I met a lot of people at Israel during the period of mourning over my father's death. Some were people I've never met before, most were people I haven't seen in decades. There was also an Australian connection: many turned out to be Israelis who spent some time in Australia. One of these, a person still residing in Australia, said an interesting thing: by now, the person claimed, they no longer have any "Aussie" friends. They grew tired of hearing of the virtues of alcohol, so instead all of their friends are now Israelis living in Australia.
In parallel, almost everyone attending the mourning told me the same thing: that I, or we (some remembered I actually have a family in Australia), should return to Israel. The number of times I've heard this comment was astounding! Many said it because they thought I should be there [Israel] with the [Israeli part of the] family, but the majority simply pointed out that Israel is where I culturally belong.
What do I make of these statements?
First, I will not deny I have a problem with mainstream Aussie culture. I don't fit here.
Australia is fucked up, there is no denying it. I mean, what sane country will choose a monarch as its head of state in the first place? And what sane country will choose the monarch of another country altogether as its head of state? The place is fucked from the core. Yet, as my colleague in mourning noted, there is no better indicator to the illnesses of Australian mainstream society than its regard for alcohol.
I noticed it on my first night at Sydney, back when I was visiting Australia as a tourist all those years ago. Trying to hang out with people I did not know, I could not avoid noting everyone else around me was holding a drink and that a substantial part of the social interactions revolved around the contents of those glasses. I could not see myself taking part in this game and disconnected.
You can argue disconnecting is what I have been doing since: although I don't have an inherent problem with alcohol, I don't like it much. Likes and dislikes aside, I certainly cannot accept it having the important role in lubricating Australian social interactions that it has. It definitely feels as if an Aussie social event without alcohol would be like an engine running without oil; I therefore simply choose to switch off.
The effects are very obvious. It is hard for me to make friends here at Australia; I have very few friends; and with those friends that I do have, it is hard for me to maintain the relationship over lengthy periods of time. As sad as it may sound, my approach to alcohol is at the centre of my social issues: when every social gathering revolves around alcohol, both in contents and in location aspects (e.g., after work drinks), I am simply left out.
Where does that leave me, then? Is Israel truly the place for me, as I was told?
Let me see. Back when I was living in Israel I did not have many friends. Indeed, I kept finding it quite hard to make new friends. A lot of it was due to my personality, but a lot of it is also to do with the undeniable fact I do not fit that well into Israeli culture. Sure, I like the food, but I certainly don't like the stereotypical Israeli behaviour much. There was a good reason why I did not have many friends: there weren't that many people I could befriend in the first place.
Then there is this whole thing about my family and how we need to return to Israel. The narrow mindedness of this argument is so astounding I did not even bother to refute it. Would the people telling my non Jewish wife and son to come and live in Israel accept it if I was to do what would be required of them, and instead of returning to Israel I would convert to Christianity so I could live in the UK with my wife's family? Oh no, they all take it for granted that my wife is either Jewish (because it would be impossible for me to marry someone who isn't perfect), or that by now my wife is aware of the superiority of Judaism over everything else.
Well, let me break it to you: Judaism sucks. It might not say it out loud, but it is a religion that considers everyone who is not a member to be inferior. [For some evidence on the matter, read here (in Hebrew) or here (for the Google translation)]. And since two thirds of my family are not Jewish, I have very personal reasons for not accepting this state of mind.
It gets worse: in Israel, a country that never bothered to separate the state from religion, you have to be a member of this Club Jew or you're second class. Club membership can only be granted through Orthodox Jewish institutions, it's not like you can fill a form and forget all about it. Isn't it sad how the secular majority of Israelis fails to know the basic truths about its religion?
Never mind me asking my wife to convert to Judaism just for the sake of us being able to live in Israel; I would not accept Judaism and what it stands for myself.
Which brings me to say this.
Sure, Australia is fucked up. But probably not as much as most other places.
As fucked up as Australia may be, it is still the best place I know of to live in. The reason is simple: Australia's true greatness is in it allowing people of so many different demographics, religions, beliefs, eccentricities, political views, whims - you name it - to live happily together. Australia is a place that accepts me for who I am, with my strong minority views on matters of religion and politics. Not only does it accept me, it welcomes me.
Sure, I have my social problems, and sure, alcohol is a central theme in those. That, however, does not mean that I am unable to make friends; I just need to look harder in order to find them. They are there to be found, though.
In this weekend when ANZAC memorials try and establish a sense of identity for Australia through its participation in numerous wars and that value of "mateship" that is so exclusive to Australia (would you believe that in no other country in the world can people be mates with one another?), allow me to say this to my fellow Australians: do not make violence the centre of your Australian identity; you do not need to do that when you have one of the greatest collection of people on earth in this smallest of continents. Australia should be the envy of the world, and it should be because of this "simple" achievement.
Image by Frederic Poirot, Creative Commons licence