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The Gas Station

So I hardly ever talk politics anymore. Strange, coming from a midwestern polisci major who had aspirations of being Olivia Pope by age 30. Truth be told, I was wavering between something like Olivia and something like Diane Keaton in Baby Boom.

Either way, I'm a child of the 80's who was raised on equal parts Free to Be You and Me and All in the Family, and was ready to take over the world right out of college. Somehow, I ended up (am I ended up yet, at 37?) living in the mountains outside Jerusalem, running a company while raising three kids and attempting to speak a foreign language. You should see me text message in Hebrew - it looks like the work of my second grader, but hey - I get my point across.

Folks who know me well are familiar with my political tendencies (left in the States, right in Israel) but things got a bit muddled for me in the last year or two.

Having lived in Israel for almost nine years now, and voting absentee in the States, whose best interests do I keep in mind? Do I have a right to vote for Israel's’ interests, represent Israel's interests, in the States? Isn't that kind of an ethical conflict? I mean, where is my loyalty, after all?

I found myself paralyzed in the last Presidential election - being so pro-choice that I simply could not bring myself to vote Republican, but wrestling with voting for Obama since it seemed clear he was a poor choice for Israel. All my American friends in Israel were voting Republican, and my friends in the States were so vehemently pro-Obama that it smelled like idol worship to me. For an atheist, any worship sends me running for the hills, knocking small children out of the way as I go.

I grew up with a Kahane Chai flag in our kitchen. Raised with the motto "for every Jew a .22" and given a gun (and taught how to shoot it) for my 11th birthday, one might say I was destined to lobby for the carpet bombing of Arab cities. My father was convinced that the Nazis were going to come riding up to our suburban Milwaukee home and we were going to have to defend our land with bullets we made in our basement. I am so not kidding.

The thing is, last year, there were sirens in my neighborhood. Sirens come in a few different flavors here in Israel. It can mean "We're having a drill, make sure your mamad (sealed room) is clear of Hanukah decorations and broken patio furniture so you could potentially sit in there if this were real." It could also mean, as it did in this case, "There has been a rocket or bomb launched into your general direction and you have 60 seconds to locate your family members and seek cover SO DO IT NOW."

When we moved to Israel initially, I elected to live in Abu Tor, the only mixed (Arab/Jewish) neighborhood in Jerusalem. I deliberately moved there with the goal of exposing myself (no, not in a creepy raincoat wearing way) to Palestinian culture in order to form my own opinion rather than simply being a product of my upbringing. Applause-worthy, right? Well, unfortunately, the rock-throwing at my stroller, the puppy torturing behind my house, the middle of the night Ramadan parades, the two burglaries and the Hamas flags a-flying achieved the opposite result. We moved away after a year.

Here's the rub: While sitting in my mamad with my toddler on my lap, sirens blaring, madly checking Debka to find out where the rockets originated and where they were falling (and how far we were from the latter) I didn't brew hate or plan revenge. It didn't cause me to start waving my war flag or to load the CZ we keep upstairs. My mind, instead, filled with images of families on the other side, holding their 2 year olds close.

This morning, as I do many mornings, I watched the local Arab villagers saunter up the hill, climb through a hole in the fence and wait at our corner gas station as day laborers. Because they're not legally allowed here (they're not Israeli citizens) they command low physical labor salaries and are therefore attractive, no-commitment options for contractors and anyone looking to complete a home improvement project.

Keep in mind, of course, that they're breaking the law by climbing through the fence, sack-lunch in hand. They keep their distance from me and I from them, especially considering I'm jogging and very plugged in to the iTunes version of "All The Single Ladies".

I am familiar enough with their culture to know that initiating eye contact is likened to a come-on, so I keep my eyes on my Brooks. Shortly after sunrise, from behind my shades, I watch them gather - milling about, waiting on the curb for today's assignment. The young ones get picked up first. On my way back, less than an hour later, only the leftovers remain. They have drained their Styrofoam coffee cups and undoubtedly feel like un-athletic 3rd graders who are perpetually the last ones chosen for the kickball team. I wonder how long they sit there, hoping.

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