A timeworn joke in the orthodox community: A priest and a rabbi are on the first tourist-rocket to space. Reporters meeting them at Cape Canaveral after reentry note that the priest looks rested and glowing from his journey into “the Heavens.” The rabbi, however, is completely disheveled: yarmulke askew, jacket crinkled and half-off, he’s a mess. Reporters ask: “How was the journey?” to which the priest answers, “A miracle! Such splendor! A testament to the Creator of the Universe!” The rabbi screams, “What splendor? Exhausting! Tefillin on! Tefillin off! Horrible! Give me a twenty-four hour day, will you???”
For observant Jews, the year moves more rapidly than for others. Because the sabbath is an anchor that moors the week, secular pursuits are always peppered with a generous dose of Jewish awareness. No sooner are the sukkah decorations packed away when we haul out the menorahs and wicks. Like the aforementioned rabbi, “Tefillin on! Tefillin off!” Whew . . . .
The Middle East has its own clock. War, war, an intifada or two followed by another war, we quickly adapt to whatever uprising is tossed into our laps. In between, we make weddings, go for job interviews, have a couple of moles removed and try to take in dinner and movie. Words like “average” and “normative” don’t figure into our social vocabulary because we try to squeeze real life into some non-bomb shelter moments.
We’ve only begun to catch our collective breath after this summer’s Defensive Edge blood-bath, but the enemy doesn’t believe in “time-out.” If butchery were part of the evolutionary process, the time line might include knife attacks (terribly passe, the Fogal family in Itamar a recent exception); bombs—freely lobbed, strapped to one’s body or on an available donkey—are less personal and make for livelier news coverage; the creative bulldozer method of Jew-killing has proven unwieldy and, consequently, unpopular because terrorists who operate heavy machinery are shot dead before disengaging from the cabin.
But just in time for the holiday season, the emerging weapon-of-choice is none other than the family sedan! Compact, readily available and easy to maneuver, the simplicity of driving into a group of students or families waiting to hop a bus is nothing short of genius. Evil genius? Only to us. The rest of the world understands the attackers; after all, what else can they do? They are exploited, frustrated, principled and brave. Only we-the-oppressors call them terrorists and thugs. We are blinded by arrogance, unappreciative of the martyrs in our midst.
Some hold that the miracle of Chanukah was the discovery of one sealed flask of oil that had not been defiled; many hold that the miracle was that the pure flask—enough for one night’s illumination—burned for eight days. Others insist that the existence of any precious oil in the gutted Holy Temple was, indeed, the miracle.
Hedging my bets, I like to think that Israel is a lot like the precious flask of oil; while the Temple around us (the world) might fight for its spiritual, moral and physical life, we continue to flicker, sputter, occasionally burn low and oftentimes swell with brightness. But in the end—as in the beginning—we persevere, prosper and remain defiant even when we feel very much alone.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at email@example.com.