A view of Israel from afar
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
The Holy Land? Really the Holy Land? You’re from Israel?
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.