Last night, hours after the terror attack on a synagogue that killed five men, maimed many others, and left prayer shawls, prayer books, and teffilin to soak in pools of blood, I sat on the couch with my husband and expressed my increasingly intolerable fear.
He asked me a very important question: “What were you thinking when you came here?”
I came to Israel in 2006 right after college without a real plan. I followed an old romantic interest of mine; I was ready for adventure and I was a Jew who was anxious to figure out precisely what that meant. I didn’t know if I’d stay forever, and when people asked me things like, “Are you prepared to send your future children to the army?” I couldn’t relate. I was barely 21 years old, children were an abstract concept, and I still had that good old American feeling of invincibility. I knew that violence came here in waves but the truth is—I wasn’t thinking much. I was yearning for something that I suspected I’d find in Israel.
And I did. I found a rich Jewish life with more questions than answers, and I found the land of my forefathers whose history resonated deep in my bones. I found friends who are family, I found a culture that celebrated life, and I found a people that gave me purpose.
Fast forward a few years: I found my husband, my best friend, my partner. We were blessed with now almost-3-year-old Kaveh. He’s awaiting his first haircut with long blond locks piled on top of his head. He chatters beautifully in Swedish, English, and Hebrew. He loves fire trucks.
Recently, people in Israel have been killed while praying, waiting for public transport, walking down the street, and doing other mundane activities that can’t be avoided in daily life. I am literally afraid to walk outside of my home and just be. I sat there, looking drearily at our Herzl coaster (yep, we have one of those. Begin, too) and said, “Really? This is what you wanted?”
Here I am, exactly where all of my inquisitive friends and relatives knew that I would be someday. I’m in my magical, golden city of Jerusalem with a child whose safety and well-being makes me question everything that I believe in and wonder if I really do have the strength of my conviction that the Jews need a home, and that I am personally responsible for holding down the fort while others can’t, or don’t want to.
Statistically, we aren’t in more danger than anywhere else. Terrorism happens in waves and is both dangerous and terrifying, but so are school shootings, serial killers, kidnappings, homicides in general, and illnesses that affect people globally. If that weren’t true, I’d be on a plane tomorrow. So what’s my problem? We’re no more likely to be hurt here than in my home country or my husband’s, so why not just be grateful to be alive right here and right now, and leave Israel out of it?
About halfway through my hour long bawling session–for the Jewish people, for Israel, and for the fear that stays lumped in my throat all day, every day–it clicked. For me, the experience of being hated and hunted in Israel makes me feel like my ability to protect my son is crippled beyond what I’d ever expected. I clutch his hand on the way home from our afternoon activity, absolutely terrified, praying under my breath that we will make it home, that no one will God forbid throw rocks or swerve their car into us because they hate that we are alive.
Being hated and hunted makes me feel weak, and a mother needs to be strong.
At Kaveh’s beloved sports class yesterday, he climbed up on a wall while holding onto a bar. He finished, triumphant, and said, “Emah! Look at me! I’m so strong!”
Yes, Kaveh, you are so, so strong. And I’m praying that in your lifetime there will be peace so that your enemies can never make you feel weak like I do today.
The truth is that we aren’t going anywhere. We’re home already. But I will keep crying and clutching hands and pillows. And to everyone who asked me about how I will deal with the violence, or send my son to the army: Some days I will feel normal, some days I will feel a grim, quiet resolve, and some days I will barely keep my weak self above water.
It’s an unromantic answer to your question, and lots of smart, strong Jews on the internet are writing more encouraging things. Read them. But don’t forget about me, a mother whose love for her son and love of her country blur lines and make bottom lines undefinable. Don’t forget about me, who wants your politics silenced, and my faith and strength restored–immediately.