jews who visit here from Western countries should treat this place with respect- including the Jews who live here.  If you want to understand why Jews return to their homeland, you need to learn something about Jewish history.  Plenty of American Christians know what Chanukah is (vaguely), but most couldn’t tell you about the pogroms that brought my ancestors to the U.S.  Or Martin Luther’s antisemitism.  Or the laws that prohibited Jews from owning land in Europe.  Or forced conversions of Jews to Islam in Iran.  Or the myriad blood libels, burnings, discriminatory clothing, or expulsions you can read about here.  And before my American friends chime in with “oh well this is foreign to the U.S.”, you can read this.

My point is this- before you rush to judge another culture (because yes, Jews are both a culture/people and a religion), learn something about it and show some humility.  When I met Pierre, I didn’t rush to ask him to condemn France’s myriad expulsions and massacres of Jews over the course of 2,000 years.  Nor did I ask him to condemn the extensive French collaboration with Adolf Hitler (as an aside, I had a highly educated French teacher who thought the first time French people did something antisemitic was the Holocaust).

Why?  Because I don’t even know him!  If I met a Chinese person, would I launch into a tirade about Tibet?  Is that socially acceptable?  Is that kind?

No.  Because everyone is a human being first and foremost.  If you really want to get to know Israel, you have to get to know Israelis.  Just like anywhere else on the planet.  You have to accept that things aren’t always black and white and that there are reasons why things are the way they are- even if you don’t always agree.  Empathy isn’t about morally approving of everything another person or another culture does- it’s simply understanding where it comes from and acknowledging that all behavior is caused.

There’s a reason why if I hear a Jewish Israeli criticizing settlements it bothers me less than if a French Christian does it.  There are historical reasons for that.  Jews have had to band together over the course of two millennia to survive oppression without a state.  Now that we have a state, we still find our situation fragile as we’ve endured war after war for our existence.  This is a place with eons of trauma that we’re trying to heal from- even as we try to make peace with our neighbors, who have their own issues they’re sorting out.

Let’s say you have a zany uncle.  You laugh about your uncle with your mom, with your cousin, even with your aunt.  But the second some random person at a gas station laughs at him, your back straightens and you’re ready to defend him.  Because you’re family.

For Jews and especially for Israelis, we are a family.  If I’m gay and I use the word queer, it feels safe.  If a straight person uses it, I start to worry that it might be an insult.  I think the same concept applies.

You don’t have to dance around things all the time- let’s talk.  But you do have to be sensitive to my people’s historical experience if you want to talk with me.  Try to understand where we’re coming from.  The fact that you have a Jewish friend and like challah does not mean you understand my history and my identity.  I’d in particular recommend the book “A Short History of The Jewish People” as a great place to start learning.

A while after my conversation with Pierre, I looked at his Facebook profile.  Hoping to find some sign of nuance or interest in Judaism that would abate my anger, I instead found a homophobic quote, a picture of Hitler, and an article posted that mocked Jews who were concerned about antisemitism.  I blocked him.

All goes to show that yes, you can ask good questions about Israeli identity, you can speak some Hebrew, you can be intellectually curious about Judaism, and even visit Israel.  And be an anti-Semite.

 

Advertisements

Bombs during dinner

This weekend, I went to one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the Golan Heights.  Please don’t bother reading the Wikipedia article, it’s a bunch of political nonsense and needs to be edited.

In short, the Golan Heights is the northernmost part of Israel.  Once it was a part of Syria, but after Syria invaded Israel in 1967 and lost the war, Israel pushed back the Syrian soldiers and gained the Golan.  The Golan is important strategically because it is high ground and for the first two decades of Israeli history, the Syrian Army used that advantage to pummel Israeli villages below in the Galilee.

