I Just Became A Real Israeli

I became Israeli on Saturday night.

I stepped out of the shower at 2 a.m. I had meant to go to bed earlier, given that I missed my Shabbos nap, and besides, Sunday is a work day here. Sigh. There was shouting from the apartment building next door, the one I see from my bedroom window when I peek outside in the morning to see what people are wearing, to gauge the weather forecast. First, a series of low, repetitive chants, indiscernible beats punctuating the static in the background. And then a shriek, and it grows. More loud, deep booms. I dial *100 (Israeli 9-1-1) and hover my finger over the call button, knowing I am overreacting. “Zachinu! Zachinu! Zachinu!!!” – “We won! We won! We won!!!”

Letting my phone plop softly onto my bed and wonder what the chances are my neighbors won the lottery. And then I hear that familiar, catchy-as-hell beat that’s been blasting from every store on Yafo for months. “I’m not your toy…” No way. No way! It’s Eurovision. Holy shawarma. I used to wake up to “Abanibi” every morning (only a year or two ago). I dig Eurovision but somehow I had totally forgotten it existed. But then we won. We Won!

And my entire newsfeed is full of ecstasy; my friends who work for hasbara (literally, “explanation”, a term used for “Israel advocacy”) organizations, my friends who protest outside Bibi’s house every week, my friends from settlements, my friends who won’t drink wine from Gush Etzion – we are all beaming with pride, speechless but for chicken noises and empowering pop lyrics.

It’s three a.m and I know tomorrow will feel like, well, a Sunday. And I’ve surprised myself with how giddy I am, like this victory is personal, like it’s mine, like it’s all of ours. We won. We won.

I fall asleep to the sounds of parties – an epic lullaby of pop melodies and trills, “Hatikvah,” and cries of L’Shana Habaa B’Yerushalayim Ha’Bnuya, “Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem.” It’s as seamless a transition as anything in this wild country, where good news and bad news are regularly in cacophonous conversation, and no one knows what’s next, and everyone will tell you their prediction of what’s next as though it’s the gospel.

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When I enter my taxi on Monday morning, on my way to a meeting, and I hear First I was afraid, I was petrified…” I know my dignity does not stand a chance, and I sing along shamelessly, on autopilot. The driver is friendly and for some reason I tell him how this is one of those songs that magically transformed my straight-and-narrow mother to burst out of character and belt along in the car when I was a kid. He laughs in amusement and we schmooze about music – “I just don’t know how we could ever live without music,” he muses sweetly, alluding unintentionally to sentimental ABBA lyrics.

“Toy,” the winning Eurovision song, and the current national anthem, comes on the radio next, unfortunately once my destination is already within sight. I tell him how I’ve been feeling what a significant moment this is, how I’ve caught myself off-guard with how much this feels like it’s mine, how this feels like one of the first times I’ve felt like a “real Israeli” – besides my perpetual annoyance at tourists, my increasing moments of talking back fiercely to anyone who gets in my way, or my tendency toward last-minute planning.

And then I also bring to mind the many moments that light up my sense of being So American – when I talk about my college experiences, when I itch for a word in Hebrew that will capture the concept on my tongue, when I’ve just had it up to here with people I barely know calling me Mami or Kaparah.

I bring to mind the weight of whatever this new status means, now that I am “b’emet Yisraelit,” “for-real Israeli,” – and also the freedoms that go along with it. In response to Israelis (and non-Israelis!) who claim only Israelis can criticize Israel, I can say I disagree, and stand my ground. I can challenge the attitude of “write a check and shut up” toward North American Jews. I can help work toward mutual humility and genuine listening. I can leave all the intolerant people from all the uncomfortable Shabbos meals I have graced, alone to eat their cherry tomatoes and claim I hate myself; meanwhile, I will be struggling with nuance, speaking out as loud as I can where I believe it counts, and using all the parts of me – my Americanness, my liberal bent, my spirit, and yes, my dissent – to be the best Israeli I can be.

I will probably never get used to Sundays here, or lose my well-trained niceties completely. But I will be my own brand of Israeli, and know I am welcome here, and that that demands something of me. I became Israeli a few months ago, and then “for real” a few days ago, and I am still becoming.