So if you missed the news, my husband and I are about to embark on our first trip to Israel. And not just any trip, but a Big Gay Trip. We’ll be tooling around the country for a little over a week, doing many of the usual touristy things but meeting along the way with leaders from gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, including some Palestinian and Arab Israeli representatives.
I was describing the trip to a young Jewish student I’m advising, and I came up with this line: “It’s sorta like Birthright for middle-aged gay people, only we’re paying our own way.” Except for my fellow blogger, Erika, most of us twenty-odd participants are in our forties and fifties.
When Brian and I started lining up finances and airline tickets, we noticed that the best flights from the Midwest always seemed to be through Turkish Airlines, so we booked through them. That meant flying through Istanbul, so we thought, “hey, why not spend a few days there?” Then we noticed that the official part of the Israel journey ends on November 20th, and we thought, “hey, why fly all the way home when it’s a shortened work week anyway?” So we arranged to spend another two days in Israel, flying back the day before Thanksgiving.
So an eleven day trip turned into two and a half weeks, which has left us both in a scramble to leave our jobs, both of which have gotten really intense of late, for longer than we’ve ever left them before.
That part has been so intense that I haven’t thought much about the trip at all. And we’re leaving tomorrow. We hear often, “you must be so excited!” We’ve both been so immersed in work and deadlines and expectations that, frankly, we haven’t had time to be excited.
Maybe That’s a Good Thing.
Maybe it will allow the journey to unfold on its own terms. Maybe it’s good to be fundamentally open and empty of expectations. Our experience is bound to be very, very different from most first-timers. Brian and I came to the tribe so late, having both become Jews in our forties. We’re approaching this rite of passage with very adult minds that only recently learned to think of Israel as something more than just a quirky little country whose existence and welfare didn’t affect us much.
One thing I do know is that I’m already understanding what a filtered and flattened view of Israel comes over the airwaves and the mainstream internet. That’s partly thanks to some readings recommended to us by Arthur Slepian, one of the trip’s organizers. There’s Donna Rosenthal’s The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land, and a very quirky little book, A Fish Out of Water, by a middle-aged immigrant to Israel who became a sort of grande dame and den mother to gaggles of gay men in Tel Aviv.
This is a society of extraordinary diversity, and it strikes me that we’re very lucky to be experiencing it through the vector of gay life, which brings together, as it always does, people from all the world’s corners who have nowhere else to go. Young and old, religious and secular, Ashkenazi, Separdi, Mizrachi, Jews and Arabs, immigrants and native-born.
And Yes, I’m a Little Scared
Our Jewish identities are enmeshed in a liberal religious environment that I think is very localized to our part of North America. To be religious Jews who identify with the elements of the Reform, Renewal, and Reconstructionist movements puts us in a place that, I gather, a lot of Israelis might have difficulty relating to. Sometimes I hear dismissiveness, sometimes outright hostility when Israelis speak and write about these movements, divided as they seem to be between secularism and Orthodoxy. What are people going to make of us?
We booked our tickets a long time ago, before this summer’s meltdown in diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel. Before the Palestinian statehood bid hit everyone’s radar screens. Before Gilad Shalit and the escalation between Israel and Gaza. Before the nuclear-tipped saber-rattling between Israel and Iran. The prospect of all-out war seems much closer and more real than it did when we thought, “Hey, let’s go to Israel!”
There. That’s What’s On My Mind.
I doubt I’ll be online much during the trip. In fact, the journal I’m taking along relies on a technology called “paper.” And I imagine it’s going to take a while to digest all our experiences.
If you’re the praying sort, I invite you to pray for our safe journey, for the safety and well-being of all the people along the way, for peace and prosperity for the whole gorgeous mess of a region.