Even though I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Israel twice before in my life, my parents had never been there. I’d been trying to convince them to go for a few years not necessarily because it’s my favorite place I’ve ever traveled to, but because I feel it’s an important place to travel to as Jews.
I’m so excited we finally made it happen.
We spent two weeks exploring Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Mitzpe Ramon, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea, Zichron Ya’acov, Tzfat, and Akko. We ate a ton of hummus and falafel; even more pickles; delighted at the bizarre feeling of floating in the Dead Sea; saw 100,000 Israeli children on field trips; and hiked until the dry desert heat melted our faces off.
So on our last day in Israel, the three of us sat down and reflected together on everything we did, saw, ate…all in the style of our post-Thailand trip interview from a few years ago. The discussion was deeper this time and more emotional. My dad may have even shed a few tears. May.
Without further ado…
Michelle: Anything you want to say before we begin?
Kim: It was great seeing you and we’re sad we’re not gonna see you for a while.
M: It’s funny because it’s exactly the same thing you said at the start of the Thailand interview.
Daveo: Being in Israel was special. It brought me closer to being Jewish. I thought I was aware of certain things but I really wasn’t as aware as I am since being here. And reading that book [Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn] really kinda put things in perspective for me about being Jewish and my heritage.
M: Yeah tell us more about the experience of reading the book and traveling here at the same time because I know that was impactful for you.
D: It was like reading history and then walking out and seeing it in action. In Tel Aviv, we were seeing this thriving city that didn’t exist 30, 40 years ago. It also gave me perspective on the plight of Zionists and Jews. I thought America and other countries were more supportive of Israel as it was establishing itself and it turned out they weren’t and that surprised me the most. How hard the Israelis had to fight politically in the early days and even in the 70’s and 80’s when I thought things were better, they really weren’t. People still were always against the Jews.
K: Having not read the book, I didn’t get the same feeling here. The feeling I got being here was that it wasn’t a very Jewish place but that it was a diverse place. That there are a lot of different cultures here. I felt like a lot of the tourist stuff is geared towards Christian people.
M: What did you think of Israelis? What did you think of the culture?
K: I didn’t feel a lot of welcoming from Israelis in general. I expected people were gonna be inviting us for Shabbat.
D: I felt there was a difference between the people in the different regions we went to. I felt that Tel Aviv folks were fine, a little aggressive, reminded me of the New York/Chicago type attitude. Elsewhere people seemed edgy, didn’t make eye contact or say hello, and that surprised me. Yes, they’re a little arrogant, they’re a little distant, they don’t trust people and rightly so. I mean, think of where they’re living: they’re surrounded by people who want to destroy them so they have to have an attitude. But then there were individuals we encountered who couldn’t have been more helpful and kind.
M: I’ve encountered Israelis every single place I’ve traveled in the world and I find they are consistently rude.
D: But that’s what I heard my whole life about New Yorkers.
M: To me, it’s such a different rudeness. New York is like they think they’re the center of the world and they’re self-important and “the place I live is the best and even though it’s difficult to live there I’m the best because I make it work“. That’s the attitude I get from New Yorkers. Whereas what I get from Israelis is like “we might get blown up so we really need to be on the defense and be ready to fight all the time” which translates into aggression and anger in everyday interactions.
D: That’s fine, I didn’t feel that.
M: So what about expectations: what surprised you and what didn’t about Israel?
K: My expectation was that it was going to feel very weird because of the religious aspect. Especially in Jerusalem because they have all the fundamentalists: Jews, Christians, Muslims. And my expectation was met. It did feel weird. The Orthodox Jews are so foreign to me. But other than that…I thought that things were gonna be a little more organized. Like the national parks and stuff and that the trail maps would be available…I was a little disappointed to see how public property is treated. A lot of trash, things are dirty. I didn’t expect that.
D: We were at the beach yesterday [near Zichron Ya’acov] and the trash was everywhere. It’s just such a new country and from their perspective, this is not a major issue. The major issue is putting their energies and finances towards protecting the people and having great agriculture and electric and healthcare. It’s not a major issue or concern right now and I understand it. I think that will develop over time but now they need to worry about nuclear bombs and Palestinians… We don’t worry about that stuff in the States.
M: So what was your favorite experience?
K: Reaching the waterfall at Ein Gedi because it was such a hard hike and just to get there was such a relief.
D: My favorite experience was our lunch two days ago. When we did that hike near Mount Carmel and we had that great discussion at lunch.
M: I think my favorite was staying at the Dead Sea hotel. I’ve never done the Dead Sea like that before, as a resort. I’ve always done it where they take you in the bus, you get out, you get in the water for like an hour, and then you get back in the bus. So I’ve never stayed there and seen it as a relaxing thing.
K: Here’s another one of my favorites: collecting rocks with you [Michelle] in Mitzpe Ramon.
M: Oh yeah looking for fossils was really fun.
D: There were so many great moments. The tour guide was great.
M: Yeah the tour in Jerusalem was really good for me too. Because I had seen all the places before but seeing them again with different information and with you guys was different.
D: The first hikes were great. They were my favorite when we went into the makhtesh. That was just phenomenal to me. Another highlight was the Starman [of Mitzpe Ramon]. That was so cool sitting there under the night sky.
M: What about your favorite thing that you ate?
