The WOW of Israel: “In spite of everything…”
Posted Thursday, August 7, 2014 in Blog
When I first set out to write for my blog it was early July. I was in Israel with my husband enjoying everything I love about Tel Aviv—a WOW at every turn: dinners with cousins, meetings with my glorious Israeli friends, Pam, Judy, Bob, Arona and Michael, eating delicious watermelons the color of Indian rubies, daily strolls from one end of the pedestrian walk, the tayelet, adjacent to the Mediterranean from the new port, HaNamal all the way to the other end in Jaffa, a visit to Sarona, the newly renovated German Templer Colony dating from 1871 which boasts a hot new delicious Italian restaurant named Claro, an amble down Nachalot Binyamim, the open-air market filled with creative artists’ booths showcasing their dazzling wares, the fruition of a new book, Three Ladies/ Three Lattes co-authored by my friend Dr. Pamela Peled, an opening of a stunning glass installation by Mindy Weisel at the Eretz Yisrael Museum and a pluralistic musical Kabbalat Shabbat service at the new port accompanied by a backdrop of waves crashing over the ramparts as the sun went down at the end of the work-week.
Soon the mood began to tense up like a spine in spasm. The bodies of three innocent Israeli teenagers, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali still with braces on his teeth, believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas terrorists were found dead—shot and left like stray dogs under a pile of rocks. Soon afterward, news that a Palestinian boy, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, had been burned to death on Israeli soil hung in the air like radon.
Everyone was praying that Jewish boys were not the perpetrators of the horrific crime, which later became a heartbreaking reality, and a pall fell over the landscape. Rockets launched by the terrorist group Hamas from Gaza, as it has for years, landed in a continuing barrage over southern Israeli towns. TV pictures broadcast around the world were horrifying. Frantic calls from my daughter to come home began as the first images appeared throughout the media outlets.
And in spite of it all, lamrot hacol in Hebrew, Israeli life continued to throb with energy, passion and vitality. The hotels, beaches and restaurants were mobbed with happy international tourists, including throngs of French citizens. More than 6,000 French people are expected to be making Aliyah within the next few months to escape anti-Semitism in France. I marveled at my good fortune to be in Israel soaking up the dynamic culture and incomparable soulful spirit under cloudless skies.
My husband left a few days later at his appointed time to return to work, and I moved to Jerusalem to attend the First International Dialogue on the Israel Educator, joining 140 participants–passionate, creative, innovative rabbis and teachers representing 15 different countries who came to learn and to teach, a key Jewish value. It was an exciting, inspired gathering, and I was proud to have been invited to participate.
I heard the first siren warning of an impending rocket two days later at dinner with my friend Pam back in Tel Aviv.
She casually enjoined, “We’d better get away from the windows,” as we followed the rush of people down the stairs to safer space. It was surreal.
“This is how we have to live in Israel,” Pam lamented. What’s there to say in the face of unspeakable tragedy? “Ein milim,” there are no words is her constant refrain. In a few minutes after the all-clear signal sounded we were back at our table eating fish balls and cauliflower and the discomfort of the attempted attack evanesced seamlessly into, “Please pass the salt.” I worried aloud that perhaps I should go home because my family would be consumed with angst watching the news, fearing that I was in the eye of the storm. Pam bristled at the notion of my leaving. She’s told me before how abandoned Israelis feel when people flee at the first sign of impending danger. “We don’t go home amidst violence perpetrated on us by terrorists. We ARE HOME and we have to stay.” Lamrot hacol…In spite of everything.
I stayed the course. Two more rockets were sent sailing into Jerusalem that night, intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system developed by Israel. As we arrived back at the Jerusalem hotel we were hustled in the door with instructions about what to do in case of a siren. My friend and colleague Cyd moved into my room on a lower floor. We each packed a bag of valuables which we left by the door to grab in case we had to flee to a bomb shelter following a rocket attack in the allotted 90 presumably safe seconds. Happily that did not happen while we slept fitfully in sweats with easy to slip into open sandals by the side of our beds. Strangely, during daylight hours I felt restless but not terribly afraid, buoyed by the strength and fortitude of the Israelis who put one foot in front of the other and continued to stay engaged with their beautiful, productive lives, lamrot hacol, in spite of everything.