Now, the Golan is home to both Jews and Arabs, with a slight Jewish majority.  Arab communities include Druze, Muslims, and Alawites.  The Arabs often identify as Syrian, although a number of them have adopted Israeli citizenship.  It’s a very rural area and extremely green and beautiful.  It’s kind of reminiscent of a Middle Eastern Vermont or Switzerland.  Before I get into my story, here are some pictures to give you an idea (I visited the picturesque Galilee along the way so I’ll throw in a few from there too):

20170804_18335220170804_14395820170805_14041720170805_125759

Friday afternoon, my friends and I went for a hike in the Galilee.  A park ranger told my friend Jordan to get out of the creek and then told me I was wondering too far away.  As with almost all tense situations in Israel, the awkwardness immediately dissipated when I started to talk to the guy.  Turns out Muhammad is a Muslim Arab from the Golan, meaning his roots are in Syria.  I spoke with him in Arabic and he started to open up to me.  Turns out, Arabs in the Golan are afforded the very unique opportunity to go to college in Syria (this is astonishing because Syria and Israel are technically in a state of war and Syria doesn’t even recognize Israel.  But as with all things in the Middle East, you find loopholes).  He studied medicine in Damascus for a year, but then had to flee because of the civil war.  He decided he didn’t like medicine (despite his parents’ wishes that he become a doctor- does this sound similar, Jewish friends?) and became a park ranger and enjoys being in the peace of the outdoors.  He definitely had some delusional ideas about how great life is in Syria for its meager remaining Jewish community (after all, there is a reason almost all of them have left).  That being said, he was also clearly a very open-minded and tolerant person open to people of all backgrounds.  He is a person forging his own path (pun intended), something I can identify with.

After our hike, we went to a kibbutz to spend the night.  To say this place was magical is an understatement.  It’s the most romantic, scenic, and peaceful place I’ve ever been.  And I’ve been to the Alps.  It is a rural, progressive Jewish lifestyle, something that is almost non-existent in the United States.  Not only is most of rural America conservative (whereas kibbutzim have socialist origins and still lean left), but also Jews as a minority need to be around lots of other Jews in order to make for a rich communal life.  This partially explains the high concentration of Jews in New York, Boston, DC, Chicago, Miami, LA, San Francisco, Atlanta, etc.  The same could be said for gay people, which is a big reason why I, as a gay Jew, have stuck to major urban areas in the U.S.

This is not the case in Israel.  You can enjoy a progressive rural lifestyle and feel at home.  No rednecks here 🙂

I have a deep love for nature and tranquility so I found the experience awe-inspiring and thoroughly relaxing.  I wandered around the kibbutz and nearby and just felt at peace.  I have a strong inclination to raise my family in a place like this in the future- somewhere safe, Jewish, open-minded, and surrounded by God’s beautiful plants and animals.

After singing “Lecha dodi” by a lake as the sun set over the mountains much like the first kabbalists in Tsfat, I came back to the house for Shabbat dinner.  As we laughed and relaxed around the table, we heard a boom.  And then another boom.  And many more.  We realized that those were bombs being dropped in Syria’s civil war.  The border is just a few kilometers away.  It was a somber reminder of the violence raging oh so close by.  It’s one thing to hear about the civil war and quite another to simply hear it.  I prayed to God for the safety of my brothers and sisters just across the border.

We then had a lovely dinner and I wandered around alone afterwards exploring the kibbutz, praying, dancing, just unwinding.  I looked up at the moon and talked out loud to God.  “God, thank you for this beautiful Kibbutz.  God thank you for Shabbat and for the beauty of nature.  God thank you for the opportunity to visit the Golan Heights.  God, thank you for the gift of being an Israeli.  For the gift of living in this place, for bringing me here.  Where despite the news and despite the booms off in the distance, I feel safer than I ever have in my life.  Help me to grow stronger and heal and to make your name great.  To strengthen your people and to bring peace.  Amen.”

I went inside, talked to a really hot Lebanese guy Ameer on Tinder across the (other) border, and got the best night’s sleep I’ve had in Israel yet.

That’s life in Israel- radically accepting that there are some things you can’t change (war and borders), and then thoroughly enjoying all the amazing things in front of you (trees, lakes, mountains, Judaism, good food, friends, and more).  Never taking life for granted and, while things can be sad or scary, rather than being paralyzed, just enjoying the hell out of the blessings you’ve got.

It was a little scary and sad to hear those booms in the distance.  At the same time, I can honestly say that I actually felt safer at this kibbutz than in America.  Here, I feel my identity is validated, that I’m a part of a big national family, and that I’m enjoying life to the fullest.  It’s worth the risks because life here is so much better for me.

And who knows, one day maybe Ameer and I will be able to cross the border and pick up where we left off last night 😉

Sexy Jews

No, that’s not an oxymoron.  That’s a fact.

