Last week I experienced the second most surreal experience of my life when I returned, after a 14 year absence, to Tekoa, a small settlement on which I lived from 1992 to 1997.
Tekoa is a mixed community of secular and religious Jews out in the boondocks of the West Bank; at least, it felt like it was out in the boondocks when I lived there. One had to drive through parts of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour to get there. The first noticeable change is a new road that connects Tekoa to the recent Jerusalem expansion of Har Homa; it's now a 12 minute straight drive from Jersualem without passing through an Arab village.
On approaching and entering Tekoa, I experienced alternate waves of deja vu for things that I remembered to be in their "right" location - a house, a parking lot, a tree, etc. - and anti-deja vu for things that were out of place - a house erected outside of the security gate that did not belong there, i.e. I remember there being an empty space there, and it seemed wrong for there to be a house there instead.
The waves continued upon seeing the people over 40 and the interiors of the houses of my friends' and of my own former house (it was so much smaller than I remembered). I didn't know anyone under 20, of course, and could only vaguely identify a few people ages 20 to 40.
Other than the few families that had left the yishuv, and that former children were now parents with their own children, the people I remember from 14 years ago appeared to be nearly the same as I remembered them. They looked a little greyer or rounder, but they had the same spouses, the same jobs, lived in the same houses, moved, acted, and talked the same, etc. I sat among a large group of these people and would not have been able to point out a difference between now and a gathering held 15 years ago, were it not for the grandchildren wandering around.
I think my sense of surreal came from the contrast between my own life and theirs. They live in a community situated in a supposed political maelstrom, a community that had grown from 200 families to 500 with more on the way, yet I felt surrounded by stability. I asked one of my friends what he done in the 14 years since I'd been gone, and he said, "I read the newspaper". In the meantime, I had moved to the "stable" area of the country and had since moved twice, remarried and divorced, and am about to move again.
They must be doing something right.