My most frequent encounter with David Ben-Gurion is a nod to his bronze statue when I depart from the airport, near Tel Aviv, named in his honor. I was born in New York City, but I have lived in Israel for more than 25 years. In some ways, I am not very different from born-and-bred Israelis on their way overseas. If you have lived in Israel long enough, you must know what I am talking about. Close to 21 million people from all over the world pass through Israel’s only international airport each year. But we who live here exude a palpable vibe in the duty-free stores, café stands and departure halls. Israeli travellers are like giddy teenagers. And if we are less transparent, we take the stance of adolescents faking ennui.
Why can’t we wait to leave? And why do we feel morose when we return home? You know, drumming our fingers on our luggage carts as we scout for our over-packed suitcases to plop down onto the carousel.
Was this the Zionist vision of David Ben Gurion? The question echoed in my brain when I visited the graves of David and Paula Ben-Gurion in the remote Negev homestead where they lived in their later years. I was almost certain I had never been there before, at least not in this lifetime. I looked over the spare desert landscape at the edge of the mountain and listened to the words of a resident of the desert, a transplanted American who had made her way to Sde Boker via a trail of metropolitan cities in the United States. She said that for all of the historic milestones blazed by Israel’s first prime minister, Ben Gurion felt satisfied that he had achieved his vision only when he made his home in Sde Boker. Many decades later, she moved to the Negev with her young family. She made the transition against her will, but then she discovered that the desert soothed her soul. And, she admitted, any visit to a city ignites a tinge of anxiety that is not quelled until she returns to her Negev home.
And I, a lifelong city mouse, understood what she meant. Would I feel at peace in the dry stillness of any desert on the planet? Or was it a magnetic pull to the sand and rocks that whisper the oldest stories of the ancient Hebrews?
In Ben-Gurion’s words: “Ours is a country built more on people than on territory. The Jews will come from everywhere: from France, from Russia, from America, from Yemen…their faith is their passport.”
Our faith is our passport. On the way out and on the way in. When I finally encountered the graves and subliminal spirits of David and Paula Ben-Gurion at the edge of the desert—I understood. We depart with glee, because we finally have a home to return to at will.
© 2018. Eva L. Weiss. All rights reserved.