Sunday, July 27, 2014

Word association...

Show someone a cup of water that is filled to the half mark.  Fifty percent of the people will say it's half empty and fifty percent will say it's half full. It's all about optimism versus pessimism and an individual's perspective.  War is always - inarguably - a negative thing, no matter how you try and spin it.  I think about the usual words associated with the word war, and I come up with pain, suffering, loss, wounded, death, fear, trauma, nightmare, etc... These are not pretty words, which makes perfect sense, because war is anything but pretty.  

But there's one more word that comes to my mind when I think of this war.


I know.  It's strange to add that upbeat, hopeful, supernatural word to the mix.  Miracles are usually associated with good things.  Great things.  Godly things.  Awe-inspiring events that have the power to turn non-believers into believers and to forever change lives.  It certainly doesn't apply to war.

But I can't help but see that this war is anything but miraculous.

When the tunnels were first discovered, I didn't know what to think of them.  First of all, my impression of these tunnels were little furrows just beneath the surface if the ground.  I figured they had something to do with the black market - something surely illegal - but I didn't know much more than that.  It was only after I saw the footage of the five terrorists popping out of the ground on Israeli soil and then trying to scurry back into the mouth of one of the tunnels after being discovered by the IDF, did I begin to understand the gravity of them.  As every day that passes during this war, the complexity and sheer number of these sturdy fortified tunnels - that resemble any major city's underground subway system - sends tremors of fear up and down my spine.  And I still worry that they will not find each and every one.  I shrunk back in abject horror when I saw a video of the IDF pulling shampoo bottles, soap and conditioner out from a cupboard beneath someone's bathroom sink.  They then removed a false bottom and discovered the entrance of yet another tunnel.  They filmed some of the items they found down there: rockets, lighter fluid, bomb-making material and the like.  And this was in someone's private house! (This leads to a whole other issue of what "innocent civilian" really means...)

When the "master plan" of a massive-scale terror attack that was carefully planned over the span of a decade to slaughter all Israelis in towns, yishuvim and kibbutzim within the vicinity of Gaza this coming Rosh Hashana was made public, I know not a single one among us that did not quake in fear.

And it hit me with such clarity that this war was a miracle.  A blessing in disguise.

Had the IDF not gone into Gaza, there would have been a chance that those tunnels may not have been discovered.  And if their plan of terror had actualized, the losses on our side would have been unimaginable.  Personally, it affected me deeply.  As a mother whose son is scheduled to be attending an army prep school not four kilometers from Gaza, I'm still reeling from the "what ifs"...

And to think how close we were to that happening.  Truth is, Hamas is stupid.  And stupid is as stupid does.  We accepted not one but two ceasefires before the ground forces of our army went into Gaza.  Had Hamas been smarter and had accepted the ceasefire, there might have been some sort of (fake) peace treaty (until the next time they lobbied rockets into Israel...) and our Prime Minister would have been forced to stop the IDF from going in.  He took a calculated risk by accepting the ceasefire, hoping that Hamas would refuse and it - thank God! - worked in our favor.

So yes.  While the losses of our many - too many! - soldiers are painful and devastating, this war cannot only be defined by pain, suffering, loss and death.

It is also a miracle.

And so when I go to the synagogue every night to say Psalms for the safety of our soldiers and for the healing of our wounded heroes and warriors, I also say a fervent thanks to God for two things: for sending us this miracle, and for being able to recognize it for what it is.  I might not like the shape or form that this miracle has been given, but I'm eternally grateful nonetheless.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An open letter to my family and fellow Jews all over the world...

To my fellow Jews,

I've lived here for almost twenty years.  I remember the day we broke the news that we were planning on making Aliyah.  Thankfully, most of you were proud and supportive, even if it meant taking our infant daughter far far away from you.  We came here without the support of Nefesh B'Nefesh or it's financial grant because it didn't exist at the time.  We were supposed to have been met at the airport by a representative of Tehila, but somehow there was a miscommunication, so no one showed.  There we stood, on February 3rd, 1995, in the old Ben Gurion airport, standing among hundreds of Russians and a handful of visitors, with our duffle bags, our car seat, our stroller and our five month old baby girl.  We had not a clue what to do, but we made our way to a Sherut taxi service which would take us to our apartment in Jerusalem.  

Our three bedroom apartment in Katamon was 75 steps up with no elevator and had a galley kitchen painted a bright glossy canary yellow.  I didn't need coffee to wake me up during the three years we lived there.  And we loved it.  We loved the neighborhood and our new friends, and our new community.  But living so far away from all of you was not easy.  I know we communicated via the telephone and email and we sent plenty of pictures of our growing little girl but it's not the same as seeing one another in the flesh.  Looking back, sometimes I can't believe we did it.  

As you know, we did not have jobs lined up and we were living off our savings while we settled in and tried to find work.  Things did eventually fall into place.  We eventually moved to the center of the country and added three more kids to our family.  We found a community we love, people who have since become like family.  Our kids went to Gan and learned Hebrew, And I went to Ulpan and learned Hebrew (I'm still learning...) and we settled into life in Israel.   But unfortunately, things have not always been calm and quiet here.  

