Many months ago I went on a short trip to a small town in the Negev desert of Israel. The place was peaceful (aside from a military exercise here and there and the occasional soldier-filled Jeep rolling through the dusty roads). I saw something I hadn’t ever seen. It was the season of stork migration. And I walked by rocky fields filled with the birds that bring babies.
I am now heading on a very long trip to two places, which for most of my adult life, I have been ambivalent about. And frankly, scared of. Parenthood and Israel. I’ll be landing in one (Israel) just as I head into the other (having a human).
I’m not sure which of these trips I should be focusing on. I’m 39 and having my first child. For me, pregnancy is a rare occurrence. While the crisis in Israel and Palestine has been ages long and shows little sign of letting up soon. Both feel very serious.
I see blood and crying. When I think about childbirth. And when I watch the news about the “Holy Land”.
I am going to a place where I might be loved or hated. Probably a bit of both. A kid loves you so much until she starts fantasizing about her escape. Israeli Jews will welcome me with open arms because I am Jewish, but will see me as a foreigner. Those on the right won’t love my political perspective. They might even tell me to “go home if you feel that way!” Those on the left might think I’m naïve and that I still don’t get it. No doubt the Palestinians I meet will have mixed feelings as well.
Once you have a kid, it appears that you are stuck with it for life. If you’re lucky that is. When you are Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian…you are stuck with the conflict. With your friends and family, colleagues and acquaintances whom you might both love and whom you likely disagree with on any number of the issues. That’s if you’re even brave enough to broach the subject in mixed company.
Recently the news was plastered with the image of a man in a black hat – an Orthodox Jew- stabbing a young woman at a gay Pride march in Jerusalem. In addition to this, an extremist Jew firebombed the home of Palestinians in the West Bank seriously injuring the whole family and burning their baby to death. I cry to think of it. I am grateful that Israelis and their leaders are speaking out against this violence, but feel scared that such things are happening at all.
I am pregnant and looking to the future, and emotional and having a hard time choosing what worries to prioritize. Will the baby be a drug addict, a murderer? Will we get along? Will I know what to do? Will she suffer from depression? Will she thrive and become a wise soul who lives to old age? Will I learn to always be kind, will I learn to be patient. Will I learn how to breathe properly so this thing wriggles out of me- both of us intact?
The truth is, these are questions I rarely ask. With all my preparations for moving to the Middle-East to be with the baby’s father, I don’t seem able to find the time to connect in any meaningful way to the life inside me.
Sometimes I question whether I should be taking this trip. To parenthood and to Israel. Am I ready? No. Can I handle it? I hope so. Do I have the right to drag a human being into this farkakte-balagan planet of ours? Do I have the right to live in Israel? While those born in the area are not necessarily welcome, I who was not born there, am going to be technically welcomed with open arms. Because I’m Jewish. And I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but how can I feel ok with my status when there are others who deserve to feel at home there, who grew up there- but are made to feel unwelcome, or afraid or like they are others in a land not their own?
I am as afraid of speaking my mind and asking the questions I need to ask to figure out the answers I seek as I am of a human passing through my vaginal canal. That baby could kill me. Though highly unlikely. My fiends, family, and community could reject me (both the lefties and the conservatives). Exile me. I shudder at the thought of certain people really knowing that I have doubts and questions about all of it. About having a baby and about my supposed birthright to Israel.
Despite my ambivalence about both, I’ve made the decision to face these places of beauty and terror. Trite as it may sound, I think it’s a matter of not throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Maybe looking my fears in the eye will help.
Bad things that can happen from committing to a baby: Torn vagina, cracked nipples, constant fear of killing said child, inability to maintain loving and civil relationship with child’s other parent, poverty, end of career prospects, desperation, peeing when you laugh or sneeze, brain numbing boredom, arguments with family over choices, dealing with disapproval from the general public and your friends about your parenting style, no sleep ‘til Brooklyn (or Melbourne or Mars), severely reduced social life, your child will join a gang, your child will be sick, your child will be bullied, your child will bully you.
Bad things that can come from committing to Israel and Palestine: Living through war. Dying in war. Witnessing injustice. Finding yourself in political discussions which are way off the Canadian politeness scale. Unbearable heat that fries your body, mind and soul. Inability to understand what is happening around you. Who the players are. Who is lying, who is right, who is just, who is your friend, who wants you around, who wishes you were gone. Inability to ever understand what a solution to the crisis might look like. Fear of expressing who you really are depending on who you are breaking bread with. Rejection from family, friends or others who don’t understand your questions or concerns. Drowning in the Mediterranean. Misunderstanding and alienation because you suck in Hebrew and Arabic. Cockroaches. Scorpions. Guns. Restricted freedom of movement. Constant worry about outcomes and fear that things will never change.
I could go on with both those lists. But don’t get me wrong. I could also make lists as long about the good things that might come from committing to parenthood and to the Middle-East. I wouldn’t be venturing towards both these places if I didn’t have hope. There is something I seek. To find love. To find peace. To be of service. Of course, no one in their right mind goes to Israel and Palestine seeking peace. And parenthood is not about choosing to make your life easier. So why go? Why commit? I don’t have the answers, but I pray for the courage to keep facing these questions.
Tamara Kramer is the editor of Shtetl Magazine and the host of Shtetl on the Shortwave. She is almost six months pregnant and on her way to the airport. You can keep listening to the Shtetl podcast on CKUT 90.3 FM or here on the site. For the next while the show will be produced from the Middle-East with love.
Lainie Basman is the quirky, talented, throw-caution-to-the-wind artist and photographer (not to mention Legal Aid lawyer) who took these photos in the alleyways of Toronto as a parting baby-art gift. Thank you Lainie!!