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Jul 16 2014

From Birthday Parties to Bomb Shelters

By at 10:14 am

children lighting birthday cake candles

Thursday morning. Hundreds of rockets have hit Israel in the last few days, but for the moment, my city seems to be in a sirenless bubble, even though Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which lie to either side of it, have been targeted. We in Modi’in are an island of warlessness in a sea of war, reading on Facebook as friends report their siren stories. The mother of a classmate of my almost-5-year-old daughter calls. Is the birthday party still on? It’s going to be in the park across the street, the same shady spot we’ve had it for the past two years. The party is also for my other July baby, who’s turning 3. I say it’s still on unless the situation changes. She says her son will come.

I should be asleep, but I’m not. I think I hear the beginnings of a siren wafting in through the kitchen window. Well, that’s it, I’ve gotta cancel the party. Can’t have it in the house, there are still boxes lying around from our move, no time to clean up. A second later, the wailing morphs into the late-night laughter of teenagers in the summer. Oh, just a joke, ha ha, well, okay then.

Friday dawns beautiful. We set up the crackers and pretzels, the pita and hummus, the cucumbers and peppers. I had initially thought hiding out under one of the cement benches next to the sandbox would make more sense than running across the street with more than 20 kids. Just in case the sky explodes. But we settle on a plan to herd the kids into the parking garage under the apartment building on the other side of the street, and from there into the stairwell. We have 90 seconds, plenty of time, not like the people who live across from Gaza and only have 15. The kids start coming and I show them where the bubbles are. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 15 2014

Why I Don’t Talk About Israel With My Stepdaughter

By at 10:03 am
three women in Israel

The author (c.) with her mother and aunt in Israel.

 

For the past three weeks, I’ve been quietly absorbing the news from Israel. I lit candles for the three missing boys on Shabbat. I was hopeful that they would be found alive, and inspired by the words of Rachelle Fraenkel. When their bodies were found, I felt a familiar horror and pain at the loss of more lives, which increased as the violence ramped up from the IDF, and from Hamas. These days, it seems like half of my Facebook friends are in Israel, spending hours of every day in bomb shelters. I’ve seen videos of weddings interrupted by sirens, pictures of children playing in grey stairwells, and last week I cried upon hearing this story about Jews going to try to pay their respects to the family of the Arab Israeli boy who was killed by Jewish extremists.

Normally, a news event this big in my life would be dinner table conversation. My stepdaughter, at 6, is more politically engaged than most adults I know. She has attended rallies in support of gun control laws, and went to a memorial for Trayvon Martin. She spent the night at Occupy Philadelphia when she was 4, and routinely protests fracking and cuts to Philadelphia public school funding. She knows about the war in Syria, and about Wendy Davis standing up for women’s rights in Texas. But I can’t bring myself to talk about this with her.

I am a product of 13 years of Jewish day school, and in that time I learned to love the State of Israel. I wore blue and white on Israel’s independence day every year, I sang “Hatikvah,” and I was carefully taught that the Arabs always wanted to kill us, and that despite this, we had been the victorious underdogs. Abba Eban’s famous words were used to explain all of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” We tried to help them, but they only wanted to kill us. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 14 2014

How to Entertain Your Kids in a Bomb Shelter

By at 10:07 am

Israeli family takes refuge from rockets in a bomb shelter

“Why didn’t anyone DO SOMETHING?!”

I remember sitting in Hebrew School learning about the Holocaust for the first time. While I was in shock at what humans were capable of doing to other humans, I was almost more angry at my grandparents and other Americans–how could they just sit at home and let this happen for years before entering the war?

Now 25 years later, I am in my grandparents’ shoes. I see 200 schoolgirls get kidnapped in Nigeria. I see unimaginable violence in Iraq and Syria. And now I see murders, rockets, and bombings in Israel. I see moms, dads, kids, and families just like mine, who just want to go to work or school, go home, play in the park, and live a normal life. Yet they’re prevented from this by violence I can’t pretend to understand.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 10 2014

On Vacation In Israel in the Midst of a War

By at 12:51 pm

mediterranean sea sunset

The turquoise Mediterranean glittered in the late afternoon sun. Smoky barbecue drifted toward me as I helped my daughter and her cousin build sandcastles. No English for one and no Hebrew for the other, they built a beautiful, sandy city together with nods and smiles, gestures and touches. Up ahead three horses carried their riders toward the dunes. The sun sank lower.

The boys played Frisbee. The girls built their castles. The grown-ups drank beer and sparkling red wine, and the dog lay in the cooling sand, watching and sleeping.

They were photo-perfect moments happening every second, and my cousin ran from group to group and captured each one. “Chayim babu’ah,” she said. Life in a bubble. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 9 2014

Should I Cancel My Family Vacation to Israel?

