Don’t know the steps, can’t hear the music.

OK, I lied a little. This is kinda-sorta about that place I said I wouldn’t write about — well, not really. It’s about my experience in that place. It’s all about me, is what I’m saying.

I’m prettier in Israel.

Or so it would seem. To this day, at age 46 — lugging two kids and a handful of gray hair with me wherever I go — cute Israeli men of all ages engage with me in a way that just doesn’t happen in America. They look, they smile, they flirt, they flash dimples and beautiful brown eyes at me, and I walk the streets (I walk everywhere in Israel) with a spring in my step and a womanly confidence that I lack almost entirely here.

Here, I always feel that I am seen as too-large, too-loud, too-shaped like a collection of dumplings, in clothes that a woman my age shouldn’t wear, topped by hair (whether my old faux-hawk, or my current luxurious locks) that a woman my age should no longer aspire to. Here, I have felt my entire life — in high school, in college, and once I came back at age 34 — like I don’t have any real, useful grasp of what works, what does or does not make me attractive, how and what a woman in my position (whatever the hell that is, from graduate student to reporter to suburban mother to political volunteer to active synagogue member) should do/wear/be/act.

I tell jokes that I can tell horrify people. I wear combat boots. I listen to — and care passionately about — music that literally no one in my social circle has ever heard of, much less gives two figs about. I say things like “give two figs about.” My mind and my heart are, at least 30% of any given day, hopelessly entangled with the ins and outs of a region that very few Americans can find on a map. My mental references, the language I dream in, my cultural touchstones, are all an amalgam of an America that no longer exists, a religion shared by a small minority, and a country that rests on the other side of an ocean. Here, I’m weird, and that’s an odd, uncomfortable thing. There, I’m weird, and it makes men smile at me and women strike up conversations.

I know that this is a big slice of what I mean when I say that I am full of life in Israel. “My eyes are more open,” I wrote the other day, “my laugh is louder, the blood in my veins pounds harder and faster.” Not only does the place speak to me, not only do I feel like I know how to move there, how to talk and what the words mean, but the place also receives me more fully — even with all my contrary politics — than this one does.

I’m prettier in Israel. I’m cooler, I’m more relevant, my feet know where to go, and my head knows where to turn. Here? Who knows.


  1. dmf

     /  December 8, 2010

    it would have been punnier to play the gen-x version but for you:

  2. Everywhere here? Doesn’t it vary by region, particularly the coasts?

  3. Spiffy McBang

     /  December 8, 2010

    You sound pretty punk. Which is good, the world would be a better place if everyone was a punk.

    Hell, look at it this way: A lot of people (myself included) only feel that sense of being in the right place when we’re at a show, gatherings of the Punk Nation. You have an entire actual country to inspire that feeling. The obvious downside is that you can’t go there very often, but, I mean, a whole country! That’s pretty nifty.

    And good punk shows are pretty few and far between anyway.

  4. i loved this post.

    I say things like “give two figs about.” made me LAWL.

  5. I hear you. I’m more beautiful in California and New York than I am here. As for the other stuff, I never know how the hell I’m supposed to act. Which makes me think.

  6. Boy do I hear you. I always feel prettier — more myself, and more attractive *as* myself — here in the hilltowns of western Massachusetts than I am in the place where I grew up a thousand miles away. (And yeah, I wear combat boots, I listen to music most people don’t know, and I care passionately about my religion when most people shy away from even using the word “God” in casual conversation.) I love what you say about how Israel receives you more fully — that’s a big piece of what I grew up missing, and what I’ve found here, for which I am infinitely grateful.

    Welcome home, by the way. To one of your homes, anyhow.

  7. I love this post so much. I also feel prettier in Israel, but I think feeling pretty varies by person as much as place. I feel much prettier with my husband and best friend than I do with some shallow high school friends or family members for the same exact reasons as you list above: I’m weird, I say things like heretofore (love your two figs line), I laugh in all the wrong places, and I read books no one has heard of. And yet the true ones don’t care and I feel prettier.

  8. BJonthegrid

     /  December 9, 2010

    I don’t think I ever felt pretty. Sexy, powerful, intelligent, good hair, maybe. My definition of pretty is “can’t take my eyes off you”. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that about myself. I don’t think anyone else has seen me that way. I’ve had people not want to end conversations with me. I’ve had men not want to get out my bed, but to just stare at me? Nope.

  9. Emily,
    I hope the figs you’re holding onto are good ones ?

    One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten due to rottenness.
    3Then the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “Figs, the good figs, very good; and the bad figs, very bad, which cannot be eaten due to rottenness.”
    4Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
    5″Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans.
    6’For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up.

    7’I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole hear
    Yeremiah 24

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