Thursday, October 25, 2012

500 Rockets and not one demonstration

I write mostly about the positive and/or humorous side of life in Israel, even when it’s not so positive or humorous.
Not so today. I can’t help it, and so if you don’t want to read my sadness- and outrage-filled blog, stop now.

A month ago, an Israeli soldier, 20-year old Corporal Natanel Yahalomi from Nof Ayalon, was killed while serving on the Sinai border. I don’t know if it was the fact that he came from the village where my oldest son is now living, or that he was the same age as my second son who is also currently serving in the army, or that he was a hesder soldier as all three of my sons are (one post army, one in the army, and one pre-army), or whether it was that he was shot and killed while giving water to African refugees attempting to illegally enter Israel, but something in his death affected me very profoundly. I sat staring at his picture on the computer and crying. I remember I had trouble sleeping that night, and when I went to work on Sunday (he was killed on a Friday, but I only heard about it Saturday night – by Sunday it was old news) I could not get him out of my mind. I did not know him or his family, yet I felt like I did.

A few days ago, an officer, Captain Ziv Shilon, was critically wounded in a roadside bombing near the Gaza border while on a routine patrol (on our side of the fence). Asked to say Tehillim for his recovery, people around the country apparently responded because, as of today, he is, Baruch HaShem, in stable condition. However, he lost an arm.

Yesterday morning, my son – the one in Nof Ayalon who is post-army – phoned me at work to ask something or other. While chatting, he told me that Ziv Shilon had been one of his officers when he was in the army and that the Shilon family lived down the street from us. Ziv and my son would take the same bus home from the bus station.

My breathing stopped when he told me this. My hands began shaking. I said goodbye to my son and tried to concentrate on my work. I suddenly found myself crying, and I had to leave the open office where I work and hide out in the bathroom, because I couldn’t stop.
The morning was pretty well shot for me, and when I finally came out of the bathroom, it took me twice as long to do any of my mundane tasks as it usually does.

There are two points one has to understand here:
1.   I cry very easily. I cry when I watch ER. I cry when my kid gets an A in a test. Or a D. I cry when I hear HaTikvah. I cry when someone says “you did a good job”, or alternatively, “there’s too much salt in the soup.” Crying is an almost every day occurrence for me, one that has gotten worse (or better, depending on how you look at it, i.e., I cry more) as I have gotten older.

2.  This is Israel. There is bad news every day. Mostly, I hear the bad news, feel bad, say prayers, and get on with my day, not out of callousness, but because there is nothing else one can really do. 

I understand that these two points are contrary.
Perhaps it is because I am getting older that I took these two particular incidences so hard. I understand the tenuousness of life. I understand that no matter what we plan, ultimately, we are not in control. And more and more, I understand that there, but for the grace of G-d, go I.
It took me many hours before my hands stopped shaking, before my eyes stopped inexplicably filling.
And I realized that I was suffering from a very mild case of shock.

Death after death, attack after attack, war after war, horror after horror takes its toll. Though I do not know the young men I mourned for, they and their families were my sons and families. I felt, with all my heart and all my might, to my very marrow כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה, all Israel is responsible one for another.

Over the past few days, well over a hundred rockets and mortars (some say as many as 500) have been fired on Southern Israel—including 80 in one day. (None have actually hit Beer Sheva, as on this round, the terrorist are only shooting short-range rockets. They know attacks on Beer Sheva would warrant a more serious response from our army. Tomorrow is a Moslem holiday. They don’t want our planes to spoil it.)

Over and over again, we in Israel hear that a rocket was fired at the south but landed in an open area so there was no damage or injuries. The government, army, and media claim that by stating this, panic is kept at bay and the terrorists get no satisfaction of knowing that they are creating mayhem in Israel.

Unfortunately, that there are no injuries or damage caused by mortars and rockets is emphatically not true. Each rocket does immeasurable and irreparable damage and injury. If I suffered from mild shock after hearing about an injury to a man I didn’t know, what must people suffer after 80 rockets have rained down on their heads?

It is hard to fathom rocket attacks, and buses exploding, and shooting at a Bar Mitzvah. So I’ll put it into terms others might be able to imagine, especially if you have kids.

Think of a bully in school. He might not hit another kid; he might not even say anything directly to him. The bully might not physically injure anyone. But just walking past him in the hallway and seeing the bully’s smirk or hearing his whispers to his gang and their laughter can hurt a child in ways we can’t see or define.

These are the injuries that are occurring on a daily basis – on an hourly basis – in Israel. We are raising a generation of kids afraid to go to school, afraid to leave their parents, afraid to play in the park, afraid to be away from a safe room. A generation of parents with post-traumatic stress disorder is raising a generation of kids with the same disorder.

Worse, we are raising a generation of kids who are ashamed of their fear, ashamed of their parent’s inability to protect them, and perhaps, ultimately, ashamed of their people.