Our son was born amidst bus bombings that crippled Jerusalem, and as a result, only half of our guests were able to make his Brit due to a bombing that occurred a half hour earlier.  Ironically, he happened to have been born half an hour after another such bus bombing.  I remember being in the middle of heavy labor when the staff in the birthing hospital started whispering and a tension gripped the room.  They wouldn't tell me what had happened until after our son was born, but I had pretty much guessed.  Imagine trying to bring a child into a world with so much pain and suffering.

We experienced more threats a few years later and had to seal up our bedroom and make sure we had our gas masks and other necessary supplies in case of a biological attack, which they thought was imminent.  Those were fun times, I tell you.  Our bedroom still has marks of the tape residue and for some reason, we never painted over them.  And I look at them now and then and it makes me remember those times, like when we had to instruct our young daughter how to put on her gas mask.  No parent should have to do that.

Since then, we've had more wars.  During the second Lebanon war, my husband, an ambulance driver, volunteered to help out up north near Akko where the bombs were landing in residential neighborhoods.  This was before the Iron Dome, so yes, there were fatalities.  He drove up north with three other ambulance drivers and it just so happened to be the fast of Tisha Be'av.  It was also one of the hottest days of the summer.  Our rabbi told my husband and his colleagues that they were under no circumstance to fast, despite the seriousness of the day.  They were doing God's work, he said, and it would be stupid to put themselves in danger health-wise when they were responsible for saving lives.  

Just two years ago - not even - we had another short-lived battle against Gaza.  That same little baby we made Aliyah with was now in an army prep program in Kibbutz Alumim, is situated less than four kilometers from Gaza.  Rockets started landing in and around the kibbutz as well as other yishuvim in the vicinity.  The school sent all the students home.  They stayed at home for one, maybe two days, and then, as a group, called the head of the school and said they were coming back and that they didn't care.  They were officially kibbutzniks for that year and if the people of Alumim were hiding in bomb shelters, then they would too.

Now, this war called Protective Edge has taken on a more ugly and terrifying form than any other in the last twenty years since I've been here.  Despite the several cease-fires that our side abided by, we have been barraged with more rockets than you can possibly imagine.  We've had too many deaths already, too much pain and loss.  It all began with the kidnapping and murder of the three young boys, Ayal, Gilad and Naftali.  The hunt for the murderers and the despicable revenge killing of the Palestinian boy escalated things in record time and now, Israel is fighting for its life and the life of its people.  Our brave soldiers have begun a ground invasion and were shocked at what they discovered.  The magnitude of these tunnels, and what might have happened had they not been discovered is chilling.  Through interrogations of the terrorists that were captured, there are terrifying reports about evil plans that were to take place this coming Rosh Hashana.  Hundreds of terrorists, disguised as IDF soldiers, popping up from under the ground inside kindergartens, lunchrooms and backyards in yishuvim, kibbutzim and settlements around Gaza in order to slaughter as many Jews in a surprise attack is now a nightmare that every Israeli sees behind their closed eyes when they go to sleep.  

And yet, I don't regret - not for a single minute - the decision we made to move here.  It's been the right move for us and for our family and we feel that this country is our one and only true home.  We've watched our kids grow and flourish and soak up a love for this land that is overflowing.  They relish the day they will serve it and protect it and help it continue to grow.  They are being educated in a country where education is prized and appreciated.  Where democracy and civil rights are protected.  They are living day to day in a country where giving is more important than receiving.  They are growing up in an environment where they can apply the Torah's values and morals to their day to day lives.

When I see what's going on in Europe, Canada and America, I'm chilled to the bone.  I see the sign in an Antwerp restaurant saying that while dogs are allowed, under no circumstances are Jews allowed.  I hear of synagogues in Paris being burnt, and see Jewish businesses in Paris broken into, their windows shattered.  And the glass lying on the street is eerily reminiscent of Kristalnacht... I see violence against Jews all over England, their cemeteries desecrated.  I see protesters all over the world carrying signs with a swastika, saying they will happily finish the job Hitler started.  I see protests in Canada where the Muslims beat up anyone carrying an Israeli flag or supporting Israel.  I see the main streets of downtown Chicago and Boston filled to capacity with American jihadists protesting Israel's right to exist.

So while it might seem strange to you, with the rockets flying overhead and the alarms sounding every few minutes, I am afraid for you.  For you, my family and my friends.  For all my fellow Jews in the diaspora.  

I am very afraid for you.

And I know this might seem crazy - and in many ways it is - but we are safe here.  We may be in the middle of a war, but we are fighting it and we will win.  We are taking as many precautions as necessary, but we are surviving.  Our soldiers and our country will protect us.  

And they will protect you if you come here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Love Your Neighbour....

