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The Truth in Comedy

Today’s blog post comes from traveler Rabbi Devorah Lynn…

In December Jerry Seinfeld performed to a sold out crowd in Tel Aviv. One of his best- received quips was about how Israelis have only two answers to a question. On the one hand “everything is going to be alright” (Yeheyeh Kol b’Seder) and on the other; “that’s impossible!” (Ee efshar). There is no middle ground. After having just returned from a three-week trip to Israel I can say that has never felt more true. But, of course, for us, it has always been so. This is why we talk with our two hands. Jews and Israelis in particular have always lived in the ambiguity in between those two answers.

The paradox is that sometimes you say the first one, Kol b’Seder, when you really believe it; having a coffee in a café on Ben Yehuda Street in any of the major cities and all seems so normal. The sky is blue, the traffic noisy, the cappuccino ever so smooth. And sometimes you say “everything is going to be alright” when the situation is hopeless, life threatening, to a sick child or wounded comrade; “Don’t worry, everything is going to be ok,” to give them and yourself undeserved hope.

We say, “that’s impossible!” when you know there is no hope and you can be honest with yourself; getting a new government, obtaining a building permit within two months, and that problem that Gd and everyone knows cannot be solved; two people, one land. There is despair that any solution will work. But sometimes you say “that’s impossible” when you see something so awesome you cannot believe your eyes. I see it, taste it, feel it, hear it, but it can’t be humanly possible: a triple somersault on a skateboard, the chocolate babka from Lechamim in the Carmel Market, a run on the violin by a 7-year old prodigy. It’s simply impossible even though it unfolds in front of me. Having to believe the impossible staggers you. Your knees buckle.

Three weeks in Israel nearing the 70th birthday of the State was a staggering experience. The current mode of tour guiding is not the one-sided Zionist dream of previous decades but includes a “multi-narrative” that tries to yoke together what we always wanted to believe and what we knew in the recesses of our heart; that the people and the nation, Israel, rose from a Valley of Dry Bones after the Holocaust and in our desperation we tamped down problems that would later haunt us. We surely survived and the powerhouse that rose out of the sands is a miracle of modern grit, know how, and ingenuity. Can we use that genius to solve the insolvable?

Awesome, impossible miracles confronted us everyday of our trip: The spectacular office and condo towers that rise off the sands of Tel Aviv, Hertziliya, Netanyu with impossible architectural design. The first woman in the world to manufacture clothing at home from a 3-D printer. The medical wonder that can use a cell phone to diagnose cancer where there are no doctors. And perhaps most disruptive, the kibbutz that used to grow oranges and dates with a return of 1 Sheckel on the kilogram of fruit compared to the same kibbutz now that grosses $10,000 per kilogram of antioxidants grown in acres and acres of glass tubing. Fields and fields of solar panels instead of dairy cows whose energy is shipped to the Arava Power Company to power the towns of the Negev. It’s simply impossible and everything is going to be alright. Even the kibbutz is re-inventing itself.

Seinfeld is right. Everything is both going to be alright and everything is impossible all at the same time, everyday in Israel. As Baron Edmond de Rothschild said, gazing out on the Land in 1925, “When I think back fifty years ago when I first began my efforts, and I recall the land as it was then covered with stones and filled with thorns; and its people, wearied by their labours, it appears to me that I am dreaming.” Israel is a dream, both inspiring and frighteningly on the edge. It is an ambiguity with which Israel must live and with which we in the Diaspora must live, including loving Israel so much we can be mad as Hell at Her and we must still support Her, warts and all. This is the most impossible thing to believe and yet we still hope against hope that everything is just going to be alright.