Where is the outrage? Where is the horror? Where are the demonstrations by Jewish communities throughout the world protesting the shooting of rockets at small children? Where is the indignation when farms are turned into battlegrounds? Where is the rage when places of worship are damaged, when schools must be canceled, when private homes and parks turn into places of carnage?
Where is my people?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Acharei HaChagim - after the holidays

As long as a house is like yours, and as long as you work together with your brothers, not a house in the world will be able to compete with you, to cause you harm or to take advantage of you, for together you can undertake and perform more than any house in the world.
Nathan Meyer Rothschild

Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.
George Bernard Shaw (a non-Jew)

The Israeli holiday season, which lasts for more than three weeks, ended over a week ago. I’m almost recovered. What’s hindering my full recovery is that I’m not quite recovered from last year’s holiday season (not to mention Pesach). I think there’s still some laundry hiding somewhere, and I still haven’t found the good spatula I put away where I would be able to find easily.
It’s probably in the laundry.

The holidays are a joyous time, filled with food, friends, and family. And shopping, and cooking and dirty dishes, and mounds of laundry.

And more shopping.

Our weekly purchases
Oh, and did I mention cooking?

 Two weeks before Rosh HaShana, cooking looks like this:

but, by Simchat Torah, three weeks later, it looks like this:

and that's only if you’re organized.

I’m not going to harp on the excessive amount of cooking I did (if there aren’t any leftovers, there isn't enough). Or the fact that I am now so traumatized from all the cooking I can’t yet boil water without breaking out into a sweat. And what did I do with that spatula?

The holidays are a time, as I said, of family. And what can we do. Families have to eat.

The weather was, surprisingly, lovely and not too hot, and on one of the intermediate days of Succot our family traveled to the northern part of the country to the town of Zichron Yaakov. Founded in 1882 by the Baron Edmund James de Rothschild and named after his father, Zichron Yaakov (in the memory of Jacob) is one of the oldest ‘modern’ towns in Israel. Many of the buildings built then are still in use today, and the town is full of boutiques, eateries, and history. It’s also home to Israel’s first winery, Carmel Wines – named after the nearby mountain. For a full history of Zichron see here .

We did the touristy things in Zichron; saw the Aaronson house (founders of the NILI ), walked through the park, and saw one of the oldest ‘modern’ shuls in Israel, Ohel Yaakov (named after that same father). Unfortunately, it wasn’t open and we couldn’t go inside, which apparently looks like this:

This is the outside. The clock has Hebrew Letters instead of numbers

We had a picnic at Ramat HaNadiv, just south of the city. Ramat HaNadiv is a large park/garden, named after our friend Baron Rothschild. HaNadiv means ‘the benefactor’ in Hebrew, and Rothschild was so nicknamed because of all the money he gave to the struggling Jewish community in the then southern part of the Ottoman Empire (it wasn’t called Israel and certainly not Palestine at the time). He’s also buried in the park, along with his wife Adélaïde/Batya (the town Mazkeret Batya – not that far from Beer Sheva is named after her), in a large cave-type mausoleum. We went in to pay respects, and found what seemed like dozens of kids in there whooping and yelling to make an echo.

It was a bit creepy, really.

Rothschild's grave/echo chamber.

According to legend, when his descendants decided to move the Baron’s remains to Israel in 1954 (he died in 1934) the French government took umbrage. They had considered Rothschild a Jewish Frenchman rather than the French Jew that Rothschild considered himself. Of course, money might have had something to do with it. (Not that I’m at all cynical.)

The main reason that we drove two and a half hours to see some old buildings and a dead guy’s monument to himself – beautiful and intriguing as it was (and it really was) – was to attend my son’s ‘tekes koomta’ (beret ceremony). Each brigade in the army has a different color beret, and the cadets are presented with their colored beret only after completing basic training and, in the case of combats troops, advanced training – altogether about 7 months. Advanced training concludes with a 58 km hike in full gear ending at the top of Mazada.

The ceremony took place in Pardes Hanna (named, coincidentally, after Hannah Rothschild – from the same family) about 10 km south of Zichron at the NaCHaL (which stands for Noar Chalutzi Lochem, or Fighting Pioneer Youth) memorial to their fallen.

About 300 awfully handsome young men received their berets that evening, from 42 different countries, including most of the English-speaking ones. Families came from all over the country, most carrying bags, boxes, packets, hampers, pots, sacks, crocks, chests, cauldrons, and crates full of food. We are a people who love to eat.

I brought cookies. AND some apples. I told you, I break into sweats just looking at the kitchen.

We stood on the hillside and watched my son – by far the best-looking one there – receive his beret (a bright green for the NaChaL Brigade) from his smiling commanding officer, a chap his own age, who had received his own beret less than a year before. We waved and clapped, hooted and whistled with the rest of the crowd. We were quite a rowdy bunch.

The whole ceremony only took about half an hour, including a speech from the most appropriately-named officer in the army, Yisrael Shomer, the commander of the training base.

The Guardian of Israel (Shomer Yisrael) neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalms 121:4)

It ended with a rousing rendition of HaTikvah.
Of course, by then I had cried myself blind.

I cannot understand how someone (me) can be so proud, and so nauseous at the same time.

SO proud

Yet so nauseous

Now that the chagim are over, it’s time to do all those things we put off until after the chagim, such as defrost the overused fridge, unpack that last box of stuff from when we moved 10 years ago, and start active army service. (That last one is not physically me, just emotionally….)

Maybe I’ll even find that spatula.