We are commanded by the Torah to love our neighbour as we do ourselves.  In its most basic form, it means treating people with kindness.  I am the kind of girl who appreciates the little things.  I never forget to say please and thank you to those who show me any type of kindness - big or small - and that especially includes people in the service industry.  It's a tough industry - having to please people all day no matter how they treat you.  A genuine smile and a sincere "Thanks!" can go a long way.  It's like I tell my kids:  You catch more bees with honey than vinegar.  Setting that cliche aside, I happen to like having a personal relationship with the people I encounter on a regular basis.  Last week I was in Jerusalem, strolling down Jaffa Street, when I saw one of the checkout clerks from Mega Modiin sitting on a bench.  It was weird to see her out of context.  She didn't see me and I could have walked by, but I walked over to her and said a big hello.  She smiled and asked me how I was.  Vicki has worked in Mega Modiin for at least 15 years since the day I moved to my yishuv.  And we always share interesting conversations while she tallies up my grocery bill.  I continue to break my teeth speaking Hebrew to her while she chats with me in English.  And then there's the guy at the local gourmet shop who asks me what I'm going to bake with all the stuff I've bought and we end up segueing into which diets work and why.  But I'm not just friendly with the Israelis that I come into contact with, but Arabs too.

I don't know what my friends who live in the US and Canada think, but just because we live in Israel, doesn't mean we only come into contact with Israelis.  I happen to live just over the green line and there are plenty of Palestinians (not Israeli Palestinians, who are full citizens of this country) who work in and around our small community and in the larger city of Modiin.  But just because they are Arab, doesn't mean I don't have similar conversations with them as well.  We have an older Arab gentleman who works for our yishuv keeping our streets clean and plenty of families here use him to clean their windows which he does for extra cash.  And every time he sees me, he waves and asks me how I am.  There is quite a skilled staff of Arabs working at the chicken and meat counter in a couple of the local supermarkets, as well as some working at the gas station.  While I don't get into conversations at the gas station, I definitely do at the meat counter.  Sometimes it's about what cut of meat to buy, or which method would work better, oven or BBQ.  When Thanksgiving rolls around and I pick up the 15 pound turkey that I ordered, we have a whole discussion about what Thanksgiving is all about and why I, as a Canadian, choose to celebrate it.  They laugh about it and then ask me how I prepare the turkey, with which spices and at what temperature and for how long.  And they often hand me the meat and then wish me a "Shabbat shalom."  My husband has worked with plenty of Arabs in the past and some of them even tried to "friend" him on Facebook.  I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we live with them and they live with us, and I, for one, don't ignore them.  I say please and thank you to them as I would to anyone who did me a kindness.  It never occurred to me to do otherwise.

But now things have changed.  I filled up my car with gas the other day and while I still smiled and wished the gas attendant a good day, I drove away with a clenching in my stomach.  I couldn't help but wonder if he was forcing himself to be polite while seething inside at the very fact that I am part of a nation that is attacking his.  And thinking about how easy it would be for him to throw a lit match into my tank as it was filling... (I know - I tend to be morbid sometimes...) And when I thanked the clerk at the meat counter for picking hairless wings for me (a big deal here...) I wonder if he's secretly wishing he could somehow poison my meat.  My 16 year old daughter pointed out that they could be thinking exactly the same thing about me.  And that thought had never even crossed my mind.

My house is situated at the far end of our community and the view outside my window is one of hills, valleys, craggy stone and olive groves.  And the ugly, tall, imposing, concrete security fence, too.  While it somewhat ruined my bucolic view, I'm glad it's there.  Before it went up, there was one Friday when I was standing in the shower, my hair full of shampoo, when my daughter burst in and screamed, "the Arabs are coming down the hill!"  I grabbed a towel and ran out of the shower and stared out the window.  Hundreds of Arabs were chanting while making their way down the hill towards our chain-link fence.  A call was made to the security company that sits at the entrance of our community and the army was called in.  For weeks afterward, while the security fence was still just a concept and not yet a reality, several army jeeps were situated on our side, using their night-vision technology to watch the valley, to make sure we had no other surprise visitors other than the occasional deer leaping through the hills.  Then the security fence went up.  Now, every Friday, the Palestinians behind the wall - there are three villages just beyond - come out to protest the wall among a host of other things. Sometimes it's peaceful, but most of the time not.  Too often, the army has to throw either a stink bomb or tear gas at them, which the wind then carries over the valley and makes it difficult to stand outside or even keep the windows open.  Never thought I'd ever experience tear gas in my life, but I have.  Many times.  I know that some of those same Palestinians are coming over the security crossing every morning in order to work.  And I wonder sometimes if the guy who cuts my chickens up into eight neat pieces is the same guy that's burning tires and trying to topple the concrete wall in view of my house.  

I'm not sure what to make of this whole weird relationship that we now have.  I'm still trying my best to love my neighbour and continue being kind and grateful, because that's the kind of person I am.  I'm still smiling and still polite, but I'm conflicted and the clenching in my stomach has only intensified.  It's not like this hasn't happened before.  With every war in the past, there were the same thoughts, the same concerns, but now it seems much more complicated.  This war has escalated beyond what we had imagined.  Sure, we figured there would be terrorists, but we weren't counting on the "human shields" or the twelve year old gun-toting kids, or the sheer number of mind-boggling tunnels that must have been in the works for decades.  The anti-Israel riots that have erupted all over the world hasn't made it any easier on us, either.  Educated European and American Arabs are now taking to the streets, not in peaceful protest with flags and homemade posters, but with bats, sticks, stones and fire and with an anger-driven violence that has not stopped shocking me.  And while these local Arabs - who I come into contact with each and every day - don't live in Gaza, plenty of them are loyal to Hamas.  

