Saturday, April 19, 2008

Eyes Wide Open

One of my favorite Israeli bloggers, Harry of The View From Here, has written a witty, insightful personal history of his immigration from the United States to Israel. It's part of the 60 bloggers project to celebrate the country's 60th birthday.

I've also read about a new documentary, Eyes Wide Open, that follows American Jews on their journeys to Israel, many for the first time. When I watched the trailer, and listened to people's reactions to the country, it reminded me a lot of my own first trip, in August 1995. I was so taken with Israel that in 1997, I ended up going back to live in Tel Aviv for a year. It was, and will probably always be, the greatest adventure of my life.

I'm probably the only person who was inspired to visit Israel by an old Kirk Douglas movie. Late one night, I was watching Cast a Giant Shadow, a 1966 movie about Israel's War of Independence. It was based on the book by Ted Berkman about Col. David "Mickey" Marcus, an American army veteran and West Point graduate who aided the Israeli army during the War of Independence. It was pretty corny, but I was totally caught up in the story. I even exchanged a few e-mails with Mr. Berkman, who died in 2006 at age 92.

My visit came at a much different time. The 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians had been signed with much fanfare on the White House lawn. There was the peace treaty with Jordan a year later. I felt that by going to Israel, I'd be showing my support for the peace process, for the risks that Israelis were taking. But within three months of my trip, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. From then on, it seemed like things went downhill. The march toward peace has pretty much halted. It's now more or less a permanent stalemate, and it could stay that way for decades.

Still, as the trailer from Eyes Wide Open shows, a trip to Israel remains a very compelling experience. It's unlikely I'll ever have a chance to go back, but I'll always be deeply interested in the country and its people, and concerned about what happens there. Once you've visited, it's impossible to be any other way.

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