Page Two: Stories Without Words
Would I miss Israel for Israel? I worried.
Over the holidays we went to Athens for a few days and then on to Tel Aviv, Israel. One of the ways writers make sense of things is by writing. When I watch a film for myself I'm emotionally and intuitively comfortable as to what I think. After a while it is not hard to verbalize these thoughts. But when I review a film, more often than not, it is in the writing of the review, the more systematic thinking through of the film after, of course, my experience watching it, that I come to understand what I think. The process of reviewing makes for a different film experience than just watching, it almost has to, but the idea is to keep those experiences as close together as possible. Even now, after decades of writing about films and another decade of making them, when I go to the movies just to watch, the experience is surprisingly pure. Especially if the film is good.
Backing in to saying that it was quite reasonably expected that I'd write on Israel. Usually people don't ask what I'm going to write about for this column. Friends know I never talk about it. Usually, because I really don't know what I'm going to write. Almost always there are a few possibilities with one often looming over the rest, but in the writing it often changes. This time was different. I'd finally visited Israel, the homeland. Friends and acquaintances all commented that they were going to be interested in reading what I had to say, taking it for granted that I'd write this column about it. Which I wasn't going to do.
Richard Linklater – Dream Is Destiny, a Film by Louis Black, co-produced and co-directed by Karen Bernstein and edited by Nevie Owens, got into the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Which has been the big story in our lives for weeks now. But I'm not sure how to tell it, so I wasn't going to. But then I thought I should, though no less sure how. It seems too weird not to share it.
Israel was too overwhelming – way too much to digest. As of now I haven't begun to even venture to coming to an understanding context. But I've come to realize I have to write about it, even without having a handle on it, not because so many have asked but because it was such a meaningful experience. Even if I'm not entirely sure how it has changed me, I know that is has done just that, changed me.
We decided to go as an afterthought. We wanted to visit Athens. Thought we'd then head for the Grecian beaches. Only to discover there were winter conditions. So Israel seemed a nearby beach with 70-degree days. Except Israel is Israel. Arguably there is no more meaningful slice of real estate in the world. It is not and can't be just a beach.
My past, my heart, my blood resonate from there, without apologies, but intellectually the situation makes me dizzy. A minefield of passions and beliefs runs deep combined with historic prejudices and ethical and moral compasses that have guided the world for millennia and my heart throughout my life.
I went glibly. All of my life I have thought about Israel, about visiting, its meaning and its very complicated issues. Yet I went there without reading or preparation, except for four years of Hebrew school and a half-century of reading and watching news and movies about the Middle East.
Even then we decided this was going to be a quick in and out with the lengthy exploration of the country long promised ourselves to come at a later date. Except one of our party had arranged for daylong tours of Israel two of the five days we were there. We visited and explored Jerusalem and then over to the Jordan and Dead Sea.
Again and again I had been warned – no maybe that is the wrong word, not warned – assured that it would be overwhelming, evoking a surprisingly emotional response. This offered across a broad range of ideological takes on the current situation there. I want to stay away from too much personal politics here because then this becomes an editorial. Instead it is a prematurely developed photograph only now coming into focus, with there still not being any clear idea as to what those details will yield.
Although obviously there is not a single declarative sentence that can be written about Israel that does not have ideological reverberations.
Starting off with Tel Aviv for such a short stay with very little actual beach time (one group walk that I passed on) wasn't the best idea. One of the few modern cities built in the 20th century, it's an awkward introduction, somewhat like beginning Brazil with Brasilia?
The way one is set up almost always affects how the life joke rolls out. Expecting the shower scene in Psycho, I jumped out of my seat when the detective takes a tumble. The Wailing Wall most often but also all of Jerusalem were regularly cited as creating some overwhelming unexpected sense of emotion. When my son was born I actually consciously for the first time felt connected to the past and the future as I never had. Always before my sense of self was that I was on the outside of life and family, a free floater, an emotional pirate. Which was okay by me. Realizing how connected we are really increased the responsibility, but also to feel so connected, though disruptive and unexpected, was joyous.
Especially finally I was adapted to my own role in family, that rather than the other, they are us and the we of I – what we come out of, live within, and then launch forward anew by giving birth. Maybe I expected that feeling again. Not to trivialize the profound with the classic, the first time viewing Citizen Kane, expecting for the heavens to open and God to speak, I totally missed the movie for the movie. It wasn't until I accidentally saw it a second time that it just sunk in and overwhelmed. Would I miss Israel for Israel? I worried.
And I'm one of those professionally grumpy travelers who live to mutter constant sarcastic asides. Unlike Sandy, my co-traveler, I do not unfold unto the land and people. Traveling through the most ancient of lands with the most open of groups enriched my experience. But I began as always. Bah! Humbug! Israel was not going to get to me.
Yet it did. And it did!
In the blood and in the heart, that most ancient of Hebrew prayers. Even a nonbeliever believes: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Read Part Two in next week's Page Two column.