I Don’t Know

“If the situation turns into another Intifada, what do you want to do?”

This is what my parents asked me in our last phone call.

For those who might not be aware, in the past week there has been a huge increase in terror attacks in cities all over Israel, unusually including one in Tel Aviv. Most of these terror attacks have been stabbings, throwing rocks at civilians, soldiers, and cars (this has caused a lot of fatal accidents), a few rockets sent over from Gaza, and, more recently, suicide bombers. I don’t know if I can describe what it is like watching the riots on the television and reading the news, knowing that what you are reading about – what the whole world is fixated on and has been since the Holocaust, really – is going on only forty minutes drive away at best. Israel is a small country … and you feel it where ever you go.

At first it didn’t seem real, all these terror attacks. It is so easy to be here and be in your own bubble. We were on a four day hike; camping in the rain with no tents, doing our own navigations in the mountains in small groups with no guides. Bubble. We had our own problems of wet sleeping bags, not enough sleep, dividing the food properly, staying warm, trying not to get lost, and completing our mission on a time limit. This is a story for another time, but when the head of the mechina told us all that things have not been good, I thought, “It isn’t that bad, it won’t touch me.” Even when my madricha, Sasha, sat my gap group down before the weekend started at the end of the hike to instruct us to be aware all the time, be careful, keep an eye out for suspicious, unattended packages or bags or suspicious people, I still thought, “Eh … it won’t touch me. Things happen all the time here.” But then I started watching the news, all the riots, the dead bodies, the fires, the stabbings, the shootings, the soldiers, the anger, the hate … the chaos, and my friend, Oryian, who I was staying with up north this past weekend, was expressing how scared she is and her mom, too, was saying to me how these stabbings were not normal … I understand now.

Today, I had a long talk with a friend of mine, Liza, who lives in Jerusalem about the situation. She’s terrified. Absolutely scared for the lives of her friends and family. For herself when she is there. And she is no stranger to terror; she told me that her family’s cars have been lit on fire twice before by terrorists. I tried my best to comfort her; seeing Liza’s pain and terror and inner conflict about being in Tel Aviv (a much “safer” place right now in terms of terror) and leaving her friends and family in Jerusalem all made me feel so helpless. She said to me it is her reality to look for where she would be safest from potential terrorists in the train station and to want her friends to stop taking the bus to get to work because of fear. She said it is weird for her to feel so aware all the time, but only because its normal. Not because she has to be aware, but because she just is automatically. And what can be done to stop this cycle of generation after generation of terror being a reality? Peace. But what can be done right now? I feel helpless.

Liza said to me that she hated sitting there, waiting for news from her friends on if they were OK (there was an attack today in Jerusalem and her friend, who was at the scene of the attack, was lucky and had arrived only minutes before the attack happened. That was how this entire conversation started) after each terror attack. And I thought about this past weekend and how when I was watching the news, a fear in the pit of my stomach, a fear for someone I know and love, developed. It grew slowly. It was the first time I realized that this situation could possibly develop into so much more. And right now, at this moment in time, I can’t do anything about it. All I can do it go on living my life here, as Israelis have been doing for generations. Because this is their reality and now I need to choose to make it mine.

I also said to Liza, “if you are worried, here, about your friends and family, there, imagine what my parents must be thinking … ” And she laughed, which was my intention (I phrased it slightly sarcastically). But this weekend, after hours of watching bits of the news and talking with Oryian and being worried for Liza, I talked with my parents. I’ve read a few articles about the situation that have said many Palestinians are calling for another Intifada, but it is unclear if there will be one because as of right now, there is no clear leader or organization. Either way, I asked my parents what they would want me to do if another Intifada commences and their response was “what would want to do?”

Your answer to my question just makes me want to say to you, Mom and Dad (since I know you read these religiously), how much I *insert any word one hundred times stronger than appreciate here* everything you do for me. I know how much you must be worried. And Mom, I know you never wanted me to know what you knew growing up, but still, you let it be my choice. And I know you support me. For you to trust me so much that you let this be my decision means more than the world to me!