Tel Aviv is filled with a whole lot of sexy Jews.  Sexy men and sexy women.  Gay and straight and lesbian and bi.  Toned muscle, pecs, six-pacs.  Joggers, yogis, boxers, dancers, volleyball players.  Shirtless, sweating, smiling, swimming, sunbathing.  Hot. As. F*ck.

Many of them wear Star of David necklaces or sometimes yarmulkes.  And they speak the language of the Torah as their bodies gleam effortlessly in the sun.

It is a true paradise.

In the U.S., Jews are often portrayed on TV and in films as sex-less geeks.  Men are often portrayed as effeminate and too “bookish” to be sexy (think Ross on Friends) and women are often portrayed as overbearing and unbearable (think Fran on The Nanny).  We are good at being lawyers, doctors, professors- but we almost never thought of as sex symbols.  And even if there are Jewish sex symbols, such as Zac Efron, they are almost never talked about in connection with their Judaism.

That’s not because American Jews aren’t sexy- there are a lot who are!  It’s because the society we live in has told us we’re not and I think we’ve internalized it to a degree, as can be seen in items like the semi-satirical “Nice Jewish Guys” calendar.

Here, that doesn’t exist because we built this society.  The other day, I went to a gay beach in Tel Aviv.  So in other words, other than a few tourists, a gay Jewish beach.  The world’s only gay Jewish beach.  And it was amazing.  Besides the loads of hot guys, I just felt like I could be myself.  I didn’t feel self-conscious speaking Hebrew among gay people or speaking Yiddish to my Israeli friend who came along.  And I didn’t feel self-conscious about looking at the hot guys in a Jewish environment.

Since arriving 3 weeks ago, I’ve been to a gay rights rally, visited a gay art exhibition (including the cover photo for this blog), made friends with a lesbian rabbi, participated in an Orthodox LGBT Torah study group, started living with a lesbian couple, and so much more.  I can’t even think of them as separate items anymore because I don’t have to go out of my way to do them- they are just a part of my life.  As they should be.

For most of my life, my Judaism and my sexuality have felt like two separate worlds.  Identities that aren’t supposed to touch.  Here, in Tel Aviv, they are so intertwined that it finally feels natural.

I’m gay, I’m Jewish, and I’m sexy.  Wanna go for a jog?

 

My first Israeli protest

Today I went to my first Israeli protest.  Not a pro-Israel protest, but an actual protest inside Israel.

Recently, the Israeli government announced that it recommended to the Supreme Court that gay couples not be able to adopt.  In twisted circular logic, they claimed it was because of the prejudice kids would face because of people who were anti-gay.  Just like the current government and this very policy they’re promoting.

Needless to say, LGBT Israelis and allies were really pissed off.  Including me, because I’m now one of those people.  Thousands of people protested with colorful signs, shouting chants, and cheering with speakers who affirmed their identities and criticized Benjamin Netanyahu’s backward government.

One thing that was interesting was that, being from DC, the crowd seemed small to me.  If I had to guesstimate, there were 5-10,000 people there maximum.  I’ve been in many, many rallies in D.C. that were over 200,000 people- on issues ranging from immigrants rights to pro-Israel to gay rights and beyond.  And I was at Obama’s first inauguration which had approximately 1.8 million attendees.  So my perspective is influenced by my personal experiences at much larger rallies.  That being said, Israel is a very small country compared to the U.S. (8.5 million vs. 323 million), so according to my Israeli friends, this was a sizeable protest.  Always good to consider how someone who grew up here might view things to put it in a new light.

What was very clear was this crowd was fired up.  People were angry and enthusiastic.  And there was a real sense of community and common purpose.  Their rally chants could be improved (some were really long and hard for people to follow)- but I feel confident that I can help with that.  Rally chanting is one of my favorite things to do, as some of my protestor friends in D.C. know.

The crowd was fairly diverse too- you had people from several different youth movements and political parties (although not a single coalition-member party was represented, which is shameful).  I was particularly proud that the rally was co-sponsored by the Reform Movement- my movement.  Not a single other religious organization was represented.  I was never prouder to be a Reform Jew.  You had all the colors of the LGBT spectrum present- and mentioned quite clearly in the speeches.  I’ve definitely been to some protests in the U.S. where the emphasis was quite clearly on the G in LGBT and not so much on the other letters.  Not here- everyone was welcome.

