Where do we need to go?

Cambodia is a beautiful country full of monks in saffron robes, heartbreakingly poor children, and tourists with cameras.

I know this because I’ve been there. I have pictures. I brought a camera.

And as I was there, getting driven to temples in pedicabs, drinking cocktails from coconuts, I couldn’t help but feel that I was part of the problem. No matter how much money I gave to the children in the street, I couldn’t make up for the fact that their mothers and sisters had been paid next to nothing to sew my clothes.

Why was I there? I was young, I was learning about the world, I was seeing things with my own eyes…and I was selfish. I didn’t know how selfish my travels were at first, but by the time I got home, I was thoroughly disturbed. How privileged was I to think that it would do anyone any good to see them with my own eyes? So what? I could have helped them a lot more by staying home and getting involved with a campaign to help pay workers in other countries a living wage. And I could have learned that fact by reading articles at home–all without wasting the jet fuel to fly across an ocean.

Yes, I’m probably being overly self-critical here. But I was (and still am) idealistic. I looked at all the ugly Americans in Cambodia and realized how problematic our presence was. We didn’t belong. Then and there, I decided to never travel again unless I needed to go somewhere.

And for years I didn’t. I flew across the country a few times to see family; I drove up to Canada to visit friends. But I was invited to those places. I belonged.

I settled into life in Boston, signing petitions and donating money and contentedly staying in my own little neighborhood on weekends–participating in neocolonialism as little as possible. I knew that it would probably be a very long time before I went overseas again, and I was happy.

And now I am supposed to go to Israel. I need to go. My spouse is going to be a rabbi. It is expected that we will have experience with Israel, that we will have ties over there.

I bought my Lonely Planet guidebook. I renewed my passport. I will bring my water bottle, my sunscreen, and my comfortable walking shoes that are nice enough to go out to dinner in. I might even bring a camera.

But will I belong?

This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here. MORE