When will the tides change for them?  When will they care more about their loyalty to Hamas than their steady jobs?  When will they decide to put down their butchering knives, or the gas nozzles and take to the streets?  Is it only a matter of time?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nature vs Nurture...

Ten minutes before the siren went off in our yishuv, my 16 year old daughter and I had an intense discussion about the Palestinians in Gaza.  The debate was brought about by a particularly disturbing video that someone had uploaded to Facebook.  It was a series of clips - videos and stills - that was titled Children of Hamas.

The clip opened up with a shot of a Palestinian baby - maybe a year old - with a "suicide belt" around his diapered bottom and hundreds of bullets draped around his neck. It then featured Palestinian children in kindergarten.  All the boys were dressed in full kid-sized army gear, complete with bullets and guns (fake, I hope!) with Hamas ski masks that were strangely similar to KKK masks only in black, and their familiar green bandanas tied around their foreheads. Their teacher, in a full burqa, was instructing them how to crawl on their bellies military-style towards their target with their guns held in front of them. Then, if that wasn't enough, other boys in the class, similarly dressed, started leaping over them as if attending an army boot-camp obstacle course. 

Then it flipped to an interview with what looked like a four year old boy.  He was asked, "do you want to be a martyr?"  He answers, "yes."  Then, "why do you want to?"  The little boy answers, "to kill the Jews."  The interviewer then asks, "why are they shooting at us?"  The boy responds, "because they are animals."

What struck me right away was not the horror of it all - I had been expecting it to be awful - but that these kids were practicing war tactics in a bright, colorful classroom with a cheerful mural on the wall of children playing on a swingset in a green park with a bright yellow sun shining down on them.

The juxtaposition of the "miniature terrorists in training" against this happy wall that you'd find in any kindergarten in the world was jarring.  

So at the end of this video, we had the age-old discussion of good versus evil, right versus wrong and nature versus nurture.  My daughter's opinion was that she pitied the children of Gaza.  Her argument was that had they had been brought up in open, loving, tolerant homes, they would not be thirsty for Jewish blood.  She maintains that it's not necessarily their fault that they had been indoctrined to hate us from the womb.

I don't disagree with her.  I don't.  Hamas has abused its power and destroyed its people.  But I don't have the same compassion that she has.  And I won't apologize for it.  After hearing name after name of our soldiers who have been killed announced on the radio and after hearing Palestinian youth respond to whether or not they would welcome peace with "no, either we stay or they do," I'm just not feeling all that compassionate.

A Golani soldier - who is currently recovering from wounds sustained on the battleground in Gaza - told the press that the terrorists that shot at him and his comrades were 12-13 year old boys.  12-13!!!  These are not men, but boys.  Boys who should be playing soccer or flirting with the girl next door.  Not carrying guns.  And then there was the most shocking photo of a terrorist with a baby - a baby! - strapped to his chest, along with several cartridges of bullets hanging around his neck.

So what is the definition of innocence in this situation?  Are children under 18 automatically considered "innocent" just because they are young?  At what age does someone become culpable for their own behavior?  Do children grow up with an innate sense of right or wrong or must it be taught?  

I'm not a child psychologist nor would I presume to know the answer.  It's a controversial subject and plenty of strong opinions exist on both sides of this issue.  But that's not important. What is important is this question that needs to be answered: what are our soldiers supposed to do when faced with a smooth-cheeked, unshaven, baby-faced boy with a gun aimed at their heads?

The constant theme of every foreign news report about this war is that while they unwillingly concede that Israel has the right to defend itself against incoming rockets, now that our army has gone into Gaza, they are showing "excessive force".  And that too many "innocent" men, women and children are being killed by IDF forces.  

The international community - and shame on them - doesn't bother distinguishing between a child of twelve and a child of twelve with a gun held to our heads.  Or an innocent Palestinian girl and a Palestinian girl who stands on the roof of a building acting as a human shield.  And brainwashed or not, those "innocent" children are the enemy. Yes, maybe they might have grown up to be different if their environment had been one of life and peace instead of death and war.  We'll never know.  But the only thing we can do to possibly change that is to remove Hamas and every possible threat against us. And the international community has to support our basic right to defend ourselves or - pardon my French - shut the hell up.  

My peace-loving, compassionate, empathetic and rather astute daughter said regarding the international community: "they think they know everything, but in fact, they know nothing."

Then she skillfully summed it up:
"If the rest of the world was in our situation and the international community told them not to defend themselves and to sit and wait to be slaughtered, they'd mute us and our opinions and they'd do what they know is right.  Even if it caused death.  So we have to do the same.  To stand up for ourselves.  To protect ourselves at all cost.  And focusing on that is way more important than focusing on what everyone else has to say about it."


Monday, July 21, 2014

My new normal...

So far, as the dog days of summer inch by, I see countless of posts on Facebook by my friends and family.  Pictures of kids living it up in the summer like they are supposed to.  Having fun at camp, and frolicking at the beach, their smiles so wide and genuine.  And it all seems so fun, so carefree.  So normal.  My kids were supposed to have that kind of summer.  But...