After I started feeling tired and hungry, I went to meet a friend for a happy hour.  There was this group of olim (new immigrants) and I started talking to one woman who was French.  I was really excited because I love speaking French so we got to talking.  She told me she was Modern Orthodox and that while people were more traditional in France, she preferred the more modern streams of Orthodoxy she had encountered in Israel.  She saw a gay rights sticker on my shirt and asked what it was about.  I explained that the government was against me adopting children because I was gay.  And she had the gall to actually say, to my face, that she didn’t think gay couples should be allowed to adopt either.  To put this in perspective, she was probably 25-30 years old, was finishing her Master’s thesis, and was looking for jobs in high tech.  Not exactly the stereotypical profile of a bigot.  But a bigot nonetheless.

She proceeded to tell me that actually she preferred gay couples to single people.  She thought single people absolutely shouldn’t be able to adopt.  She would rather a gay couple adopt than a single person.  And, in her opinion, straight couples should get preference over both because that’s what’s best.

I was in utter shock.  I thought Tel Aviv was this diverse, international, progressive Jewish paradise where people loved gays.  The prejudiced people live in the “other Israel” (read: everywhere outside of Tel Aviv- the periphery, Jerusalem, etc.).  And while there is a lot of truth to that (it’s an extremely gay city with a lot of progressive people and other parts of the country can be more conservative), there are also people who don’t fit that mold.  There are clearly people in Tel Aviv who are bigots.  There were also some Modern Orthodox people at the rally protesting for my rights (and in some cases, their own because they were gay themselves).

The point is Israel is not black and white.  There are confusing gray spaces that require careful navigating.  I thought I could count on a highly-educated young French Jew to support me and I was wrong.  I also saw Orthodox people at this rally wearing yarmulkes.

Israelis like to tell me that life in Israel is “lo pashut” – not simple, not easy.  Well no shit!  Life isn’t easy in America either, which is part of why I’m here.  We have our own insane politics, our expensive healthcare, our gun violence, our poverty.  We have our issues too.  And so does Israel.  And one of them is gay rights.  Israel is by far the most progressive country in the Middle East on gay rights and it also is not a place where I feel equal.  It has a lot of work to do and I intend to be a part of the community that makes it happen.  Join me, here or abroad, in fighting for my right to equality.  I was part of the movement to pass marriage equality in America and I intend to win here too.  “Yes we can” is not a dream- it’s a statement.

IMG-20170720-WA0001.jpg

My New Minority Identity: American

When I decided to make Aliyah and come live in Israel, one of my main reasons was to live with my people- the Jewish people.  As a minority in the U.S., I’ve been subject to a great deal of antisemitism throughout my life and while there are some beautiful things about being a minority, it can also be extremely hard.  I often felt, even in good circumstances with good people, like I had to explain who I was and what I believed in.  Having talked to other minorities in the U.S.- Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, etc.- I know that my struggles were shared by many people.

Part of the reason I came to Israel was to not be a minority anymore.  To live in a Jewish-majority state and in Tel Aviv, where the LGBT community is so numerous that even if it’s not a majority of the city, it’s a very high percentage.  Where my identities would be validated.

This has been true for these identities in many ways.  I am constantly surrounded by hot Jewish men who I glance at- and often glance back!  I am surrounded by street signs with the names of Jewish leaders on them and I hear my favorite Israeli music blasting out of the windows of cars passing by.  In many ways, I couldn’t ask for a more validating space to live in.

At the same time, I’ve discovered I have a new minority identity that I didn’t fully expect when I moved here: American.  It never seemed particularly noteworthy or clear to me in the U.S. that, even as a double minority, I was also part of the majority as an American.  Never has that been more clear to me than in Israel.

The other day, I was talking to a gay guy who noticed all my pictures on Facebook of me going around Israel.  He knew I was an American oleh chadash (new immigrant).  He told me I looked like a “tourist” and laughed.  I told him I didn’t find it funny- that there are many other ways I could’ve visited Israel, but I made a very tough decision to uproot my life and live here as a citizen.  He told me “not to take it that way” and thought it was funny how I was “such a new immigrant”.

