Yesterday, I printed out this article from Tablet Magazine and had my children read it. After all three had finished reading, including 6-year-old Shaya, who took his time, taking in every single word and asking questions along the way, we sat around the dinner table, deconstructing what it was all about.
I asked some rudimentary questions just to make sure they understood the article. Then I asked the big question: why don’t Jewish residents of the Israeli border town Sderot, which has been hit by rockets from Gaza for the past 12 years, why don’t they just leave?
The kitchen fell silent. My children pondered what was essentially a very profound question. And then, one of them offered this: “Because if they did, the other side would just move right in.”
And so these Israelis, most of whom either moved here from other lands to live freely as Jews or whose parents or grandparents did, stay put, making music alongside the constant fire of rockets and missiles, living their lives alternately in the open sun and in the bowels of bomb shelters.
The fighting in Israel is awful, but it is not new. The way the media portray Israel as the aggressor and Gaza as the poor victim is also not new, and it’s not true.
So here is how things look from my perspective, having been to Israel at least half a dozen times.
I’ve never contemplated making Aliyah, which is the Hebrew phrase for moving to Israel to become a citizen. (You can retain your American identity and carry dual citizenship by the way.) But Israel is the one place in the world that I feel safer than anywhere else.
It is a place where, when I land on the tarmac, my eyes well up with tears. Its very existence is miraculous – after thousands of years of Jews being attacked, oppressed and otherwise pursued, here is one tiny piece of land where we can come and be accepted, welcomed, hugged as brethren because we are.
When the Nazis reigned, there was nowhere for the Jews to seek refuge. Even America turned away ships of refugees. When the pogroms swept through the Eastern European and Russian countryside, Jews had nowhere to go.
And so, on the heels of mankind’s worst example of evil, a state was born, not easily, but through vigilance and strength, and it became a safe haven for Jews from all corners of the globe.
It was not a welcoming landscape, but a forbidding one. Israel turned it from a desert where nothing would grow into a verdant forested landscape. Life in Israel was hard initially – but those early pioneers clung to their newfound freedom and built themselves into a nation of the strongest, mightiest, most poetic people I have ever encountered.
When you listen to Israeli politicians, it is like they are choosing words from a book of poems. They are passionate, convicted and so full of belief. They stand for something! On every side of the political aisle in Israel, there is ferocity, there is commitment, there is wisdom.
And still, so many surrounding nations call for the out and out destruction of this tiny nation.
Throughout history, nations have conquered territory and lost it, and it’s become footnotes in our history books. How odd that when it comes to Israel, and Israel alone, every little move is criticized, lambasted, finger-pointed! Why would that be? Why the double-standard?
The other day on recess, my eldest son was drawn into a conversation with another boy about religion. The boy, a devout Christian, said something about how eventually, the Messiah will come and people will have 200 years to see the light, so to speak, and if we all accept Jesus as Lord, we will all go to Heaven. If we don’t, he said, we will go to Hell, but we’ll have a second chance to change our minds there, too, and then we can make the ascent.
In contrast, I am reading a speech by Paramahansa Yogananda about the Science of Religion. His premise is that it’s really not possible to have so many different religions. He posits that either we are saying the same thing or we’re all wrong, that if God resides outside of us, then we are always disconnected from holiness and Source, but that really, God resides in each of us, in every living thing, so our journey is simply to return to Source, which is the same for everyone.
And we’re fighting wars over who’s right. For millennia.
When I hear the news reports that hundreds of Gazans were killed but three Israelis were killed, I balk. How can they skew the truth?
And when I read articles like a recent one about Raoul Wallenberg in my alumni magazine, and for the thousandth time read details about the atrocities of the Nazis’ systematic attempt to annihilate my people, I cry as if reading it for the first time.
How can people do such awful things to other people? The rationale that we must dehumanize the victim in order to rationalize it doesn’t even work with me. I can’t imagine tormenting or hurting an animal or a tree, let alone a human being.
I don’t care what we believe or how we live. I don’t understand how people can vanquish other people. I don’t understand how Truth can hide in the folds of a cloak, in the velvety sound of a radio announcer choosing which facts to share and which to suppress.
Israel from my perspective: beautiful, remarkable, strong, the antithesis of the stereotype of a Jew, the proudest, strongest people I’ve ever met, self-sufficient, the strongest military in the world, the most strategic, driven by compassion for every creature, operates as if every citizen is a cherished blood relative, fierce and proud, no waste, thoughtful, incredible.
I haven’t been back to the Jewish State in five years, and part of me is dying inside to touch the soil, smell the pink stones, feel the wonder that is Israel. I’d go today if I could swing it. Nowhere else do I feel as safe.
Did you know that in Israel, every part of the kosher cow is used, whereas in America, half of the animal is given to non-kosher processors? Because in Israel, there is no room for waste. Here, it’s easy to throw it away and say part isn’t kosher because it’s too hard to cut around the carotid artery and get out the best cuts of meat.
In Israel, there is no choice.