Whenever there is a renewed spate of terror, it is not unusual for the ex-pats among us who live here to receive notes of concern from well-meaning friends from overseas. Most of my acquaintances have formulated a simple plan to let people know immediately that we and our loved ones are safe via a simple group e-mail with a subject line that reads, “We are all okay.”
But what constitutes okay? If having the same number of fingers, toes or limbs at night that you left the house with that morning adds up to okay, then almost everyone I know is doing just dandy. But if okay means returning home with the same matzav ruach – spiritual countenance – that one began the day with, we are in need of an infusion ASAP.
A woman in my office who has lived here for less than two years began to sob at the news that a bomb exploded at the entrance to the city and that many people were injured. At the time of the initial reports, there were thought to be casualties. The rest of us listened to the various information channels with stoic expressions, holding our reactions in check in case they were needed later. This is the Israeli way. How much can one scream when there is so much to scream for? Dodging katyushas, detecting bus bombs and watching for terrorists does require a particular sort of “vigilance rationing,” and the horrors we react to seem to fall on an intensity scale that has no known precedence.
Last week there was a deadly rocket attack, and a school bus was targeted. Miraculously, all of the children except for one boy had just gotten off the bus – miraculous for everyone except the 13-year-old boy and the bus driver, who are both fighting for their lives at the time of this writing. One had to scour the western papers to read about this bombing, because the headlines that seemed to have “made it” were the broadcasts of Israeli attacks. What none of the screaming bold print managed to mention was that the Israeli attacks – ALL OF THEM – were retaliatory! We were forced to respond after unanswered weeks of attacks against quiet cities and the residents who are not being allowed to enjoy a moment of peace.
“Palestinian mother and child killed in early morning Israeli raid.” Sad? Yes. But not too sad when Hamas deliberately hides behind the skirts of the collective Palestinian population and can dish it out but not take it. What can be expected when a moral, achingly-restrained army is forced to protect its “What about us?” populace? Those who harbor murderers should, typically, understand that they are sitting in the line of fire and will undoubtedly become caught in the crosshairs should we be obligated to retaliate. The sense of communal frustration felt in Israel is difficult to describe as we, too, read the reports that emanate via international news outlets. Why, if we did not live with the boys in uniform, farm on the periphery of Arab countries, equip our bomb shelters with video games and Legos and spend valuable tax revenue on cutting-edge security systems for shopping centers and hospitals, we might accidentally believe the headlines that detail our heinous natures and bestial natures. Thanks to God, we know better.
We know that we want peace like nobody’s business. We want to promise our children futures that are rife with choice: choice of livelihood, choice of community, choice of where to travel, choice of how to be Jewish. But we live in a neighborhood where the neighbors have decided the agenda and have compromised our freedoms. While Arab leaders spew ad nauseum about self-determination, I am compelled to ask, “What about our self-determination to live quietly and attend to the business of life?” After five thousand, seven hundred and seventy one years of peoplehood, including the last 63 years of modern Israel, we daffy-Jews still haven’t figured out that gratitude is subjective: offering Arab-Israelis free education in the finest halls of learning in the Middle East, unprecedented employment and career opportunities and superior free health care does not necessarily result in gratitude or even – Heaven forbid! – cessation of hostilities.
I received a note via Facebook from a Christian minister who has been to my house for Shabbat supper during a “fact-finding” tour with several other well-intentioned folks from a Washington think tank. They visit frequently and try to talk with the common man – both Jew and Arab – to get a grasp of what is really going on. When asked by a few skeptical friends why I would host such a group, I’m able to answer without hesitation. “They are being invited into Palestinian homes all of the time and if we don’t let them hear our voices, they will creatively fill-in the missing pieces.”
Part of Paul’s note read: Good morning Andrea. I’ve wanted to send this for a few weeks, so I’m sorry that I’ve just gotten around to it. You have been in my thoughts since I read about the bombing in Jerusalem. My prayers for safety and provision are with you and your people. May God’s peace be with you.
It was a nice note. Still, I felt a churning unrest and, unencumbered by the niceties of the Sabbath table, I asked him if he had heard about the slaughter, the butchering of the Fogel family last month. He hadn’t.
Replying that while his note was appreciated, he must forgive me for harboring more than a little distrust of “spiritual missions” that are being fed only bits and pieces of the story and believe that the Palestinian/Israeli story is one of “parity.” “With whom can we negotiate, Paul? There is no one in charge. There is no one with the trust of the people; no one who carries a moral compass and can iron out an agreement that will not lead to our annihilation. Tell me, what more can Israel offer that would leave her with a viable country and peace on our borders?”
I have not heard back from him.
At 5:30 this morning I shared a cup of coffee with my soldier son, making certain that his laundry was done and he had four of his favorite sandwiches on hand for the long ride back to his base. I teased him that he would always think of home when he smelled the rose-petal softener I used in the final rinse cycle. His hair was almost completely shorn, and the small black skullcap he wears sat neatly atop the bristles. He is a man, but I see beneath the resolute jaw and mile-wide shoulders. He is my baby boy, sprouting teeth while toddling across a freshly-mowed American lawn.
I finish my cup of coffee on the living room patio, watching him cross the six lane avenue to catch his ride to the station. He is my son, but, from this distance, he is clearly a son of Israel.
As he drives away, I mentally type the subject line for my day. It reads, “We are all okay.”