Three days later, on the day I was to leave, I met my longtime friend Mira, who owns a shop bearing her name in the Cardo, for dinner at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem. As we hugged hello we heard the now familiar blare of the sirens. Quickly, we headed into the hotel’s bomb shelter. We shook our heads, shrugged our shoulders and stood together in near silence. The all-clear siren sounded quickly and we took the elevator to the top of the hotel which has one of the most spectacular rooftop views of Jerusalem. We looked up to see the dust of a detonated rocket meant to kill innocent civilians form a cloud the shape of a snake in the azure colored sky. “Maybe we shouldn’t eat in a restaurant so high up?” Mira suggested. So we chose another café in the open-air Mamilla mall.
As we ate our chicken and vegetables, we noticed swarms of people leaving shelters and entering the surrounding shops, bustling like bees on a honeycomb. The beat went on. Mira’s husband Yossi called to check in with her after the attack making sure we were ok. Judy, Pam, Michael, Arona and Ilan from Gefen Publishing called to see how I was faring, worried that as an American I was not used to this kind of tension. I had been in Manhattan on 9/11. I was no stranger to terror, but this was a different beast altogether.
I headed to the airport later that evening to be home in time to participate in a good friend’s son’s wedding which was scheduled long before my trip to Israel. A Jewish wedding meant building, building family, thriving in the face of adversity. An antidote to death and destruction. Lamrot hacol, in spite of everything the Israelis understand love and joy in the midst of dark days. Still, I left the Holy Land feeling sad and terribly conflicted on all fronts.
Since I’ve been home, the situation has deteriorated beyond imagination. The rockets soar overhead non-stop. Ben Gurion airport has been shut down. Many tourists have left before their scheduled departures and others have cancelled their trips altogether. Deaths are mounting on both sides and the PR campaign against Israel is devastating. As more and more troops are mobilized and reservists are activated, friends’ children are called to participate in a war they didn’t initiate to protect ALL of its citizens, not just Jews, from Hamas’ attacks.
Operation Protective Edge, a defensive posture, was mounted to disarm Hamas whose charter it is to have Israel sink into the Sea.
Remember, Gaza was annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War perpetrated against her by hostile neighbors. Israel responding to worldwide pressure in an attempt to live in peace with its neighbors relinquished the territory in a highly controversial brokered land for peace deal in 2005. There hasn’t been a day of peace since the exchange took place. Sophisticated terror tunnels extending from Gaza have enabled Hamas, a rabid terrorist group that the Palestinian people duly elected to build an arsenal against Israel to facilitate kidnappings and mass killings. A steady blitz of attacks have been fired into homes in Gaza border towns like Sderot and Netivot for years while babies and preschoolers spend their days and nights huddled in bomb shelters, suffering in unrelenting crisis mode. Where are the cameras covering these stories and the unending anguish of Israelis under attack? Why isn’t there world-wide outrage and sympathy for the Israeli position instead of constant gratuitous, irrational, vitriolic condemnation?
The economic, spiritual and human toll on both sides with gratuitous bloodshed is devastating, especially since Hamas uses its citizenry as shields and puts them in the path of death. The international mass media has been making a mockery of the truth by not publicizing the whole truth. And Israel is accused of being immoral? Lacking in humanitarian values? She is also the villain, the occupier, the aggressor and Goliath? Really? Like every other nation, Israel to be sure is an imperfect being, but how can she always be perceived as unconditionally and perpetually wrong? With the virulent rise of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionist rhetoric spewed all over the globe, particularly in Europe, and hate-crimes against Jews, most notably in France and Germany occurring in plain sight, how does it help to create a monster zeitgeist about Israel? Let’s face facts. It’s a scary time for anyone who believes in freedom and democracy. Connect the dots.
I pray for a time when Israel and all of her neighbors: Arabs, Jews, Christians, Druze, Bedouins and Muslims can live in peace. Where shared time and money is spent on finding cures for autism and Alzheimer’s, not weapons and anti-weapons. Where children bury grandfathers and grandmothers and fathers and mothers, not the other way around. Where all Middle Eastern countries can pass freely one into the other and tourists from all over the world can enjoy the blessings of a showcased common heritage. Until then, lamrot hacol, in spite of everything, we must stand by Israel to defend herself. And lamrot hacol, in spite of everything, she must prevail.