Last night, I was at a board games night and this guy told me that in English, “peaches” means “boobs”.  I told him I was American and that’s not a thing.  He told me he was in front of the White House two weeks ago yelling at Trump so he “emmmm, reeeeeally knowwwwz Eeeeenglish fluent”.  Just to clarify this for everyone- I had an Israeli correct me on my English- after I told him I was American.

I was sitting in a cafe with a new friend talking about Israelis’ favorite complaint about Americans- that we were too “PC”.  I asked him to explain exactly what he meant by that.  The friend, a well-intentioned and left-wing guy, told me “you guys have this whole debate about using the word n*gger and I don’t understand it”.  I proceeded to summarize the 400 year history of this racist term after which, to his credit, he finally admitted there are legitimate reasons why people don’t like this word.

Today, however, may just take the cake.  I was at a gay Torah study and this older man, seemingly out of nowhere, starts telling the group how all the “kushim” (an Israeli word somewhere between “colored” and “n*gger”) in the U.S. are homophobic bigots even though gay people always supported them.  My blood pressure shot sky high.  When I wanted to respond, the young rabbi in the room told me I could do so in “one sentence”.  I said “sorry I’m going to take a few”.  I tried to explain that not only is this a gross overgeneralization and racist, but that there are a ton of LGBT black people too and “black” and “gay” aren’t mutually exclusive categories.  I also mentioned that the NAACP, among other groups, actively supported the LGBT community’s fight for marriage rights.  Instead of any sort of acknowledgement of my much needed nuance, I was shouted down by younger participants who told me, the only American in the room, that black people in my country are homophobes.  Because I suppose when watching rap videos on YouTube is your only reference point for actual African Americans, you’ll come to such thoughtful conclusions.

I could channel my legitimate anger, sadness, hurt, and loneliness into a bunch of sweeping generalizations about Israelis, but then I’d be just like people who stereotype me and my (other) country.  Instead, I’ll say this: some Israelis are raging racist anti-American bigots.  Others are open-minded, eager to learn, and sweet.  And many fall somewhere in the middle.  People, in the end, are people.  You can find good and bad ones (and mediocre ones) any and everywhere.  It takes some filtering, but I hope I get to the point where I’ve built a really solid social circle here that validates all my identities: gay, Jewish, Reform, progressive, and yes, American.

To Israelis’ credit, even if their main point of reference about American culture is a trip to New York, Lady Gaga, and Game of Thrones, at least many are trying to learn about my other culture.  Most Americans know much less about Israel than Israelis know about America.  That being said, I’d encourage Israeli to dig a little deeper about my country.  It’s one thing to know the pop culture of another place and quite another to understand its social intricacies.  Ask me questions, dive in- don’t be afraid.  I’m open to talk, just like I was with my friend who didn’t understand the word n*gger and was open to listening to me.  That’s dialogue.  I’m eager to learn about you and eager to share about me.

In the end, I came to this country to be changed- to grow, to experience, to live in a new part of the world that is deeply connected to my identity.  I thank the Israelis who are making this journey possible.  At the same time, I am an oleh chutzpani – an outspoken new immigrant.  I didn’t just come to be changed- I came to change.  There are things about this society that must evolve, and that includes the way it treats its minorities- Arabs, Druze, Russians, French, and yes, Americans.

You can count on me to raise my American-Israeli voice.  I’m just getting started.

What’s this blog all about?

 

One week ago to the day, on July 4th, 2017, I made one of the boldest decisions of my life: to move to Israel and become an Israeli citizen.  In Hebrew, this process is called “aliyah”.  Every Jew (even if someone is a quarter Jewish) has the right to this opportunity enshrined in the Israeli “Law of Return”.  As long as you go through the (heavily bureaucratic) process and your ducks are in a row, you are free to make aliyah.  No matter what country you’re from, whether you’re Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or not religious at all.  Actually, even if you profess another faith like Christianity but have 1/4 Jewish roots.  We’ll go into the Law of Return another day in more depth, but for now let’s just say this is truly a unique process.  Immigrating to the United States this is not.  Israelis and Diaspora Jews alike tend to view this not as immigration so much as a homecoming.

