I recently returned home from a quick eight day trip back to the States, my first time back since we moved here. I first flew to Florida to celebrate with my mom for her birthday, and then to New York, to celebrate and visit with my daughter. It was a wonderful, fun, hectic and exciting trip and it was great to be back if even for a short while.
It was strange though. When I landed in Atlanta en route to Florida, I wandered through the airport feeling like a stranger. I felt a little uncomfortable. Where is the Hebrew on all the signs? I went to Starbucks to order a coffee and had to think twice before placing my order in Hebrew lest the sales girl give me a bewildered look in response. I ordered my coffee in English of course and drank it while awaiting my connecting flight to West Palm Beach. I’ve grown accustomed to Israeli coffee somewhat, but it was good to once again have a cup of real, (though quite strong) American coffee. My connecting flight was uneventful and upon landing I was greeted by my mom and David with long wonderful embraces. The weekend and ensuing few days were wonderful, relaxing and celebratory. I then flew to New York and oh my, was it cold. I am just not used to that kind of cold weather anymore. Brrrrrrrr. But, I was greeted with the most heartwarming embrace and smile a mother could ask for. Michal and I had a wonderful few days together made up of shopping, cooking, eating, talking and laughing. It was great.
Then it was time to leave and as strange as it felt first arriving back in America, it felt equally strange leaving. I guess one acclimates to one’s familiar surroundings fairly easily. It was slightly strange arriving back in Israel, though it did feel good to be back.
The past week we were all busy with work and school and life resumed fairly uneventfully. We had a houseful of terrific company for Shabbat, a group of guys and an Israeli couple for dinner Friday night. Our house was filled with good food, great conversation, song and laughter. Shabbat concluded and we all resumed our weekly routines, the boys returning to yeshiva, I to work, and everyone else to typical Saturday night routines. But that all changed soon enough.
I have a fairly firm set of beliefs and convictions by which I lead my life and teach my children to live theirs. I have a firm belief in God and religion and the overall goodness of mankind. I believe in kindness and decency and love. I believe in family. I believe in commitment to hard work that was taught to me by my parents. I believe in individuality, in the freedom to design our own path. I believe in distinguishing right from wrong, even if the line between those is ill defined. I believe in respecting others’ beliefs and convictions. I believe in my country, my homeland, so much so that I picked up left everything and everyone familiar, and moved here to the relative unknown to start over and fulfill a lifelong dream. I believe in the pursuit of happiness and in the right for all of us to live happy and productive and fulfilling lives. I believe in good food, fine wine, and chocolate!! And, I believe we are all entitled to live our lives according to our own set of beliefs and principles. These are the core that make up the foundation of my life.
I do not believe that any person, group, religion has the right to take any of that away. And, I used to not believe in vengeance. I am not sure about that one anymore.
My foundation was shaken on Saturday night past upon hearing of the horror that was perpetrated on Friday night. The events of the last few days have left me at a loss. I am angry. I really am. Quite angry. I don’t know at whom, or at what, but I am angry. Mad. The earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami are terrible natural disasters and the pictures and news coming from Japan are abysmal. The loss of life and the devastation, the missing people, the nuclear scare, all are just awful. But the news from Israel Saturday night of the sheer beastliness of an attack on a family as they slept is incomprehensible to me. It is beyond incomprehensible. It is unfathomable but at the same time, very real, too real. It has left me aching and I had no connection to the family other than sharing the belief that Israel is our home and it is our inalienable right and duty to settle here. How barbaric are these subhuman creatures that they can invade a home and rob three children of their parents and three other siblings forever? How cruel are these supposedly Arab ‘human beings’ being taught to be? Is there a test they must pass for each level of cruelty and indecency? Is this their education? Is this what is being taught in their schools?
All of Israel has been shaken by this tragedy. All of its people, right and left politically and religiously, for the most part, are sickened by the events of this weekend. Twenty thousand plus people from across the country, including my son and many others from Ma’ale Adumim packed Har Hamenuchot, the cemetery where the family was being laid to rest, for the funeral on Sunday to say farewell, to offer comfort to the grieving family, to hear eulogies from rabbinic leaders, political leaders and family members. I imagine the throngs of people craved words of comfort and consolation. Rabbi Lau lamented how the cycle of violence continues, despite our sovereign state, despite our army. He told twelve year old Tamar that she is now the little mother of the family to her two younger siblings. No, she is not. She is a 12 year old child, now an orphan. Blame was cast of course on the palestinian authority for inciting violence against Jews. But international media outlets are also laying blame on ‘the settlers’, as if living in a ‘settlement’ dehumanizes them and thereby nearly legitimizing the act of terror. And it was a TERROR ATTACK that night carried out by TERRORISTS, not militants or extremists but terrorists. Rabbi Metzger told the gathering that in response to this tragedy, Israel must build. Build more homes, neighborhoods, communities. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this attack is a reminder of the price we must pay in the struggle for sovereignty. And on and on.
But I must object. We already ARE a sovereign nation. We achieved sovereignty and fought valiantly in 1948 for sovereignty. We don’t fight for that anymore. Now we fight for survival, for our very existence, because those around us simply don’t want us to exist. Prime Minister Netanyahu said to the family while paying a shiva call that “they murder and we build”. My question and I am not alone, is this: Why is he only now talking about building the land? We only have a right to build if we sacrifice? This is an unbalanced equation. Murder plus sacrifice does NOT equal the right to build! Murder is reprehensible, evil, ugly, immoral. Building our land of Israel is beautiful, right, praiseworthy and moral. A shiva home, especially one so filled with such horrible sadness, is not the forum for a political agenda. Agree or disagree on settlement expansion, but don’t espouse or draw comparisons between a civilized nation and barbaric acts. A shiva home should not be a forum for politicization of ideas or events. Sweet, once innocent, now forever traumatized 12 year old Tamar called Netanyahu out on this one. She shouted and cried “if you do something will America do something to you”?
My feelings echoe those of Udi Fogel’s brother when he said that “all the symbols about settlement, the land of Israel and the people of Israel are attempts to forget the simple fact that is riddled with pain: you are dead and no symbol will bring you back. More than anything this funeral must be a private event.” He said to his brother that “you are not a national symbol or national event. Your life was a purpose …and it can’t be allowed for your terrible death to turn your life into some sort of tool, no matter for whom. You are my brother and you will stay my brother”.
So why do I feel my foundation shaking? Because I am angry. Because the world has yet to recognize with whom we are dealing. Because a family, another one is shattered. We’ve suffered, we’ve been through this before, and as history has shown us, we’ll be there again. This event has shocked the whole country and I believe, all decent people. I don’t know that I will remain as naive as I once was, or that I will believe in the overall goodness of mankind anymore. I just don’t know. We as a nation will heal. We will go on. We go from tragedy and sadness to joy and happiness in almost a heartbeat. I did that the other night when I attended a friend’s daughter’s wedding (a former West Hempsteader). We cried at the ceremony when the Rabbi recalled the events of two days earlier because the bride and groom were so upset about it. We danced and sang at the happiness of a new union of a great couple. It was cathartic for me. I really needed to reconnect with friends from past and present and to feel joy.
This is what we do. We go on living. We survive.