The following are a couple of difficult memories of life in Israel. Difficult, because, really, why can’t the Jews just be left alone in their own little country on the Mediterranean?
When I first moved back to Israel in 1983, after deciding that I was going to make my life there (the dramatic epiphany to be told in a later post), I lived in Jerusalem for a few months while I attended an ulpan (Hebrew language class for new immigrants). One day, when I went to the neighborhood supermarket to get some things before it closed for the afternoon siesta, I was told that it was already closed. Someone had placed a bomb in the bread section. In Israel in those days the two most popular kinds of bread were not pre-sliced and stuffed in bags, no, they were fresh and bagless. You could get “white” bread which was a really long loaf (a little shorter than a baguette, but with the width of “standard” bread) with a slightly crunchy crust, or you could get “black” bread which was a whole wheat bread, this loaf was smaller, browner, and grainier. Both fresher than anything my mother would get in the bakery in our Queens neighborhood. (Remember those, neighborhood bakeries?) Bomb in the bread section. I just couldn’t get my mind around that. Who would do such a thing? What higher purpose is being served by blowing up someone as she thinks about her pastrami sandwich with mustard and a pickle on the side?
One day, on Purim (the Israeli equivalent of Halloween, but the kids are supposed to go to school dressed up because it is a religious holiday), I imagined that I was living in the US and did not need to listen to the news before I got my daughter dressed in her Queen Esther costume (she saves the day—and all the Jews in Shoshan), and walked with her through the park in our neighborhood and to the government-sponsored pre-school. There were beautiful shade trees around the two-room school and no one seemed to worry about animals pooping in the sand (well, not too much). But as we walked in I could tell that something was wrong. In my mind, I’m thinking normal mom in the suburbs thoughts that I got the day wrong and they’re wondering why I dressed my daughter up today. But in their minds they’re thinking “why is she bringing her daughter dressed up and with rouge on her cheeks when a suicide bomber just blew himself up crossing the street in front of the most popular mall in Tel Aviv, killing children in their Purim costumes?”
On another Purim someone blew himself up right next to a mother sitting with her baby in his carriage. They kept showing the twisted carriage on the news.
Then there was my pregnancy with my older daughter during the first Iraq War. I’m not quite sure if I can relate to you how relieved I was when on the first night of the war my ex-husband told me that the loud booming sound I heard and felt was the sound clouds make when they collide and no, of course it was not rockets slamming into a building on the other side of town.
And it is an odd thing to plan your shopping, not around sales, but around where you will feel the safest. Where a suicide bomber hopefully won’t go—or won’t go again.
I always told people that I felt safer in Israel than I did growing up in New York City in the 60’s and 70’s. And that statement still holds, because the random, senseless violence of muggings and rapes and murders in New York seemed so pointless, so random—so selfish. In Israel, because it came in spurts and often, because we convinced ourselves, only in certain parts of the county, it made life feel safer. I didn’t have to worry about someone ripping my necklace off me, I just had to live life as I would normally and hope that I am not in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if I was to be taken in an act of terrorism, at least, as my mind saw it, there was, somehow, a purpose, a meaning. I would have died because I was Jewish, not because I had a gold chain around my neck.
This current war or offensive or whatever it is called in Gaza does not bode well. Nor do the reasons why it came to be. Because without fine tuning any arguments or discussions here, if Israel left Gaza in September 2005, uprooting its citizens and all of their lives and livelihoods, and that was not enough, then really, what hope is there for lasting peace? (And this from a person with a master’s degree in conflict studies.)
It is horrific to once again see dead children in the arms of their mothers. And it is horrific to see people covered in blood and dust, and buildings destroyed. And it is horrific to see terrified people running for shelter when nothing can shelter them. And it is horrific to see people drained by fear, and frustration, and helplessness. It is horrific to live in a land of hate and divisiveness, when, really, all most people should want at the core of their lives is stability, hope, and a sense of calm, and peaceful purpose that encompasses all.
May peace, sanity, understanding, patience, compassion, and empathy reign.