In 1978, when Israel was 30 and I was 10, my Israeli parents decided to return to Israel after 16 years in New York.
I encountered a naïve, un-cynical and optimistic Israel. My peers were very accepting. I spent many hours outdoors, “unattended,” barefoot, climbing trees, playing. I rode my bike to school through Rehovot’s scented orange groves and as a teenager, spent every spare minute with the (Habonim) Youth Movement, practicing its socialism, democracy, Zionism and peace ideology, while hiking, singing around a camp fire and attending peace rallies.
Malls and air conditioning were very hard to come by. The Mediterranean Sea was the best way to cool down in summer (and watermelon of course).
At 18, all my peers joined the Israel Defense Forces, after which most of us went on long backpacking trips to the Far East or South America for months or years, to chill before settling into university life, jobs and family.
To be Israeli was a clear path.
The questions would be: “Where did you serve in the army?” or “Where did you backpack to?”
Today, my own children are teenagers. I wonder about how their Israel differs than the one I grew up in.
In some ways, our choice of being members of a kibbutz (Tzora) ensure that the ideological base is still there and I am aware we live in a bubble consisting of less than 3 percent of the population.
People who have not visited Israel in 40 years are in for a big surprise.
There are shopping centers and malls at every major junction, home to all the famous name brands. There are expressways where scenic roads existed.
Israel’s economy is in a very good place. We lead in innovations in medicine, high tech, agriculture, security, academia and design.
Israel has developed so much that even I don’t always recognize where I am when I visit Rehovot.
Our society has changed. It is no longer naïve. Kids today know far more about the world and about life. They know there are other ways of living and they know they can choose. Some of them do (sometimes encouraged by their parents). We see young Israelis moving to Berlin for example, a phenomenon no one could have believed even 10 years ago. Some youth do not feel obligated to serve in the IDF and find ways around it. However hard to accept and unpleasant these trends are to some, they are a sign of a strong Israel. The land of Israel is no longer in formation. It is formed and here to stay.
Israel will continue evolving and changing. I hope for the better. When I return home, I will try to be part of that change. I hope my children will be asked: “Where did you backpack to?” but hope no one will have to ask them: “Where did you serve in the army?”
Amit Yaniv-Zehavi, Milwaukee community shlichah since 2014, is returning to Israel with her family this year.