Tuesday, November 18, 2014

To Fear or Not To Fear

             The statistics are clear. It is much more dangerous to live in New York City, my previous home, than Jerusalem, my current (and hopefully forever) home. And yet, I never woke up to news of a massacre in my synagogue, thank G-d, and I never feared standing at a bus stop, and I never gave passersby the side-eye as I walked the streets of Queens. This is my new reality here in Jerusalem. The macro fears of this past summer, the rockets and the sirens, have been replaced by something far more insidious. The mood that surrounds me is much more reminiscent (and I have been loathe to even think it) of Jerusalem in 2001. In those days, I didn't take buses and I didn't shop at the shuk. I didn't visit the mall and I didn't go out in town. And I gave the side-eye to passersby, because you didn't know where, when or what might happen in the Holy City. 

Painted concrete barrier at Jerusalem light rail station

             And I am afraid. My family is calling me, panic in their voices, because the news is biased and the news is scary and the news is sparse and it doesn't come fast enough. And we want to see the pictures but the pictures are terrifying so we don't want to see them. And our friends are worried- our friends in Los Angeles and Detroit, Chicago and New York. Friends from cities with crazy crime rates are asking us to stay safe and be alert. People are questioning if I regret my move here, wondering whether I'll "come back home" to the US where it's safe and warm.
              But I am not afraid. I live in a country with a strong army, willing to lay down their lives for me, sacrificing their own lives for my safety. And even though the situation keeps getting worse I know  that most of the government is tearing out their collective hair, trying to protect us. And it cannot be easy. There are lefties who want to appease our enemies and those on the other side who want it ended by any means necessary, and those from every side who just want it to stop. There is no easy solution, and I do not envy those decision- makers for whom there is no right answer.
             And yet I am afraid. The news doesn't stop. There is always a new terrorist, a new murderer and more information about those who don't deserve our time or our ink. But we are voracious in our desire for news; we have to know where they came from (Israelis, with ID cards and the right to vote and working in our businesses) and what is being done (Heaven forbid they weren't killed on sight and we have to treat them in our hospitals). The only thing we don't have to wonder about is why. It is because we are Jews. It is not because we are Zionists or settlers. It is not because we are policemen or soldiers. It is only because we are Jews and that is enough for them.
             But I am not afraid. I know that this land is the Jewish land, not because the UN recognized us or because we have foreign governments who tell us we can exist. It is not our land as an apology for the Holocaust or because we had nowhere else to go. This land is not Uganda, just a place for Jews to gather in safety. It is our home because it has always been our home. I'm not being hokey when I say that Israel has been home to Jews for thousands of years; I'm speaking about reality. You know what is not our home? Syria is not our home, nor is Libya, Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Lebanon is not our home, nor is Oman, Liberia, Morocco or Egypt. Afghanistan is not our home, nor is Jordan, Tunisia or Algeria. These are legitimate homes for the world's billion Muslims, but Heaven forbid we Jews be honest about the fact that Israel is our ancestral Homeland and will forever be.
           And still I am afraid. I lived through the second intifada and this summer's war. Moving to Israel is a risk. You risk being away from your loved ones and missing out. You risk not finding a job as good as the one you left. And you also risk being here when our "neighbors" get angry, when our neighbors are incited to kill without pattern or warning. You risk the land you live in being derided in the media, and the brave members of the IDF being demonized. You wonder what risks you should take. Do I really need to go in to town today? Do I really need to visit that friend in that area tomorrow? And even though we are a resilient country, you wonder "Is this all worth the risk?"
          But I am not afraid. I am not afraid because my faith in G-d is strong. And I know that this is not the case for everyone. There are plenty of Israelis who feel differently, who draw strength from other places. But for me, there is a large sense of calm and peace that comes with the belief in a Divine Plan. And does this mean that nothing could ever happen to or around me (G-d forbid)? No, not at all. But there is a strength in knowing that we are not all-knowing and that we are part of a larger reality. This doesn't make the pain hurt any less and it doesn't make the fear disappear, but it does infuse it all with a sense of purpose. And that honestly helps.
          And even so, I am afraid. I want this to end. I want to go back to worrying about finding an apartment and a job. I want to start my search for the perfect sufganiya (donut) and to celebrate Hanukkah as an Israeli for the first time. I want to welcome my family here on their visit and show them all the amazing things I get to experience by living here. I want life, as they say, to go on. And I know it will. This, too, shall pass and all that good stuff, because the Nation of Israel will live on. It's not just a catchy saying, "Am Yisrael Chai." We will survive, we will thrive and we will live here in Israel, because it is our one true home, because it is ours.
           So I am not afraid.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Just Right of Center

