When I was a little girl, my mother would tell us stories about her home far away across the sea. It was a magical place where deserts burst into life and the sea was so blue it was like swimming in the sky. This magical place was called Israel.
The people were good in this land. Warm and loving and quivering with life. They were smarter and stronger and braver and funnier and more beautiful than anyone we could imagine in our small, rural town. They were kings and queens and knights and storybook heroes.
Of course, there can be no heroes without villains. And Israel had them in spades. They lurked on the outskirts, brandishing sharp rocks and explosive packages. But, the innocent people could rest easy knowing that God was always on their side.
We had family in this wonderful country. Gentle aunts and laughing cousins. Uncles so strong they could lift up a sheep with one hand. A grandfather who spoke directly to God and a grandmother whose tiny hands worked miracles.
I fell asleep dreaming of this marvelous place where someday, my mother promised, we would return, like exiled royalty, to the open arms of a country that would always be ours.
This was the Israel of my dreams.
But there was another Israel. One that would bubble and fester and claw its way out into my living room from time to time. This was the Israel of angry faces and deadly rockets. The Israel of illegal settlements and occupation. The Israel of bus bombings and women pregnant with explosives.
I’d see this Israel reflected in my mother’s eyes late at night when she thought we were sleeping. I’d cuddle in beside her as she watched, her eyes glued to the television, her hands clenching and unclenching in imaginary battles.
She’d walk around in a daze during those times. Muttering silent prayers and waking us up with long distance phone calls. Her voice was so loud the radiators would vibrate with every rolled R.
“Are you trying to shout over the ocean?” my father would tease.
She wouldn’t laugh at his joke. She wouldn’t even smile. In fact, she’d go weeks without smiling, sometimes months.
My mother. The woman whose head-thrown-back, howling laughter was internationally famous, would shrink down to an impenetrable bundle of nerves.
That tension my mother felt affected all of us. I’d feel it curled up in my stomach like the balls of cold ramen noodles she’d feed us when the fairy tale world was upside down.
Until it was over. Until there was calm. Until the fairy tale world of Israel was back.
The world is upside down again. I hear that same distracted voice when I call my mom. I notice how she cuts me off with long winding rants about tunnels and slain soldiers and the villains that just won’t stop.
The tension in my stomach is back too. But, it isn’t just fear anymore. It’s guilt. Guilt that I am here, eating ice cream on the beach with my kids, while the people of Israel huddle in bomb shelters, while they wait with held breath for their children to come home, while they battle a media war that is almost as vicious as the one on the ground.
All I can do is watch the news and read articles on my phone and wonder.
When will it be over? When will there be calm? When will our fairy tale world be back?
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