I had a fight with Israel yesterday. Just a little fight, but I guess I got my feelings hurt. I had to go (for the 4th time) to the Misrad Hapanim (Office of the Interior) regarding my visa.
I tried to have a good attitude. I woke up early and packed snacks and water and my fully-charged ipod. Then I walked in the heat of the early morning sun, took a bus, caught a train, and stood in the line for security. After a short conversation in Hebrew (“No, I don’t have any weapons”), a thorough search of my bag (“No, I really don’t have any weapons”), and a compliment on the color of my eyes from the handsome young guard (“Thank you and have a good day”), my hour-long journey both ended and began again.
Once inside, I patiently took my number and although I arrived just 16 minutes after the office opened, waited for nearly an hour and a half to be called. When my turn came, I explained as simply as possible that I do not want to leave Israel. I tried to say in a casual and even tone the deepest desire of my heart. I felt vulnerable as I explained to a stranger, in a loud, crowded room, full of the sounds of babies laughing and crying, phone calls and conversations in Hebrew, English, Russian, and a handful of other languages, through a glass window, what I really feel and want in life: that I love Israel very much and want to live here, work here, and make this country my home.
The clerk – a tired lady with a big cup of coffee in one hand, ignored my vulnerability and deep dark confession, and simply asked if I was Jewish.
“Yes,” I answered. “But...”
There is always a “but” when I answer this question, and the layers of my story begin to unfold, despite the rush of the room all around me. I take a deep breath and find a little strength and describe in detail the history of my experience with Israel and Judaism. Finally I get to the main point:
“I converted to Judaism, last October. “
I tell her that I know despite my year of study, my 4 trips to Israel, my endless Hebrew classes, and my own personal desire, that I am not eligible to make aliyah.
“I don’t care about any of the benefits, I just want to stay here.”
The clerk shakes her head and explains what I need to do. She is the 4th person to explain this to me, and like the last, her version is slightly different. I need more papers, I need the originals, I need to send them all to America, and then – only then – if I am truly deemed to be Jewish, can I come back to this miserable office devoid of all the magic that I feel when I am in Israel and do what I do not want to do – try again.
I sigh. I give up a little.
“Can you please extend my tourist visa instead?”
After another hour, 8 passport photos, more security and lines, and 200 sheklim, I can stay in Israel for another 3 months. I look at my passport with its pretty new sticker and read the words “NOT PERMITTED TO WORK.”
As I leave the office and begin my journey back to the train, I feel sad and a little bit angry with Israel. I feel poignantly bothered by the inability of bureaucracy to understand fate. I yell a little bit in my head to Israel:
“Why are you making this so difficult?!?” “Why don’t you want me to be here??” “Am I not supposed to stay?” “What am I doing WRONG?!?!”
The doubt creeps in and each moment makes me angrier. I am mad at the loud hot train with no seats, I am frustrated with the stupid ticket machine which jams my ticket, I am so mad that there are no buses when I arrive. I storm down the street in the hot September air and by the time I meet my friend for brunch I am angry with Israel. We are in a full-on fight.
I slump into a chair and exclaim “I am cranky-pants.” She laughs and then patiently listens to me vent. As we cool off on the wide, white restaurant patio our waitress brings us giant cups of coffee (I swear, the coffee has cocaine or magic or happiness in it here) followed by an enormous Israeli breakfast of shakshuka (egg-tomato-cheesy goodness sent straight from Heaven), fresh warm wheat bread, Israeli salad, and tahina. As I stuff myself silly in the cool patio shade I feel my anger slip away with each bite of tasty goodness and every sip of caffeinated delight. I think about the day to come – the time with an old friend in town visiting, a trip to a museum, a visit to my new apartment, meeting up with more friends in the evening - and I am defenseless against my happiness.
I quickly apologize to Israel in my head, and say my favorite blessing of gratitude in Hebrew.
“Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has bestowed great goodness on me.”
I mean each word. Real friends, amazing food, the history of this country, museums and beaches, beautiful weather and land, perhaps most of all the feeling of hope that rises in each moment of despair – that essence of redemption…these are the reasons I love, and have loved, and will keep loving, Israel. These are the reasons I will keep trying to stay.