Normally, when June comes to a close, I, along with most parents, exhale a long sigh of relief.  Along with the intense heat, the beginning of summer in Israel brings with it a loosening of the knots in my shoulders and a liberating feeling of letting go.  No more homework, no more rigid schedules and no more carpool.  Curfews are more relaxed and the real fun begins.  There are usually talks of heading to the beach on Fridays, maybe with the dog in tow, and perhaps a mid-week trip to the Sachne and its grottos complete with swimsuits, sunscreen and sandwiches.  

Not so this summer.

The beach is currently off limits and we're patiently waiting (and hoping and praying) for things to settle down a little before planning a fun day trip to the Sachne.  But when you're a mom, summer is still summer and kids should still be allowed to be kids.  So I try to walk that impossibly thin line between what used to be our normal and what has now become our new normal.

I signed up my kids for cooking camp and sewing lessons and made sure they've got what to be busy with for these long lazy eight weeks.  My son is busy with his summer job at the bookstore, trying to pad his wallet before going to Mechina in September, and I find myself reminding him time and time again not to hitchhike home if he's alone, something I never did before this summer.  My youngest, finished with cooking camp, is happily working at the local pizza store before she starts her two week stint at sleepover camp in the north and we've had the distinct pleasure of having her as our waitress when we ate there last week.  When we all come together for dinner, there are funny stories to regale, hilarious moments, and the usual bickering between the siblings.  Inevitably there's the nightly argument about whose turn it is to walk the dog, or do the dishes.  In other words, normal. But then my youngest hears a siren and begins to panic.  Turns out it was only (only!) the nightly news rebroadcasting the sirens that were heard all day in Ashkelon.  And while I've known about the army base that is located very close to our yishuv almost since the day I moved here, every time I hear shots being fired, I have to remind myself against and again that it's just our guys in training, and not something more sinister. Understandably, we're all a little jumpy....

I was busy this morning designing a two-tiered Bat Mitzvah cake for a client, which I then delivered to Jerusalem.  Again, not an unusual morning for me.  Instead of heading straight home afterwards, my husband, my daughter and I lazily wandered around downtown Jerusalem, window shopping for art and treating ourselves to a falafel and an iced coffee.  It was such a beautiful, unusually cool and windy day - gorgeous for the end of July - and it seemed, for those isolated forty minutes, like such a blissfully normal summery thing to do.  Then we were back in the car listening to the radio broadcast about the thirteen Golani soldiers that were killed.  And our normal changed yet again.

This past Shabbat, our table conversation, which was once filled with only jokes, funny stories and always plenty of laughter, was instead a place of serious debate and discussion about peace, Gaza, tunnels, suicide bombers and our shaky history as Jews living in this country.  Hearing my oldest, who is serving in the IDF, wonder out loud whether or not Arabs are pre-disposed to hating us because of the biblical story surrounding Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael opened up an interesting and somber exchange about the Torah and the sad impossibility of peace between our two nations.  The conversation then veered to the global anti-Israel/anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist "trend" that seems to have infected not just all of Europe like a persistent plague, but is rapidly creeping into North America as well.  Even more depressing.  But then, after our guests left and I went to bed, my husband and my kids switched gears and cleared off the table and got it ready for their sacred Friday night Settlers of Catan marathon, which runs well into the early hours of Shabbat morning.  And I realized that even my kids are getting used to living in both worlds.  And it's not easy - mentally or physically - this yo-yo-ing back and forth between our old normal and our new normal.  One minute you're enjoying a delicious yoghurt shake while driving home with the windows wide open and the wind in your hair, but then a minute later you see a highway sign instructing you what to do if you're stuck behind the wheel when a siren goes off.  And the reality of it snaps you cruelly back to the present.  And these days of whiplash are wearing us down, despite how well, considering, we are all trying to deal with it.  And I don't live in the south.  I can't imagine how they are dealing with it...

It somewhat hit home when I checked my Facebook and saw that my youngest, who is 14, has been sharing countless IDF posts instead of the hilarious YouTube videos about funny dogs and their funnier owners that she usually shares.  To my surprise, I discovered that she'd not only downloaded the Red Alert app which - for the record - has not stopped beeping these last two weeks, but she also downloaded a local news app and gets regular updates of what's been going on in our country.  A new normal for her, I suppose.

Last night, I read a news report out loud to my 14 and 16 year old girls about a Gazan that was being rushed to Soroka hospital in Beer Sheva because his hand had suffered a serious gunshot wound.  My 14 year old piped up and asked me why we would bother tying up our ambulances and our medics in order to help the enemy.  My 16 year old responded lightning quick: "Because we are humane.  And because we care."  And then she paused, turned to me and asked, "do you think once he's stitched and bandaged up, he'll go back to Gaza and try to kill us again?"  Out of the mouth of babes...

I told her that I didn't know.  But I think I do.  

And with a heavy heart, I left the house to head to our synagogue to say Psalms for our soldiers' and our country's safety.

And this has become my new normal.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Protective Edge...mistranslation?

