I know this title will anger some people. It’s reminiscent of the “Milky Controversy”, in which an Israeli Berliner, on a Facebook page called “Olim L’Berlin”, compared grocery receipts from Berlin and Tel Aviv to encourage people to enjoy the easy life of the German capital. Then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called him a traitor.
Forgive me if that’s what I am after deciding to extend my summer trip to Berlin indefinitely. But I’ve fallen in love with the city.
Returning to Israel for a few weeks to pack up and see friends/family feels like coming back to the place I shared with a long-term partner to split our assets.
Israeli and I have had incredible memories, moments of exhilaration and great passion. Living in Israel, with all its difficulty, was my muse. But I also remember the great pain. The government’s betrayal of so many of its citizens during the second intifada and during the Disengagement from Gaza hurt me immensely. The mundane hassles of everyday life exacerbated the political struggles: crowded cities, traffic on narrow roads, inefficient public transportation, and rising prices in every field.
It wasn’t always like this. When I first moved to Israel in my early twenties, I was enthralled. My fascination made me overlook its flaws, which at the time didn’t include impossible rents. I thought: I’m living a miracle! I’m living in the Land for which Jews fought – for me!
And I loved the men – those Israeli men who weren’t these nebby American Jews who maybe donated to Israel after studying at private universities and getting good paying office jobs. These Jewish men knew how to hold a gun. They were in touch with their bodies, the earth, sensuality. So many options for Jewish husbands!
I devoured Israeli music, not only to master the language, but to revel in the idea that the language of the Bible could now describe everyday life. Even when suicide bombings tore apart my Jerusalem neighborhood almost every other week from 2001-2002, I defied an urge to retreat back to my hometown of Los Angeles. I cried with Israel. I fought with Israel. I was ready to give my life for Israel. That’s love.
But Israel didn’t always give back. The country, sadly, often takes from its citizens more than it gives – in regulations, taxes, bureaucracy, low wages, high cost-of-living, and weakness in the face of terror. I feel so many of us are bound to this country by Zionist sentiment alone, and not by the ease of life we work so hard to secure.
During my first week in Berlin, which I had visited periodically, the love was instant, and I felt, mutual. Finally, a creative, pleasant city where things just worked and people didn’t scream. Transportation was smooth. My landlord was a sweetheart. People on the whole were really nice. And the beer was $3 instead of $7!
I realized how much I enjoyed being in an international city, unencumbered by constant nationalistic demands. I began to heal so much of the pain I felt living with my “ex-lover”, Israel.
Now those feelings of enthrallment I felt as a new Israeli have come back for Berlin. I listen to German music, thinking how the language that ordered the murder of my paternal grandparents is describing human love. In a strange way, I feel like I belong. Really belong. Maybe that has something to do with my father having been born in Germany to Polish Holocaust survivors in a DP camp.
I grew up on stories about Germany as much as I did on stories about Israel, of course, negative ones. The Holocaust dominated my adolescence, and I received only glimpses into periods of great Jewish productivity in Germany. Overall, I was taught that Germans are essentially evil, demented, sadistic, and anti-Semitic. Now I come to a nation being rebuilt. Modern Israel seeks to correct and move beyond Jewish victimhood. Modern Germany seeks to correct and move beyond German aggression.
And Berlin men! Good-looking, athletic, polite, idealistic, intellectual – and tall. (And lo and behold, not Nazis!) In Israel, I sometimes feel, as a Jewish woman, that my worth is judged by the productivity of my womb. In Germany, I’m more than just a Jewish woman, but a thinking woman. When going out with German men, we discuss philosophy, politics, and travel, and not just how we could survive.
Many who'd call me a traitor never lived in the Land, never gave up their comforts to live the Zionist dream. I have utmost gratitude and respect for those who endure in Israel, and who love it, like I did, and still do, deep down. They’re holding down the fort, and it’s because of them I could live freely almost anywhere in the Diaspora.
But I don’t believe every Jew has to live only in Israel to fight for the good. Germany is battling for its soul, and I want to be there to ensure that Jews will remain forever safe there, especially from the onslaught of radical Islam.
Relationship experts say you’re not supposed to be in a relationship if you want your partner to change. Well, for me to be happy in Israel right now, a lot needs to change, and I’ve fought to change as much as I could. Berlin, on the other hand, aside from the winter cold, is perfect as is. And now I need to fight for Berlin to never, ever change.