Home is a strange concept. It was conceived by societies that lived with constants – whatever constants they might be. Perhaps the location of their abode was the notion of home, or perhaps who they shared it with, even maybe whether it was the setting to their most memorable memories. Today, in our contemporary reality, there are not many “homes” that confine to the idea of home.
I am Moroccan by origin, French by birth, English by residence, and Jewish by ethnicity. My parents tell me of their childhood in Morocco. My grandparents tell me of my roots in Spain or Italy, it varies on the day. I, like many people in this room, like many individuals in our modern society, cannot describe my nationality in one grammatically correct sentence. I, like many people in this room, like many individuals in our modern society, do not have a home.
But, bless modern society, that doesn’t make me a lonely vagabond. No, it allows me to participate in more communities, in more homes than if I had closed myself off to another constituent to my identity. In fact, this very organization, the Middle East Club, is a testament that this societal dynamic isn’t only present in various cases like myself, but in entire communities. Everyone here can identify with one community. For some it will be Judaism, for others it will be Islam, some it will be Israel, some it will be Palestine; but regardless of where we believe our identity to root from, we have opened our home to an ideal of coexistence, to an ideal of sharing.
Four years ago I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The pressure was soul-shattering: Decades and generations of religious orthodoxy had been continued in my family, and now, with the shrill voice of a mid-puberty teenager, I had to sing the holy scriptures passed on for millennia in front of family, friends, and absolute strangers. The summer heat stung, and my bowels churned out the symphony of stress, the smiles and encouragements from the crowd conveyed a sense of expectation rather than sympathy; failure would haunt me to the end of my days… and past that. I don’t remember how I read, I don’t believe I was present when I read – so I will spare you a falsely-inspiring, fabricated experience. My memory returned when I looked away from the text and instinctively at my father. We grabbed each other and, forehead to forehead, laughed inexplicably. The audience was silent, they couldn’t partake in our absolute paroxysm, so they didn’t know how to react. Forehead-to-forehead still, we couldn’t care less about what was going on around us, and soon enough we were both in tears, heads nestled in each other’s shoulders. We cried for entire minutes like that, laughing then crying, laughing and crying. He asked me, “Why are you crying?” I responded, “I have no clue.”
That is the experience that ties me to the Judaic community. With pride, I say I am Jewish, that my religion helps define my home and my identity. But unfortunately, in a misled world like the one we belong in today, mentioning my religious background can sometimes carry consequences – as if a crime committed by Jews long ago, or a crime committed maybe today, is a crime that I am at fault for. To say I am Jewish does not mean I am Israeli, and it does not mean I am Zionist: My community is part of my life, and for it I’d lay down my life; in no degree does this mean I condone West Bank settlements or massive missile retaliation. The beauty of the Middle East Club and other organizations of the like is that not only does the club embrace that fact – that the communities I belong to, my shared homes, aren’t in entirety who I am – but that it tries to communicate that to individuals and societies. Like parts to a whole, I belong in those communities, but in no way am I those communities; I do not represent every thing my community did 3000 years ago up to today. Ignorance is a damned thing that has created a perpetual hemorrhage for mankind, and it won’t be fixed unless in a mellow setting of experiencing and learning – a home of some sort.
The Middle East, to be blunt, is a maelstrom of ignorance and baseless hate. Yes, the home of Judaism is in Israel; but Israel isn’t only Judaism’s home. The home of the Palestinians is in Israel; but Israel isn’t only the Palestinians’ home. The home of Christianity is in Israel; but Israel isn’t only the Christians’ home. Today, we have the greatest wisdom any sage can endow us with: hindsight. We have understood the atrocity of slavery; we have seen the destruction of massacres; we have fought against the spread of diseases. Thousands and thousands of efforts have been coordinated in fighting what has plagued humanity for years.
And yet, with the wisdom of 70 damned years of hindsight, we haven’t understood the simple truth that the land – and not only the government – of Israel must embrace: coexistence. I, personally, have no home – because all my homes are shared with others; in truth, that is why it makes them my home. There is no happiness more virtuous than the one that is shared; and, similarly, there is no existence more beautiful than the one that is communal. Israel isn’t yours, it isn’t mine, and it isn’t theirs: it’s ours – and anyone who can’t embrace that fact can find themselves another damn oasis in the desert.