D: Lunch with Atsmon [at The Old Man and the Sea in Jaffa]
M: I think my favorite food was the pickles and olives just in general. Obviously. And the halvah. All the stuff you guys cooked was really good too and special for me because — I know it has nothing to do with Israel, but it was just nice to have your food. What about your least favorite experience?
K: The aftermath of the fight after Yad Vashem. I was ready to get on a plane and leave. That was horrible.
M: Oh when I couldn’t find you at the museum and thought you left me. Any other least favorites?
D: The Orthodox Jews. If we lived here, we would have to be in the military. Meanwhile, they’re not participating. They won’t serve in the military to protect their own lifestyle and that really bothered me. There was a part in the book when they were forming the country, Ben Gurion made a deal with the Orthodox but they made up a much smaller percentage of the population then. He didn’t have the foresight to realize what a problem it would become. And they’re not nice to anybody. They seem so ungrateful.
M: Yeah and we haven’t spoken to them because they’re not very friendly so we don’t really know, but they just seem really ungrateful.
K: Yeah it’s how I feel about fundamentalist religion in general.
M: So how would you compare this to other trips? And you’ve been on a lot more since I interviewed you last time.
D: This was emotionally my most favorite trip. The connection to being Jewish. The realization of what Israel really is as a homeland. When I went to Italy and Paris, it always stuck in my mind: they killed everybody there. That could have been us, we were just born in a different time.
K: Would you come back here?
D: I would come back to maybe hang out in Tel Aviv, go see the Golan Heights, hang out in the desert. There was some magic down there [in the desert].
K: I want to learn some Hebrew if I come back here. To talk to people. I think it would be beneficial.
D: Yeah I would think learning the language would be more helpful.
K: Like I was able to figure out the subway system in France, and I knew how to say hello and goodbye in Italy but here I’m lost.
D: What was interesting was that you [Michelle] knew the language and you were able to read the signs which was great because we couldn’t. You knew things that we didn’t know. But I felt that was in Italy too. But there was more English there than here actually.
M: Yes, it was delightful to be able to sort of speak and read the language, whereas in Thailand trying to speak Thai is so much harder because of the tones. Even if I’m saying the word, I’m not saying it right unless the tone is right.
D: It was interesting to see Hebrew in action. Hebrew was an ancient language, but the founders of the country knew everyone was coming to Israel from all over the world and decided they needed a single language to bond everybody. So now we have Modern Hebrew.
M: For me, the biggest thing I missed was being able to go into the Palestinian Territories because I’ve never been there and have really never known any Palestinians. I want to understand their perspective.
D: I’m 65 and I’ve come to a conclusion. They had to do this. They can call it racist, they can call it whatever. For thousands and thousands of years, Jews have been kicked out of their country or killed…3 million Jews living in Poland for a thousand years and they wiped them out. It doesn’t matter where we live or how we adapt. The same shit is gonna happen again. Because of one thing: We’re Jews.
“I’m 65 and I’ve come to a conclusion. They had to do this. They can call it racist, they can call it whatever. For thousands and thousands of years, Jews have been kicked out of their country or killed. It doesn’t matter where we live or how we adapt. The same shit is gonna happen again.”
M: I get it. Yeah, I agree. I also understand how people who aren’t Jewish see it differently. What would you say you have learned from this trip?
D: I learned that I’m happy we’re Jews. And sad in a way. So many people in the world think we’re horrible killers and bad people. Even in Atlanta, GA.
K: There’s that one guy running for office in Chicago who thinks the Jews killed 300 million people.
M: I think the way they see Jews is the way we see the ultra-Orthodox Jews. It’s that ‘oh they only seem to care about themselves, they don’t seem grateful for anything, they stick together, they take care of each other but don’t care about anybody else, they don’t adopt other cultures or ways of life’…I think that’s why. It’s because we don’t assimilate into any culture. We only marry each other, we have different traditions…
D: And they think we killed Christ. That’s a biggie.
M: Right. Yeah.
K: I learned when we went through Yad Vashem about the campaigns in each country to wipe out the Jews. How they were executed, who was in charge. There were a lot of details about the Holocaust that I picked up in the museum.
M: Any ideas for your next trip?
K: Spain and Portugal. We still haven’t gone to the Galapagos. Colorado.
D: A safari in Africa. Denmark. Patagonia has an appeal to me right now. Parts of the United States I want to go to, like the Northwest.
M: For me it’s Japan. Norway and Scandinavia in general are high on my list.
It was sad saying goodbye to my parents not knowing when I’m going to see them next. I was headed back to Thailand and they were going back to Atlanta. I’m glad to be back ‘home’ on Koh Tao and it’s honestly a massive relief to interact with the locals here who are SO much friendlier and more polite than in Israel. But I’m also so grateful I got to have this experience with my family.
The last two times I went to Israel were really polarizing for me. Specifically, after Birthright I was really turned off to the country because I hated feeling like they were shoving Zionism down my throat without balancing the story with the Palestinian perspective at least.
Despite still not being able to go into the West Bank, this time felt more balanced. And the stuff my dad said about how Jews have been persecuted and kicked out of their homelands (whether it be Poland, Spain, Russia, or wherever) for literal millennia left a lasting impression on me.
If there were no anti-Semitism and the world at large would stop persecuting the Jews then we wouldn’t need Israel. Sadly that’s not the case. Of course, the solution isn’t ideal but there had to be something, something had to change.
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