By at 4:03 pm

A camel beside a car in Israel

In two weeks, I am scheduled to visit Israel with my family, including my two young daughters. We have been talking about this trip with them for weeks, excitedly planning each detail. My 4-year-old has learned a great deal about Israel in her preschool this year. She knows about the shuk (market) and the beaches. She knows the signs we will see with Hebrew letters and the food we might taste. She knows the Passover story and about how the Jewish people fled slavery in Egypt and came to Israel. But most important, she has told us about the notes to God she plans to put into the Kotel (Western Wall).

While I have a strong desire to show my children Israeli culture and Jewish holy sites, a major impetus for this trip was also to visit my 93-year-old grandmother, who recently lost her younger brother. I also want to see my aunts, uncles, cousins, and my wife’s cousins along with all their young children–all people who I love and miss.

Of course, as I write this, rockets are raining down on Israel, traveling ever deeper into its heart. Tens of thousands of reservists are being called up and more than a million Israelis are in bomb shelters. Air raid sirens can be heard in major cities like Tel Aviv, and Twitter and YouTube allow us all to see this in real time. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 8 2014

I Can’t Believe What is Happening to My Home

By at 5:07 pm

Israel is on the brink of war

If it wasn’t for the news and my Facebook feed, I wouldn’t know any better. Sure, I might be wondering why my neighborhood in Israel has suddenly turned into the flight path for the airport, but I probably wouldn’t be worrying too much.

You see, my life is wonderful. I have a great husband and five amazing kids. Everyone is healthy. My husband and I have jobs. We have a beautiful house. My eldest son recently got engaged and we are in the midst of planning a wedding. My day to day, although quite filled and hectic, is quite normal. No sign of the tension, no blaring sirens signaling a 15-second warning to run to a bomb shelter. Nothing at all.

That is unless you look at people’s faces and body language. Read the rest of this entry →

Dr. Ruth Tweets From Israel

By at 2:20 pm

Dr-Ruth

By now, you’ve probably noticed on your newsfeed that some crazy shit is going down in Israel.

Luckily, sweet, little Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the 86-year-old, Holocaust-surviving, truth-telling sex therapist, is currently in the middle of the chaos sharing dispatches from the Holy Land.

And don’t worry, she’s not scared.

Her latest tweet:

The Haganah was Israel’s pre-state paramilitary unit that eventually became the IDF, and Westheimer was trained as a scout and sniper until she was seriously wounded during the Israeli War of Independence.

While we’re certainly reassured by the image of Dr. Ruth with an Uzi in hand, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Israel and everyone affected by the recent violence.

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Jul 2 2014

How Do I Tell My Daughter That The Missing Israeli Teens Were Killed?

By at 1:17 pm

Israeli-desert

It’s been two whole days. Two days and I still haven’t told my daughter.

When my daughter was little, I used to worry that she didn’t have an appropriate sense of life and death–that she might do something stupid, even if I told her it was dangerous, because she didn’t realize what “dangerous” could mean. The first time she asked me about death, I grabbed the opportunity to try to reinforce the idea that death is serious and final–only realizing later that I had neglected any mention of a soul that lives on after the body, or any religious perspectives one might think a believing Jew should be teaching her child. It was so important to me that she grasp the great divide between life and death, I forgot that I believe in a continuum.

I say “when my daughter was little,” but she’s 8 now–is that still little? I don’t know. I still don’t think she grasps the possible consequences of “danger” as fully as I’d like her to. The other day I mentioned that some friends of ours are finally on the verge of aliyah, after putting their plans on hold years ago, because the father was hit by a bus. (I couldn’t bring myself to say “bus”; I told her he was hit by a car. I think that’s the biggest–maybe only–lie I’ve ever told any of my children.) Her big question? “Did he have to go to the emergency room?” Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 1 2014

My Country Weeps

By at 10:05 am

Israel-hills

I was on the train when I got a phone call.

“The rumors are true,” a colleague told me. “It hasn’t cleared the censors yet, but they found the boys. Not alive.

For 18 days, we stood together as a nation, waiting by the windows, looking for three silhouettes over the horizon. United by an exquisite hope that there would be a happy ending to a dreadful story, that our boys would come home safe and sound. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 17 2014

Our Boys Are Missing

By at 2:07 pm

our-boys-are-missing

Our boys are missing.

I say “our boys” because these could be our sons, our brothers.

This is just how we roll in Israel.

Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh-la-zeh: The People of Israel are responsible for one another.

You can see it in the way we scold random parents for forgetting to put socks on their kids. (“Where are his socks? Where are his shoes? It’s the middle of April and he’ll freeze!”) Read the rest of this entry →

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