Travelling is a passion for me. It always amazes how much there is to learn when we awaken from the dreamlike state of the daily grind and behold a new world with the same awe and wonder a newborn must feel upon beholding this world.
This past summer I ventured east from this continent in search of fun, flings, beauty and truth. I was looking for a story and returned home saddened at the lack of insight I had gained. But then it occurred to me: there is a story, and I must tell it. The following is that story, a caveat to all women in search of the same. The story they don’t teach at Hebrew school; the one nobody expounds on during High Holy Day sermons; the one no one warned me of before I set out on my pilgrimage.
The tale begins where a quick sojourn in Turkey ends. From Istanbul, I boarded a plane, alone, anxious and excited, and little over an hour later I landed in Tel Aviv.
Land of milk and honey; home of my people; home of the Chosen: Israel. So many stories had I heard of tearful landings and kissing of the ground as first time visitors stepped off the plane and onto this strangely familiar soil. And so I, too, let the tears flow as my plane touched down, and I thought, “Yes, in the land of God I am home.”
Years of family get-togethers on Jewish holidays along with a Jewish education had led me to uphold the romantic notion that Israel was home to all Jews from across the world. The shock and dismay I felt when I learned this wasn’t all true was especially hurtful.
Although for a few days, as I strolled through the bustling streets of Jerusalem, past bearded Orthodox men draped in black, and olive-skinned beauties doing mandatory tours of duty, in high-heeled sandals carrying Uzis next to their purses, I felt something more than an appreciation for the country. I sensed an ineffable connection. For a few days, I felt like I truly belonged.
Unfortunately, I was abruptly awoken from that dream as I was loudly reminded daily of my foreigner’s status. As a North American woman travelling alone in the country I was neither a Jewish compatriot, nor a distant relative, nor a friend. To the men of Israel, women travellers venturing out not on the arm of a male are, and will always remain, easy targets alone in the streets of Israel.
It seems as if there is no peace for foreign women there. A daily barrage of catcalls, whistles and leers, and the occasional grope from men religious and secular, young and old, mar any appreciation of the historical and cultural splendors the country has to offer. Everyday is open season on women travellers.
Any attempt at touring outside of the big cities, and the unwanted attention multiplies exponentially. Even an engagement ring (surreptitiously worn as a fake-out device) wasn’t enough to fend off the marauding street-suitors. By the end of my stay, I had learned my role: eyes faced downwards, prostrate to any man or men, I was to keep my mouth shut and accept the verbal plundering.
Stuck for the umpteenth day in Jerusalem, too scared and too worn out to leave again, I looked about and thought of the marvel that is this desert oasis. Out of nothingness sprung a country and a culture. Israel is still growing and still depends a great deal on foreign contributions. It angered me to think that in a country so reliant on North American and European donations, the wives, daughters and granddaughters of those benefactors could be treated like such trash.
I had gone in search of God, in search of answers, in search of the story. I ended by losing myself even more. In the land of God, I was alone. How am I to deal with anti-Israeli rhetoric now? I have been taught to blindly defend the country and its principles, but there is so much now that seems so wrong to me. Perhaps I am simply a spoiled North American, too caught up in the good life to understand real life. Perhaps I simply enjoy my status as human, and not as commodity for public consumption.
So this is the story. When I stepped off the plane after landing at home, I quietly thanked God for allowing me to live in a wonderful country where I can be alone and still be me.