I have a big personality flaw.
I do not like the heat, but I can’t stay out of the kitchen.
Meaning, I have a strong opinion. And I like to share that opinion with others. But then I get all bent out of shape when I have to defend my self-publicized opinion. My brand of bent out of shape usually looks like me whining to my husband (“That’s it! I am done with blogging!”) or, if involved in an in-person debate, looks like me blubbering.
I’m one those people who cannot argue without crying.
Since moving to Israel, I’ve intentionally steered clear of political conversations. Especially since I’m such a cry-baby and, come on, I’m trying to make friends, here!
The very few heated conversations I’ve accidentally found myself a part of have reminded me that I’m a little unpracticed in debate. Moreso, I’m not as schooled as I used to be in “the situation” here. I’m trying to recall data I learned in 1995 and quoting OpEd columnists now dead or retired.
Once upon a time, I was a recent college graduate with a degree in International Politics, and a concentration in Judaic Studies and the Middle East Conflict. I sported impressive internships and jobs on my resume. I read and wrote articles all the time related to American Jewry, as well as Israeli politics. Back in those days — before I had to worry about things like education, vaccination, and summer vacation — I could easily hold my own in a conversation about the region.
But I took a ten year hiatus from Israel…until I moved here. And now, I find myself gravitating back towards the articles I stopped reading when I traded politics for parenting.
Except, now I don’t read those articles as an academic or as a reporter or even as a student of the situation. I am full aware that I am reading these articles as an Israeli. As an American Jew living abroad. I know full well my response to these articles now is at least 75% subjective and is more emotionally driven than intellectually.
Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I think I am among a small group of writers on the topic of Israel who will actually admit that.
I mean, REALLY, how much of what is written about Israel is truly based on “fact?” On “truth?” On “history?”
Is it true because it’s in The Atlantic? Or written by a Village Voice editor? Is it truth when it’s in The New York Times International section? Or Newsweek? What about The Jerusalem Post? Al-Jazeera?
Is it the truth when it’s been photographed? Or featured in a documentary?
What about when it comes out of the mouth of a Jewish professor? Or an anti-semitic one?
Is it true because you think so? Or your parents told you so? Or you learned it in school or in camp?
There has been much conversation in the blogosphere over the past fews days stemming from Allison Benedikt’s first person essay, in which she recalls the Zionist indoctrination of her youth and compares it to what she considers her enlightenment on the topic of Israel today.
Possibly surprising, I strongly related to Benedikt’s article, and could totally related to her experiences as a Jewish girl growing up in the suburbs, going to camp and Hebrew school, and participating in a Jewish youth group. And, where some were offended and put off by her tone, I was not. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my very first post on this blog, “Too Jewish.” Many of her critics are calling Benedikt naive; many think it took her too long to realize that the “situation” in the Middle East is a multi-faceted, complex one. But I think Benedikt knew a lot more than she claims to in her piece. I think she has to be brighter than she gives herself credit for.
In fact, I think Benedikt may be a lot like me, like a lot of American Jews. Her opinions on Israel are “in flux.” Influenced by the world around her. By the books and newspapers she reads. By how much taxes are taken out of her paycheck. By how old she is. By who she has to care for at home. By the tragedies she’s witnessed…or hasn’t. By the people she loves and spends her time with.
When she was a girl, in a Zionist home and at Zionist camp, these were people who wholeheartedly and unabashedly loved and supported Israel and her policies. Perhaps blindly, and perhaps not.
Now, not so much so.
But were her parents and Zionist camp counselors really more or less blind than her anti-Israel husband?
Are her and her husband’s opinions about Israel now really based more on fact than her opinions were as an active Jewish youth?
Or were they all…always…based mostly on emotion and experience (or lack thereof)?
I have an opinion about Israel. I think it would be impossible to live here and not have an opinion about Israel. But I am well aware that my opinion is not based on truth.
It’s not based on fantasy either.
It’s based on some education, some experience, some past dialogue and debate. It’s based on living for a time as a lone Jew in a non-Jewish community and Jew among Jews in a very Jewish community. It’s based on Hebrew school and Jewish day camp. It’s based on Thomas Friedman and Amos Oz and USY and two Congregation Beth Els and The Arizona Jewish Post and JCC Maccabi Xperience Summer 2000 and marrying an American Israeli/Israeli American and a host of other reading materials, dialogues, professional and personal experiences.
But, undeniably my opinions on Israel are 1) emotional and 2) ever-changing.
I think this fact is the main reason I don’t share them very often.
I don’t want to come off as one of the many people who I read and hear spouting off opinion as if its fact. Something members of both camps — pro and anti Israel — seem to be really good at these days.
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.