At the behest of friends he’d met during the past year in Israel, my son traveled to the United States to speak in synagogues, Jewish day schools, public schools and a steel factory and a Catholic college, about what it means to be a soldier in the Israeli army. Minnesota, Florida, Texas and California were some of the states he traveled to. Everyone had a daughter/sister/cousin for him to meet and he experienced yachts, motorcycles, jet skis and the New York City subway. Between speeches he visited relatives in New York, Florida, New Jersey and Maryland.
Before shabbos he called for advice: “It was fun in the beginning but now I’m confused. It’s like a fantasy land and part of me just wants to stay and ‘get lost’ in America. I mean, no pressure, no reserve duty, no one is pushing or cutting each other off on the highway. But on the other hand, I don’t really ‘belong.’ I was born here and have a social security number but I’m Israeli. Should I come home? Should I stay a while longer? I’m running out of money. Should I get a job???”
His angst evoked images of the Children of Israel at the dawn of their liberation from slavery. The ‘fleshpots’ of Egypt were so enticing that neither bondage nor Moses could compel 80 percent of the Hebrews to leave Egypt. They were so steeped in Egyptian culture that they were unwilling to join the Exodus.
Would it have made good-parenting sense to share this with my wanderlusting-son who had initially traveled to America in order to share the wonder of the Zionist state? A product of the best yeshivas and military institutions this country has to offer, he awakens in the middle of the night, despairing, ‘A laptop in New York costs a third of what it costs in Jerusalem. I can buy four pairs of jeans for what one pair costs in Tel Aviv. I’ve been to Gaza and don’t feel like going again this year.’ To what end would my recap of the arduous forty-year journey of Bnei Yisroel be? Would a light-bulb suddenly burst aglow in his confused state, convincing him that the intoxicating allure of the American melting-pot is the work of the Devil himself? That ‘Israel’ equals ‘truth’ and everything else is an optical illusion?
We are commanded to recall the Exodus from Egypt every single day of our lives and in keeping with both my ideological and religious sensibilities I’ve tried to observe this tenet. However, although I love our ancestral homeland, nowhere is it stated that the aforementioned ‘recollection’ is only credible with an Israeli zip code.
In just a few weeks time we will break the matza and dip our herbs but I’ll wait until the last moment to set the table. Perhaps my boy will return home in time to sing the Ma Nishtana, even if he changes the tune to “America the Beautiful.”
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.