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Yitzhak Rabin And Me

Election day this year happens to be the 13th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. It’s also the 13th anniversary of Michigan’s 28-25 loss to Michigan State in football. I was a recent grad-school dropout (I’d go on to drop out once more for good measure), and I was living in a small apartment just around the block from my parents’ house, because why cut the cord before you have to? Plus, they let me come home to do laundry. And eat their food. For free. My father and I were in the basement TV room, watching the game, when the announcement came that Rabin had been shot. For his birthday, my father had gotten a big-screen TV, and here was the perfect occasion to try out the fancy picture-in-picture feature. On the big screen: Michigan and Michigan State battling it out; on the small screen: a press conference live from Tel Aviv. My Israeli mother was home too, doing something in the kitchen, and my father waited until the end of the quarter to go tell her what was up. She cried and I watched her, unsure what to feel. Clearly something big was happening. The next afternoon, Sunday, I found myself at a memorial on U of M’s campus. One speaker told us that he never answers the phone on Shabbat, and so he and his extended family had devised a sequence of rings to notify him if there was an emergency. “So you can imagine my panic and fear,” he said, “when the phone started ringing.” It turned out to be a distant aunt for whom the news couldn’t wait until sundown. At first, the speaker had been angry for having his Shabbat spoiled, but then he had some kind of epiphany about how we were all one extended family, blah blah blah. Except it wasn’t all blah blah blah, because the following morning I woke up early to go watch a live broadcast of the funeral with my mother. The last time I’d seen her weep like that was when Rabin and Arafat shook hands two years earlier, only then it had been with joy. That night, I lay awake in bed listening to the steam pipes in my building clunking. My family had left Israel when I was ten because my father, a Canadian, was unhappy. At the time, there was a stigma associated with leaving. If moving to Israel is making aliyah or ascent, then leaving it was yerida or descent, a kind of betrayal. And here I was, twenty-four, working as a programmer at a local software company and feeling so lonely that to pass the time, I daydreamed about the guy who arranged the produce at my local grocery store. Surely there was more that I could be doing with my life. And just like that, I knew: I had to return to Israel. If you weren’t doing anything special with your life anyway, I realized, there was really no excuse for staying in the States. The plan was ingenious in its simplicity: I’d move to Israel, get a job, and find a nice Israeli boy to marry. There were also other parts to this fantasy. In Israel, we had lots of relatives, and in Michigan, we had none. If I moved to Israel, Jewish holidays would never be lonely, and—more importantly—I’d never have to listen to Christmas carols again. Plus, I was tired of making friends only to have them move away to a different time zone, never to be heard from again. Israel was small, and any friends I’d make would have nowhere to hide. And my parents, when they retired, would return to Israel as well, and grow old happily in the family hub instead of bitter and alone in some Florida nursing home. Really, it was the perfect plan, and a few months later I was on my way, certain that I was never coming back. Except, of course, that I was wrong, In retrospect, the signs of imminent failure were there from the very beginning: On the flight to Tel-Aviv, I sat next to a teary woman about my age whose visa to the U.S. had expired. “I hate Israel,” she sobbed. “I miss my boyfriend.” I did my best to ignore her, choosing to focus instead on the man who in front of us who was humming joyfully to himself. Later, he stood ahead of me in the line for passport control. “I’m making aliyah!” he told the woman who was checking his papers. She rolled her eyes, and when it was my turn, she told me, “I give him three months.” I should have asked her how long she gave me, but I didn’t. “Pessimist,” I thought. “I’ll show her.” And then I walked out into the bright sunlight, mistakenly believing I was finally home.

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