When I told my friends I was making aliyah, I got a wide spectrum of reactions.  I heard such varied responses as “congrats!  That’s awesome, good luck!”, which was probably my favorite.  I inevitably heard “are you going there to help Palestinians?” (I love all people, including Palestinians, but this is a bit like asking someone moving to China if they’re going to help Tibetans- probably a worthy cause, but a kind of strange initial reaction to someone moving to another country).  I got asked whether I was concerned about Israeli politics (indeed, a veritable mess, but hardly worse than the batshit bonanza going on in the United States right now).  I was asked about the “demographic threat” (their words, not mine- and asked by a left-wing non-Jew), what I would do for a living, would I feel safe, where would I live, do I have family there, etc. etc.  People were stunned, excited, thrilled, anxious, sad, happy- you name it.

One thing I wanted to make sure to do was to make the process my own.  Everyone had their own reaction to my moving, and in the end, my friends, even with their sometimes frustrating questions, stood behind me and supported me.  But I wanted to make sure the process was mine first and foremost.

One of the reasons I made aliyah was to be with my people.  This is probably first and foremost why I came to Israel.  Having experienced a lifetime of antisemitism and being a minority, I wanted a place where I could be my true authentic self.  A place where I didn’t have to constantly explain or justify my culture, my holidays, my tradition, my mannerisms.  It’s not that all Americans are bigots- as Donald Trump would say “and some, I assume, are good people“.  There’s a lot to like about America- its diversity, its fluidity, its grassroots activism, and of course its delicious ethnic food.  In the end, I will always be American.  But my people have been Jewish a lot longer than being American.  The roots of my culture go back literally thousands of years.  My ancestors have been in the U.S. for about 100-130 years maximum.  It has clearly had an influence, but first and foremost, I’m a Jew.  Why is that?  Because the holidays I enjoy the most are the Jewish ones.  Because I’ll always choose kugel over a hamburger.  Because I feel more at home in a synagogue than a boy scouts den, a church, or a Rotary Club.  Because I talk with my hands and because “mazel tov” slips off the tongue more easily than “congratulations”.

It’s not that I dislike all things American, it’s just that I never really fully felt at home.  When I had to take unpaid leave from a progressive Latino non-profit to observe Rosh Hashanah.  When I was thrown out of a Lyft for being a gay Jew.  When I was berated by a classmate in high school for being a “rich Jew” because I wore a Fossil watch.  When I was told by another high school classmate that she couldn’t believe I was Jewish because I wasn’t a “loudmouth” like the other ones.  When a guy broke up with me because I wouldn’t eat pork.  When a woman I met at a happy hour in DC sent me David Duke videos on Facebook.

Thank God my friends aren’t like that, but this has also been my reality as an American Jew- I could literally write blog upon blog of similar experiences.  When you’re 2% of the population, it can be really hard to feel safe, appreciated, and respected.  Which is why perhaps I’ve always felt close to other minorities.

Hence why I’m here now.  I also came to Israel to find a Jewish partner (very hard to do so in the U.S.- 5% of 2%!), to travel Europe and the Mediterranean, to speak a bunch of languages, to never deal with Winter again, and so much more.

19693560_10101465322224342_6424622048240295837_o.jpeg

So back to the point- I wanted to make this process my own.  Many people when they make aliyah take a Hebrew name.  Mine is Matah מטע, which means “orchard” or “plantation” (without the creepy American slave connotation).  I could’ve taken a more typical Israeli name like Matan, Mati, Matityahu- all of which come from the same root as Matt (which is in itself a Hebrew name).  But I wanted something more special.  Matah sounds like Matt but comes from a different root.  It is a biblical word but is an extremely modern sounding name.  It is truly unique, just like me 🙂

When talking to an Israeli friend about my name, I explained that I liked the idea of trees bearing fruit, just like I hope to do when I’m here- to bloom and grow.  She said that was interesting because her first impression was that I was using the name to indicate I was setting down roots.  I loved it.  The truth is, I’m doing both.  I hope to set down my roots so I can bear fruit- to feel a sense of belonging and stability so I can contribute to society and flourish.

That is what this blog is about- it is about the journey of an American Jew to his ancestral homeland to build a new life.  It’s also about maintaining connections with the life he left behind- because I’m not just an Israeli, I’m an American-Israeli.  It’s about exploring the myriad benefits that life in Israel has to offer- and the challenges.

Join me on my journey as I plant my roots to bear new fruit.

19702981_10101465459439362_1814913696015792447_o