There is nothing that compares to those first few seconds in the Holy Land. You feel as if you have gone back in time. Not long ago the Jewish homeland was just a dream in the hearts of Jews around the world and now I was standing on the soil of fulfilled prophecy.
My brothers-in-law, Shomo and Mishel where there to meet me. This was my first time meeting them and they didn’t disappoint. Elana’s family along with hundreds of thousands of Jews left Morocco for Israel between the years 1956 and 1963. Moroccan culture is a very warm culture.
Despite the fact that they didn’t speak a word of English, they didn’t stop trying to communicate with me. “Roni, Roni, welcome Israel.” And when they were unable to communicate with me they just hit me in an endearing way. Every time they would say something to me, they would grab me, touch me or nudge me, thinking somehow that would help me understand Hebrew. To this day, they treat me like a king, even if I do have sore arms.
We piled into what looked like a run down Chrysler K-Car and began to make the one-hour drive from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon. The air conditioner was broken. Mishel opened a window ands said with a smile, “Air conditioner!”
Because of the suitcases, the hatchback wouldn’t close. Normally that would not be the end of the world, but this car was on its last leg and had some serious exhaust issues. The exhaust somehow made it’s way back into the car through the open hatchback, burning my jet-lagged eyes.
I was euphoric and terrified all at once. I was fulfilling a dream, but for most of my life, all I heard about Israel was wrapped in conflict, violence and terrorism. I looked out the window of the car, and half expected a gun-wielding terrorist to jump out of the bushes. It took me a few days to realize it, but the Israel portrayed throughout the world by the media doesn’t exist. Is there a threat? Of course. But the idea of danger lurking at every moment is ridiculous. I feel safer in Israel, than I do in the US.
When we pulled into Ashkelon, the ancient Philistine city, and drove to Elana’s neighborhood, I was shocked. I felt like I was in inner city Detroit, or South Central LA. Laundry was hanging out of every window (doesn’t anybody own a dryer here?) of buildings that seemed to have gone decades without a paint job. I felt like I was in a project. Did my wife really grow up this poor?
I was to find out later that much of Israel looked like this. Elana’s family had struggled to make ends meet, but they were not living in poverty. Most of the living area of the country is urban and much of it rundown—or at least it was back then. And I was to find out that indeed nobody did have a dryer. Of course in their mind, what kind of an idiot is going to pay the electric company to do what the sun would do for free. Can’t argue with that.