My Personal Israel

My Personal Israel

By Dave Schechter /

Dave Schechter
Dave Schechter

In “Which Israel Are You Talking About?” I wrote that conversations are framed by what each of us considers to be our personal Israel. In the interest of disclosure, mine includes:

  • Sunday school films of wars in 1948, 1956 and 1967 and kibbutzniks greening “a land without people for a people without a land.”
  • My first visit, a 19-month stay that began (six months after we married) at a program in the Negev desert town of Arad. I wonder what became of Amnon, the 5-year-old Ethiopian boy who would visit our apartment to look at magazines and play with my telescope.
  • Encountering 150 relatives descended from my great-grandfather’s twin brother, a founder of Zichron Ya’akov, at a family reunion in Kfar Saba.
  • Hiring on as Jerusalem bureau producer for an Atlanta-based news network, an unparalleled education that took me throughout the country and beyond its borders, gathering elements for reports on subjects ranging from politics and security to culture and religion.
  • Meeting Natan Sharansky in the tiny kitchen of a Jerusalem apartment two days after he was freed from the Soviet gulag. His wife, Avital, remembered the “very cold” Midwestern city where, as a newspaper reporter, I profiled her campaign for his freedom.
  • Learning to carry a kippah after Yitzhak Shamir refused my interview request as he left the cemetery on Mount Herzl because my head was not covered.
  • Yitzhak Rabin stopping for interviews but never suffering foolish questions. The somber mood of the country after his assassination was in stark contrast to what I had experienced before.
  • Shimon Peres painstakingly dismantling a cigarette hard pack in an Alexandria hotel room as he briefed reporters after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
  • A large Passover seder in the home of a colleague’s in-laws in Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
  • Fifty thousand people marching in Nablus after the funeral of Zafer al-Masri, the Israeli-appointed mayor shot dead by a dissident Palestinian faction.
  • Standing on a Gaza City rooftop, trying to comprehend the living conditions of several hundred thousand people. The rusting freighter stuck offshore seemed a metaphor for something.
  • A trip into southern Lebanon accompanied by members of a Christian militia and a checkpoint “manned” by a boy of maybe 14 armed with a Kalashnikov.
  • An up-and-coming Saudi diplomat telling me that he could envision a time when the kingdom engaged with Israel.
  • The goulash and strudel at Fink’s Bar and the shawarma at King of Falafel and Shawarma on the corner of King George and Agrippas.
  • Encountering my brother the rabbinical student on King George Street on a Friday afternoon. We exchanged a hearty “Shabbat shalom,” appreciating the incongruity that he and his wife lived near me and my wife in Jerusalem.
  • Walking in Jerusalem with the bougainvillea in bloom, particularly along Sderot Ben Maimon and Ussishkin Street.
  • Bringing my 10-year-old son to Israel when his older brother played soccer in the Maccabiah Games. In Jerusalem we hiked through the Old City, his parents’ Rehavia neighborhood, the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, Machane Yehuda and Jaffa Road. He favored the refurbished port in Tel Aviv, Beit Hatfutsot (the diaspora museum), the fresh juice stands and the Carmel Shuk.
  • A trip I didn’t make, when my wife took part in the annual bike ride from Jerusalem to Eilat to benefit the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which brings together Jews and Arabs because “nature knows no borders.”

There are many more, of course, but these are some pieces of my frame of reference, my personal Israel.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

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