When I heard that the name of this "operation" was called Protective Edge, I was a bit skeptical.  First of all, semantics aside, this is no "operation".  Let's call a spade a spade and use the more accurate - albeit fearful - word:  WAR.  Because, that's what it is.  It's not like I don't like the name Protective Edge.  It's that it's not a true translation of its Hebrew counterpart: צוק איתן - Tzuk Eitan.  

The correct translation is a rock of strength.  In other words, staunch, mighty, unswerving and permanent.  A rock of immovable strength.  

I moved to a new school when I started third grade.  I was under five feet tall, sporting glasses, freckles, and had a head of frizzy bright red hair.  Imagine little orphan Annie.  I know.  Not a pretty image. There was a tall girl in this new school who bullied me.  She was popular, oh so cool and she snubbed the nerds of the class.  Everyone wanted to be in her circle because if you were friends with her, you were one of the popular girls.  She was a smart bully, because most of the bullying happened under the stairwell when no one else was around, or in the bathroom during recess.  I did what most victims of bullies do:  I raised my hands to protect my head when she slapped at me.  I learned early on that telling on her was only going to make things worse for me.  My parents knew and desperately wanted to tell the school so they could deal with the issue but I wouldn't let them.  They did anyways.  They were right to, but it didn't work.  It only made things worse.  At some point, I remember my father pulling me aside and saying, "Listen, I don't condone violence in any way, shape or form, but this girl needs to be stopped.  And you need to stop her.  Do what you have to do to defend yourself."  And then he finished off by telling me not to tell my mother.  The next day, I went out to recess armed with my biggest, baddest, heaviest science textbook.  And when she came at me, a jolt of adrenaline coursed through me and I whacked her on the head with everything I had in me.

I got sent home from school.

But my father said, "Good for you.  She won't bother you anymore, trust me.  Before this, you were an easy target.  She saw you as someone weak.  She won't look at you the same way anymore.  She'll find someone else to bother."  And he was right.  She never touched me again.

Truth is, at the beginning of this war, although the amazing IDF were actively taking out terrorist cells in the Gaza Strip, the main objective of this war was to facilitate the Iron Dome in order to protect its citizens from getting hurt.  And miraculously - with the Iron Dome, the IDF and the hand of God - we had very few injuries and unfortunately one casualty.  Without the Iron Dome, the sheer number of deaths would have been unimagineable.  So at the beginning, perhaps this war was aptly named.  It did protect our people and our land.  

But now things have changed.  Hamas, the bully of all bullies, hasn't been getting the message these last two weeks.  They've only escalated their violence and attacks on our country.  Now, more than ever, we need to show the world that we are not going to be bullied anymore.  We are not going to cover our heads to protect our faces from getting slapped.  We aren't going to be victims any longer.  We are stronger than that 98 pound weakling in the schoolyard.  We may be the skinny, small, country in a region of huge, strapping, muscular brutes, but let's not forget David and Goliath.  If there was ever a time in history that proves that the smaller can be smarter, edgier, more powerful and victorious, it's now.  The fanatical Islamic terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood (just to mention a few) are a threat not just to us, but to the entire world. They are against democracy, western civilization, moderation, religious freedom, equality and everything that is just and moral in this world.  But the world is not standing up to them.  They are terrified of being politically incorrect and have been - until now - having trouble seeing the forest through the trees.  

And so, the job lies to us to do the world's dirty work.  We are putting our soldiers' - our husbands', sons', nephews', friends' and loved ones' - lives at personal risk for this war.  Our army is currently - as I write this - invading Gaza with ground forces, as well as by air and by sea.  We are attacking them with everything we have, from all sides and we will not stop until we've unearthed every tunnel that was built by Hamas for the sole purpose of slaughtering our people.  And yet, we still have the humanity to warn the citizens of Gaza to evacuate their homes and we sent in hundreds of trucks filled with necessary supplies for the Gazans caught in the middle of this war.  We have no interest whatsoever to hurt innocent men, women and children.  That is NOT our objective.  But a friend of mine said it pefectly: if those "innocent" men, women and children are hiding behind the Hamas rockets to act as human shields than they are collaborators.  And that - plain and simple - makes them the enemy.  To date, one of our soldiers has lost his life for this war.  Our hearts break for his family, for his parents, because we did not want this.  We never asked for this and we certainly did not start this.  But we will persevere.  We are a people who turn to each other for support, to God with prayer and to our families for love.  This is what we're trying to protect.

Right now, Protective Edge seems all wrong and Rock of Strength seems right on the money.  We are no longer passively detonating the rockets before they land on our cities and our residential neighborhoods.  We are stepping forward and showing our hand - strong and firm, moral and just, proud and patriotic.  We, our small country, are redefining the meaning of moral warfare, and that is something to be proud of.

We are, a light unto the nations.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ceasefire: We ceased, they fired....

I've been getting quite a few emails and Facebook messages from friends and family asking me how we're holding up.  If we're sleeping in our bomb shelter and if we're staying put, deep inside our houses with our shades pulled down, our heads kept low.  With the constant barrage of rockets pelting down on every major city, yishuv, moshav and kibbutz in Israel you'd think that would be the smart thing to do.  Keep a low profile.  Start eating your way through your pantry as opposed to venturing out to the supermarket.  Watch a movie at home instead of going to the local theatre.  

