A view of Is­rael from afar

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - International - Sagi Me­lamed

In Mex­ico City, af­ter de­liv­er­ing a work­shop on the art and science of fundrais­ing to the staff of a lo­cal phil­an­thropic foun­da­tion, I re­ceived a good les­son in how the State of Is­rael is viewed from the other side of the world.

I ex­ited the ho­tel to head for the air­port for my re­turn flight to Is­rael, and the bell­boy car­ried my bags to the taxi.

“Where are you headed?” the bell­boy asked in English. I was happy I could fi­nally con­duct a short con­ver­sa­tion (most of the ho­tel staff did not speak English) and I briefly de­bated with my­self how to an­swer. Dur­ing my week in Mex­ico City, my hosts urged me not to walk out­side at night, and gave me re­peated warn­ings about pick­pock­ets and kid­nap­pers who prey on tourists, all of which had pre­vented me from ex­it­ing the car in cer­tain neigh­bour­hoods, I was not cer­tain it was pru­dent of me to re­veal my coun­try of ori­gin. But fi­nally pa­tri­o­tism con­quered cau­tion, and I de­clared, “I came to Mex­ico from the Holy Land.”

The young man mulled this over, then said, “The Holy Land? Re­ally the Holy Land? You’re from Is­rael?”

“Yes, I am,” I said proudly. “You know the town of Nazareth? I live right by Nazareth, not far from the Church of the An­nun­ci­a­tion.”

“Wow!” he cried, his voice filled with won­der and ad­mi­ra­tion. Then his ex­pres­sion sud­denly changed from ad­mi­ra­tion to a half-em­bar­rassed smile. “Is Is­rael still the Holy Land?” “What do you mean?” I asked, even though I al­ready saw the direc­tion this ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion was tak­ing.

“You know… all the fight­ing and con­flicts and vi­o­lence you have… the war be­tween the Jews and the Arabs… ev­ery­thing we see on television… that doesn’t sound to me like it’s ex­actly the Holy Land.”

I smiled to en­cour­age him to con­tinue speak­ing and not be em­bar­rassed. So he con­tin­ued:

“Here in Mex­ico City, it’s un­der­stand­able. There’s a lot of crime and cor­rup­tion and vi­o­lence… Mostly we don’t ex­pect any­thing bet­ter, we’ve got­ten used to how it is… But we ex­pect bet­ter of the Holy Land… we ex­pect more ho­li­ness.”

We parted with a firm hand­shake and I con­tin­ued to pon­der his words as the taxi slowly picked its way to­ward the air­port through the in­ter­minable traf­fic jams of Mex­ico City.

I fi­nally con­cluded: on the one hand, it is hard to rec­on­cile the pres­ence of vi­o­lence and con­flict in the liv­ing, breath­ing Land of Is­rael with the lofty ideals of be­ing the Cho­sen Peo­ple in the Holy Land.

On the other hand, when one takes a clear look at the vi­o­lence and re­gres­sion tak­ing place around the world, in­clud­ing in the most ad­vanced coun­tries in west­ern Europe and even in the United States, and tak­ing into ac­count the fact that al­most ev­ery­thing in life is rel­a­tive and we are born and die im­per­fect (af­ter all, even in the Bi­ble some of the sto­ries are steeped in lies, mur­der, theft and adul­tery), we can see that al­though Is­rael is cer­tainly not per­fect, it is still, even at present, the Holy Land.

Sagi Me­lamed lives with his fam­ily in the com­mu­nity of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He is vice-pres­i­dent of Ex­ter­nal Re­la­tions and De­vel­op­ment at the Max Stern Yezreel Val­ley Col­lege. He serves as pres­i­dent of the Har­vard Club of Is­rael. He is the au­thor of Son of My Land and Fundrais­ing and can be con­tacted at: me­lamed. sagi@gmail.com.

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