The answer to their question: I don’t know right now what I would want. I don’t think I need to have an answer right now, commitment in these situations might not always be the best choice. I don’t think I would want to leave Israel and my program, regardless. And I do know my friends here do not have the luxury of this choice. (OK. So, I guess a tentative, I would stay)

And after all, as my Talmud teacher said today, the terrorists win if we are afraid.

Jaz

P.S. I apologize for two posts about terrorism in a row. It has never been so present in my life before now.

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“No Pain, No Game”?

For all the irony lovers out there, take this one in: The nights when I’m suppose to be most happy and feel most connected to the people around me and the place I’m in, happen to be the nights when I get very much homesick. Those nights would be Friday nights when we have our special Shabbat dinner. Everyone wears white, we set tables up in a more fancy way than usual, and the dinner is pretty much always delicious (which, considering it seems like most of my dinners have consisted of only rice or pasta, tahini, and an Israeli salad, is saying something). It is really beautiful. But we also take a few moments to slow down and think about, well, everything.

Last night, before we ate, an Israeli friend of mine stood up in front of everyone to say something. Because he spoke in Hebrew, it took a few moments for me to catch up to what was going on, but a few days ago, there was an act of terrorism in the West Bank. A family of six – two parents and four children ranging from four months to nine years old – were driving in the West Bank and the two parents were shot and killed by terrorists leaving the physically unharmed children orphaned. I do not wish to turn this into a political debate. However, my friend who was speaking was so overcome by emotion because of this act of terrorism that he could not finish his talk. My heart broke twice in that moment.

In the United States, when there have been acts of terrorism – and there have been many in the recent past – I have not seen a reaction like this. I am not talking about huge massacres such as Oregon’s Umpqua Community College shooting that happened on Thursday, 9/11, Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Charles Hebdo attack, etc., just individual acts of terrorism like these. And I am not at all saying that people in the US do not care or do not know, but in Israel I think there is a situation where every life has been touched by terrorism in some way. Or the wars. Every person who is hurt by the situation, whether this person is a close friend or a stranger on the news, is held in the hearts of the entire country in a way that is more powerful than anywhere else I have seen. This is what it seems like at least. I talked with some other Israeli friends afterwards about the shooting and while they did say that many do not show anything on the outside, pretty much everyone feels. They understand. I do not and I think this is something that America has blessed me with. To know what a family who has undergone an act of terrorism is maybe feeling is quite possibly the worst thing I could ever imagine anyone feeling. And here I am, in a country of people who all know. Knowing this, seeing this pain in all my friends eyes around me, the pain for the families and for their friend who is hurting … it really has an affect. I am so lucky that I do not know this feeling. And I truly understand that America is the reason for this.

So my heart broke twice. Once for my friends and once for the family.

Thinking about these kids who are now orphaned, though, made me think about my family and how lucky I am to have such an incredible family who are safe and sound. But then, because I had time to slow down and process my feelings, I realized how much I really miss my parents. I guess it’s similar to college, but at the same time, I am not sure … The Israelis all say to me how much they admire us, gaps, for coming to a foreign country for at least five months when don’t know when we will be able to see our parents again. I do not have any quiet, private time. When I am alone, my mind is literally buzzing from the silence. So when my emotions really catch up and I realize just how much I do miss my family, and not just in the normal “oh, my friend’s parents are coming tonight, she’s really lucky. I wish my parents would be here. Oh well”-way, it consumes me. It overwhelms me.

So I am left wondering: Should I be feeling guilty for forgetting for a moment about these kids who are now orphaned because of my own problems that they reminded me of? Or should I just acknowledge that there is pain everywhere and each individuals’ pain cannot be compared because pain is not a game?

At the end of it all, hearing about these acts of terrorism in Israel, from Israelis for whom this situation is their reality, really makes it much more real.

View of Tel Aviv from Yaffo
View of Tel Aviv from Yaffo
Set up for Shabbat dinner.
Set up for Shabbat dinner.
Night of Yom Kippur when the only vehicles you see on the roads are bicycles and ambulances.
Night of Yom Kippur when the only vehicles you see on the roads are bicycles and ambulances.

Jaz