Our house was purchased when I was twenty-two, and there are mortgage bankers in North Tel Aviv who must rejoice about this every morning at their granite sinks. Back then, most of my friends in this fair suburbia were old: 32ish, and we were all hell bent on being super close,
pathologically admirably committed to our nascent community, and pretending to hate the lack of privacy. There were sometimes other people’s small children in your bedroom when you walked out of the shower, but if you sneezed, there would be a pot of soup on your table in three hours.
This was my whole entire world for a decade and a half: building a family and a community with a dash of career, for flavor and the aforementioned mortgage. We were so young that the big questions of the universe were already answered. Even throughout some serious fertility business in my mid-twenties, I remained committed to keeping everything in place – except my sense of control, the renouncement of which was such an enlightened move that I could barely contain my spiritual achievement.
This translated into complete dedication to the greater communal good. If there was a synagogue or school committee to be on, I raised my hand. This was my way of paying back the universe for having me, and for letting me reproduce.
Our house now sits at the center of a city divided by what many call a religious war, and others, a power struggle. I call it the way things go, but worth resisting – if you still have the energy, and a mortgage.
Essentially, our paradise might just be lost, in no small measure because paradise never lasts, not even the Original. That Paradise ended because someone (yes, a woman) chose knowledge over eternity. Go, Eve.
This paradise will one day end if not because of avarice and corruption, then because our kindergartens are emptying and our careers are developing in the big city, and our kids often don’t return here as adults. And because 30,000 residents and 100,000 residents just throw a different vibe.
Older now and more invested in privacy for real, we can no longer countenance strange little kids in our room after we come out of the shower, although we do still love getting the soup. Committees, too, have lost their sexy activist sheen for many of us. God bless the next generation of committed builders and bakers.
Still, many of my friends (and husband and oldest son) are very invested in trying to save Beit Shemesh, because there might be a different future in store for this town (Hi-tech park bedroom community?), and because something you worked this hard to build is worth fighting for.
This is especially true when your city is seen as a bellwether for the national scene. The canary in the coal mine, to which Israel is often compared on the world stage, is Beit Shemesh in terms of a creeping theocracy and municipal malfeasance in Israel. If we lose here, it bodes badly for the rest of the country. That is why a whole lot of national politicians have their hands in our pants, and it’s why we kind of like them there. (How you doin’, Minister Bennett?)
Paradise lost also describes my own evolution fairly well. I’m still here in Beit Shemesh, but at least half of my heart is in the Eternal City (Jerusalem, not Rome, although…), whose evening air makes me higher than the prices of its apartments. I don’t want to forget about it; I will simply wait.
Waiting. Waiting is a skill I have recently learned. Also caring a little less.
And not knowing.
The more I live, the more I feel ready to blow the lid off the whole operation: No one knows anything “for sure.“ Not even science, certainly not religion, and not even your very own experience. Self- reliance needs to come from believing like crazy in an idea and your capacity to execute it with the full knowledge that you may just be wrong, and that the world will not spit you out if you are.
There is just no other way to survive long-term in a community, a family, a career, or you own skin but to blur a few lines (#Truthe), most notably those between ambition and acceptance. To paraphrase Ben-Gurion, you must follow your dream as if there is no alternative, and embrace alternatives as if there were no dream.
I still have a fire in my belly to be sure, but it is about breaching the walls of suburbia to contribute to the much larger world, with a broad network of people who are often not at all like me. To innovate, agitate, and create something that gives the planet something only I can give it.
So it is also a little about hunting for the “I” lost in so many, many years of “We.”
Leaning in. To hear the Universe whisper: You deserve to be here. Stop raising your freaking hand.
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