In homage to a wonderful fellow blogger, I almost called this post "On appearing to be crazy." It's now socially acceptable in New York to talk to yourself while walking down the street. In fact, you're actually speaking into a cell phone to one of your multitudes of friends via ear buds and a lapel mic or, better yet, a hidden Bluetooth receiver. But you still look like you're communicating with aliens, even though you've left the tinfoil hat back home.
This strange trend gave me the idea of downloading a Hebrew conversation audiobook, which should help me achieve kindergarten-level prowess in only four hours of boring repetition. (I can understand phrases like "bull of pleasant odor," but don't know how to ask what time it is, or anything else even vaguely practical.) Since my only free time is when I'm getting from place to place, I figure no one on the street or subway will care if I'm mumbling "Ani mevina Ivrit" ["I understand Hebrew"] over and over again into my iPod.
In truth, I can go to Israel for a week and never need a word of Hebrew, since I'll be with a big group of Americans. But this seems rude, like a dinner guest who shows up empty-handed. Israel will always welcome me unconditionally; the least I can do is try to speak her language. Beyond that, I have no expectations about my trip. Will I feel awed and overwhelmed when I get off the plane? Or will I feel little beyond the usual excitement of a tourist, but pretend to be overwhelmed for the sake of appearances? Is my heart bound to this land or is it, thanks to years of disinterest, denial, and ambivalence, inaccessible?
I'm not sure. We discussed our emotional biases about Israel at a class last night. Most American Jews think of Israel as a place of refuge--but this also implies that our image of home is linked to memories of fear. So we're wary, like an abused child, of offering criticism even when the situation warrants it, because criticism might disturb the status quo and so diminish our already tentative sense of security.
We spent thousands of years yearning for a land where the goodness of the Bible could be lived. Now that it exists, we still need to figure out how reach past our scars and to our dreams. As the rabbi put it, it was easier to be the conscience of humanity when we were powerless.
Maybe I will "mevina" once I get off that plane. Maybe not.