The Zionist and the Soccer Ball
“Are you a Zionist?”
The question came completely from left field. The Hollywood bar was packed with people, dark wooden tables and pitchers of beer, all primed for the World Cup final. We were wearing out colors — my blue and white for Argentina, his black for Germany, flags of each country across our cheeks in face paint.
I had been making jokes the entire time with our group while we drank how I couldn’t support Germany in the match since I am Jewish. As the shots of Jager were passed around the tables and we began goofing around, people passed it off as a part of the fun. But this guy was very serious as I asked him to clarify what he thought Zionist meant. I wanted him to get to the point of what he wanted me to say.
He shook his bald head and touched my hands slightly. “I know you’re Jewish, but what kind of Jew are you?” he asked me. What kind of Jew am I? A human one?
I didn’t know how to answer, and his questioning made me uncomfortable. It was only five minutes before that we were hugging each other and taking funny pictures of the flags on our faces, with him even hitting on me a bit. Now he wanted to know my politics, something personal about me, not mention get it out of me when I clearly had too much to drink.
He kept telling me to Google Zionist, as if I didn’t know what it meant. I know what he thought it meant — apartheid, hateful, vengeful — when really its definition is simple: A Zionist believes the Jewish people should have a state. No more, no less. It has been the definition of the word since Theodore Herzl coined it back in the early 20th century, before Israel even existed. There’s not even the term Palestinian in that basic definition. Like feminism, this word has become what everyone else has attached to it.
I wanted to scream that he didn’t know anything about me, my people or the hell that my soul has been through this past week. But luckily, when I’m drunk I know how to control my words better sometimes than when I’m sober.
“As far as I’m concerned, both sides are right, both sides are wrong, and I just want to forget it and say, ‘Let’s eat,’” I replied, and excused myself to the bathroom.
My face felt flushed under the air conditioning as I began fiddling with the hamsa around my neck — a symbol that predates religion, traditional of the Middle East, which is supposed to bring peace to a person or home.
All week while wearing it, I felt no peace at all. Not after the pictures of rockets bursting over my cousin Jacob’s head. Not where he told us where he hid from the blasts. I sat in the car and cried for about 20 minutes thinking of him, my friends Lauren and Avi and their newborn daughter, Inbar, Dana… all the people who I saw four months ago on my visit to Israel. All the people I love.
Meanwhile, this week was a bombardment of righteous anger on all sides. The pro-Israel side who thought they were right, the pro-Palestinian side who thought they were and all the misinformation in between. And everyone was so convinced that they were right in their stance, that they had all the facts. And no one honestly does.
It hit a head multiple times: My pro-Palestinian friends posting a picture of a hill in Sderot where Israelis were watching rockets fire into Gaza. A hill I had walked on, but they’ve never known. And they said of people they never met, “Look at those savages!” When in truth I knew the real facts behind the picture: That the most extraordinary thing about the picture wasn’t the fact they were watching rocket blasts. It’s the fact that, in a town of people with PTSD, that had over 3,000 rockets fired at them over the past 10 years and had bomb shelters with every bus station, its residents were able to sit outdoors.
Then there are pro-Israel friends who would lambast Palestinians for not being a real people, for Arabs being savages and dogs. In truth there are so many Arabs speaking out against Hamas, the real enemy. They understand that supporting people by giving them good living conditions and not turning their hospitals and schools into rocket launching grounds is a basic human right. That not building your leaders the huge villas I saw with binoculars looking over a hillside into Gaza while your people sometimes don’t have running water is something that should be a natural understanding. These are a people who are given nothing, and deserve more than not having rockets fired at them, but also not being told that terror and death is the only way out.
Watching this ball kick back and forth for so many years just hurts. As I posted my heavy heart on Facebook in the most civil way possible, I watched as my friend Eve brought up issues in the debate, and my other friends began to attack her. My heart was breaking as I watched one of the most important people in my life, who always tells me she loves me before she hangs up the phone and who held my hand the first time I saw Jerusalem, being called a self-hating Jew, when in truth she called herself a Zionist (which, if she believes Israel has the right to exist, she is). Then I had to witness those friends disrespect her on their friends’ Facebook accounts.
Eve and Jacob, two of the people I love more than anything: Whether in Israel or here, they were being attacked. And now here I was at a bar, trying to watch a soccer match and finding myself in a barrage of anger as he asked again if I was a Zionist when I returned from the bathroom. Like Eve, I felt disrespected, backed into a corner. But I will always find a way out.
So I responded with a question for him: Where are you from?
“Lebanon,” he said. “And you won’t believe what I have seen.”
I nodded and decided to turn my attention back to the game as Germany scored their goal. Because I know what I have seen, and even if I told him he would tell me I was a liar. When someone is so determined in their belief, nothing you can do can really make them sway, no matter how many facts that you present them. I would never change the hate he brought to the word Zionist.
As the game concluded and the group all hugged each other, I decided to let go of his question and embrace him. He asked me what kind of Jew I was, and I had always known even though I wouldn’t tell him: It was one that respected others even when they were disrespected, who would rather hug their neighbor rather than see the enemy in them, and wants to work to build a safer Israel for her people as well as prospering homelands for those who want them.
Call this whatever you want. And if it’s Zionist? Well, so be it.