That might be the smarter thing to do, but then you don't know Israelis. 

I'm not sure if it's part of our stubbornness or our complete faith in our country and army to protect us or our determination not to let Hamas scare us or just plain stupidity on our part. It's probably a combination of all four.  As much as we are playing it safe - getting our bomb shelters ready, making sure our kids know what to do during a siren, knowing where the closest protected area is when we are out and about - we are doing whatever we can to make things "normal" for our kids and families.  
For us, it meant going to Tel Aviv on Sunday afternoon so my daughter could buy material for her Monday sewing class. It also meant we were caught in a barrage of four rockets aimed at Tel Aviv's bustling city while eating pizza on Shenkin Street. While we waited out the loud booms and trembling that shook the downtown area, we took selfies in the kitchen of the pizza shop along with the other twelve diners and a visibly shaken dog who were taking refuge there.  About six minutes later, we were back at our table, wolfing down our now-cold pizza (stupid Hamas!) as if nothing had happened.

As a parent you might think we were negligent. Going out with our kids in the middle of this craziness, we must be mad... I think it normalized things for them. They faced a serious fear with grace and a little humor and were none worse for wear.  We all acted with calm and orderliness and swiftly made our way to a safe area without freaking out and terrifying them. 

And that makes me sad...

That this has become somewhat "normal" for them.  But then again, as they say in Texas, this isn't our first rodeo.  My son was born in the midst of the second intifada, and we went through a period where we had to seal up one of our rooms with plastic, fill it with emergency supplies like food, water, emergency lights and our gas masks, of course.  This was the same stretch of time we had to walk around with our gas masks at all times. Imagine taking your four children supermarket shopping, each of them holding their own gas mask boxes. Once you have that image in your head, it's difficult to get it out.  But like it or not, this is our reality.  

Why not leave, you might ask?  Why bother when I have the choice to move back to the place I grew up?  Because if everyone here thought along those lines, we'd be more or less handing over this country that God gave us straight into the hands of our enemies.  And we are not willing to take that risk.  Our very presence in this country is protecting it - the more people who choose to make Israel their home, the better chance we have at keeping it ours.  Safety in numbers, you could say.  

When I look at a map of the region it scares the bejeezus out of me.  I look at the tiny - and I mean minute - space that Israel takes up on the Middle East map. I've heard all the comparisons - fits into Lake Ontario, smaller than the state of New Jersey etc... - but the fact that we are a small nation doesn't bother me. It's the sheer land masses of the Arab nations that surround us that freaks me out.  But then I think about these last few days and I feel a sense of deep pride. We may be small, almost insignificant in the scheme of things, but boy, are we powerful!  

We are strong and proud; especially in the way our first-class army operates, and in the sheer patriotic love we instill in our kids.  

We are moral and humane; especially in the way our army conducts itself and how we continue to permit trucks filled with supplies to cross into Gaza even while they continue to bomb us.  

We are kind and caring; it was more than evident in the way our entire country - religious and secular alike - prayed and pulled together in a show of unity and support for the three boys who were kidnapped and subsequently murdered in cold blood.

We are empathetic and loving; thousands of us attended the funerals of the boys and made condolence calls to the families whose sons were so brutally taken from them.

We are a people who love life; after all, we are determined to eat pizza with our kids on a sunny summer afternoon while rockets rain down on us. 

We are peace-loving and peace-seeking. We agreed to a ceasefire and stopped all defensive attacks on Gaza.  But while we ceased, they fired.  Six hours we sat patiently and did nothing as more than fifty - FIFTY! - rockets continued to be fired into Israel before we said enough is enough.

But above all else, we are stubborn and determined.  And we're not going anywhere.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

L'Chaim - To Life!

If you're a Jew or have spent time with Jews, or have attended a wedding, bar mitzvah or any Jewish celebratory gathering, you've heard this popular cheer before. It's the equivalent of Cheers, Salut, Sliante, Prost, etc... Technically it means "to life".  

We Jews happen to love life. We celebrate it on a daily basis and we respect life and revere it.  So much so, that according to the Torah, the only time you are allowed to violate the Shabbat is to save a life.  Because a life, according to G-d, is more important than any law pertaining to Shabbat.  My children see this first hand every time my husband, a volunteer ambulance driver, grabs his keys and drives to the ambulance station when he (frequently) gets a call on Friday nights.

And according to the Talmud, whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.  So in short, we love life. 

I've been trying to make sense of what's been going on here in Israel these last few weeks.  And setting politics aside, the one theme that keeps repeating itself over and over again is "life".  And the differences between how the Palestinians view life and how we view life is drastically different. To say we are on polar opposites of this issue is putting it mildly.  To be blunt, I think we're orbiting different planets.

