Her Own Private Zionism
THE AXIS OF CABBAGE I’m a Korean-Irish Jew. My mom was born in North Korea and adopted at eight months by a Reform Jewish family. She was converted, went to Hebrew school, had a Bat Mitzvah and rebelled at 12 … Read More
I’m a Korean-Irish Jew. My mom was born in North Korea and adopted at eight months by a Reform Jewish family. She was converted, went to Hebrew school, had a Bat Mitzvah and rebelled at 12 against everything, including Judaism. She didn’t raise me Jewish. My grandmother was the one who was always pushing it. She gave me the history, taught me what Shabbat was. When I was 13, I accidentally started dating a Jewish guy. My grandmother was ready to marry us off the next day. He wanted to be a doctor. I ended up breaking up with him because, you know, I was 13, and she didn’t talk to me for two months. I call her the 4-foot-11 Yiddish Fury.
I originally came to Israel on Birthright—this was in 2004. I was a poor college student looking for something to do for winter break. Late one night I went onto Google and typed “free travel.” Birthright came up, so I applied. My grandmother was delighted to pay the deposit and next thing I knew I was on a plane to Israel. I was looking at Thailand originally. I’d never heard of Birthright. I started dating one of the soldiers while I was there. (Birthright may be responsible for helping half of the IDF get laid.) It was really nice because I extended the trip and got to stay with his family. He was killed in the Netanya mall bombing in 2005. Just a few days ago, the IDF arrested the driver who took the suicide bomber to the mall. It’s still painful to read this stuff, but it doesn’t make me love Israel any less. I’m not at all worried about war or terrorism. I feel safer here than I do alone on the streets in New York City. Even when the rockets landed in Kiryat Shmona two months ago, you don’t realize it. People wrote me frantic emails, and I wrote back: “I just got back from the bar, what are you talking about?” Israelis don’t live in fear at all.
In the States, I was in a rut. I originally went to school to be a marine biologist, and then I went premed. I transferred schools and ran out of money. Then I found the fire department and fell in love. I was a firefighter in the States for four years, in the Poconos. There weren’t that many Jews in my area, and the one that I did find turned out to be gay and left me for my landlord, who lived upstairs. The fire academy training lasted eight months. I still find it kind of challenging being a woman in a male-dominated field. A woman coming into a fire department is looking for a boyfriend or husband—or so goes the conventional wisdom. And I’m only 5’6”, I’m blonde, I’m not an Amazon. I had to prove myself. I ended up graduating close to the top of my class. The guys in the States were like my family. Here, I’m working in the Kfar Saba station and I’m still feeling it out. Everybody’s really nice but I have to start all over again. Israel tends to be kind of chauvinistic sometimes. Although there are five female firefighters here, I’m the only paid one. The biggest professional difference between here and the States is the way firefighters in Israel respond when a call comes through. In the States, it’s immediate. It’s much more lax in Israel.
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
Every Israeli always asks, “Why did you move here?” They’re either happy, or they think you’re really confused, or they think you’re dumb.
Why did I move here? On the first day of my Birthright Trip, we went to the Wailing Wall. I didn’t know the protocol for approaching the Wall, but they told me to write a note and slip it into the cracks, so I wrote something about a close relative who had died. I went up and just started crying. It’s a very profound experience even if you’re not religious. This little old lady standing next to me grabbed my hand and whispered, “It’ll be okay.” That’s when I realized this was really going to mean something to me.
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ALSO IN JEWCY
Not everyone finds the Holy Land so hospitable: Jeff Koyen explores why Israelis are pricks. In fact, fewer and fewer young American Jews think Zionism is relevant to their lives, says David Shneer, and maybe that's not the end of the world. (Stefan Kanfer disagrees.) Religious conservative David Klinghoffer thinks God would be OK with this development. But how can everyone ignore a country where the people, as Miriam Libicki ably documents, are so incredibly hot?