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?

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