Here are just a few basic differences:

Them:  The mother of one of the Palestinian terrorists/kidnappers who murdered Gilad, Naftali and Ayal, preened with maternal pride on public radio, thrilled that her son was responsible for these cold-blooded murders.
Us:  The family of the Israelis who were responsible for the death of the Palestinian teenager are mortified and ashamed at their sons' horrific actions.  Rachaeli Fraenkel, Naftali's mother, got up from the 7 day mourning period and one of the first things she did was denounce the senseless death of Mohamed Abu Khdeir.  I think that pretty much says it all...

Them:  The city of Ramallah was seen celebrating - handing out candy and sweets - when the boys' bodies were found.
Us:  An Israeli group called 'Tag Meir' arranged for a large group of Jews to pay a condolence call to the family of the murdered Palestinian boy in an effort to show that that is not our way.  The entire country was horrified by the revenge murder and hundreds spoke out against it. We were certainly not celebrating...

Them:  They shower down hundreds (by now, thousands...) of rockets on our cities without any warnings, terrifying residents all over the country from Sderot to Jerusalem to Beer Sheva to Tel Aviv and everywhere in between.
Us:  The IDF actually calls their targets (yes, by telephone or SMS...) and warns them about incoming attacks in an effort to prevent innocent bystanders from getting hurt.  And just for the record, despite the constant barrage of rockets, Israel coordinated 100 trucks of humanitarian aid to Gaza today and 130 yesterday.  

Them:  They encourage their youth and their children to go up onto the roof of a targeted building, thereby using innocent children as human shields in order to protect their terrorist organizations.
Us:  We worry for our kids and in the event of an incoming rocket, we shove our kids down onto the floor and we position ourselves over them so if any shrapnel falls it will hit us first before it hits them.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyah sums it up pretty perfectly.  He was quoted saying:
"Yes, we are a people that yearns for death, just as our enemies yearn for life."
I couldn't have said it any better...

We Israelis cannot possibly be the only ones who are able to put two and two together, but I wonder why the international community keeps calling for "calm and restraint".  They plead with us to end the battle.  Like it's up to us... Why can't they figure out that it's impossible to make peace with a people that consistently chooses death over life?

Trust me, we don't want to be huddling in safe rooms, or checking the news for red alerts every minute of every day.  We don't want our husbands, sons or loved ones putting on their army uniforms and readying themselves for a possible ground offence.  We'd all rather be at the beach, eating out with friends and planning fun excursions with our families. We didn't ask for this, but we weren't given a choice. We love life and we want the best kind of life for our families and our kids. And that unfortunately means removing the terrorists from our midst. 

It's not because we don't revere life. It's because we love it.

And until the Palestinians learn to love life more than they hate us, we have no choice but to defend ourselves.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Nation In Mourning...

Three boys were buried today.  Three boys who were traveling home for the weekend.  They never made it. Instead, these boys were murdered in cold blood for the simple reason that they were Jews.  
They were teenagers with siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  And friends.  And you'd be right in assuming that anyone personally connected to them or their families would be at their funerals to pay their final respects.

Not so.  

Today, an entire nation is attending the funerals of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali.  We don't know them personally - at least, I don't - but we are there in some form or another.  I'm only representing my small community when I say that what I witnessed today was remarkable.  I was on my way to Modiin to pick up my daughter and saw carloads of young girls being driven to Talmon, the small community where the Shaer family resides.  They were volunteering to babysit the myriads of children in the community so that their parents could attend the funeral.  They didn't know the Shaer family personally, but they wanted to do something to help, and so they found something.  When I returned home, I pulled up in front of my house and noticed that the streets were quiet.  Too quiet.  I ran upstairs and the television was already on.  My husband and I watched the hespedim of these three boys, switching from channel to channel so that we would not miss a single word.  And when I heard Gil-Ad's mother thank God for giving her the gift of raising her son - her only son - for the sixteen years she was given, my heart broke.  There was no talk of anger at G-d, or revenge for the murderers, only tearful words of goodbye, words of strength and faith.  

In the middle of watching the funerals, I checked my Facebook and saw a post that my neighbor posted.  While our community had made arrangements for buses to take anyone who wanted to go to the funerals, she had received permission from the police for those who were unable to go to the actual funeral to stand at the entrance of our community with flags and a strong show of support for the grieving Shaer family that would pass by on their way to bury their son.  She posted it at 3:45, asking people to come, to bring flags.  The funeral procession was starting at 4:15.  That didn't leave much time for the word to get out.  While I was walking towards the front entrance, I saw three buses, packed to the gills with my friends and neighbors - most of whom did not know the families personally - pull out onto the highway on their way to stand with the three families.  To grieve with them.  By the time I made my way to the front entrance at 4:30, there were about 50 people standing there.  By 4:45, close to seventy-five.  By the time the family drove by with a police and army escort, we were more than a hundred strong.  They held out their hands as if to touch ours and while most of us don't know them or have a personal connection with them, we hope through our standing there, they knew that they are not alone.

This is what happened today in my community.  It's just one small community, but I can say with absolute certainty, we were not the only community to 'attend' these funerals.  There are hundreds of small communities like mine who have shown unbelievable support over these last heart-wrenching 18 days.  And during that entire time our entire nation prayed for their safe return - religious and secular prayers alike.  We worried together, rallied together and sang together.

And now, unfortunately, we mourn together.

יהי זכרם ברוך