                I thought this blog post would be about looking for an apartment. I had planned to write this whole post about my madcap search for the perfect home with roughly ten dollars to my name. But at this point, what is going on in my city is so much bigger than what is going on in my life and I am compelled to write about it. Here is the usual preamble: these thoughts are my own, you may not agree with them but they are based on my upbringing and my experiences, yadda yadda. Truth is, notwithstanding a blurb about supporting Jews living in "the Settlements" and attending a pro-police rally last week, I keep this blog pretty "Center- Right." If you actually know me, though, you will note that I am actually much more "Right-Right" and that will be reflected in what I am about to say.
             I experienced the "Second Intifada." I was a naive 17-year old, spending my seminary year in Jerusalem when bombs started exploding in crowded areas and buses were being blown up. I remember the mood of that year with perfect clarity. I remember not taking one bus from October on. I remember being forbidden to enter the mall, the Machane Yehuda market, and most especially the center of town. I remember the group text messages from my school inquiring about where we were during attacks, I remember calling any and all friends to make sure we were all safe. I remember spending exorbitant amounts of time just roaming my own tiny neighborhood, because most other places became out of bounds. And mostly, I remember the fear that lived inside me imperceptibly, always just a tiny bit anxious and unsure. See, that is the whole point of an Intifada. It is meant to disrupt your life, to keep you indoors, to make you suspicious of everyone, all the time. Now I'm not saying that is the current mood here in Jerusalem, thank G-d. But I am saying there are rumblings. There are conversations in Whatsapp groups that look like this:

X: Guys, we were just in town and heard a boom. Don't come in to town if you can help it.
Y: Oh my gosh! Are you okay?
X: Yeah, I just ran away and I'm heading back now.
Z: Shoot, I needed to go into town to pick something up! Should I not go?

       Obviously, there is nothing intrinsically terrifying about going into town or taking a bus right now. But over the past few weeks, Israel has seen a considerable amount of terror by so- called "lone wolf terrorists" which is most certainly taking it's toll on the Jewish population here. There have been several terror attacks committed by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who have rammed their cars into innocent civilians getting off the train near Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. One of those murdered was a precious 3 month old baby, on her way back from her first visit to the Western Wall. Other attacks more recently have included stabbings and shootings, and the targets have no discerning connections. Border police have been targeted and yeshiva students. Babies and the elderly. Residents of "the Settlements" and denizens of Tel Aviv. The only responsibility target is "Jew", even if the victim eventually turns out to be Druze. And it is no longer "the Palestinians" who are claiming responsibility for the terror. It is more often than not Israeli Arabs, who live in Arab towns alongside Jewish ones, with the full rights of Israeli citizens. They are being inundated with the directives to "rise up" and "kill the Occupiers" with billboards and television commercials, radio addresses and Mosque sermons. They are being encouraged to stoke the flames that the Israeli government (in my view) seems unwilling to properly subdue.
         Ahhh the government. For the most part, I support what the government has to say. The rhetoric matches mine to the letter: "We will not tolerate this terror. We will catch and prosecute the terrorists. We should take stronger steps to punish those responsible. We will not allow this to continue." And yet, continue it does. We build concrete blocks at train stations, we chase stone throwers, we apprehend the terrorist. But we also treat said apprehended terrorist at our incredible hospitals. I know what you may be thinking "What kind of monster won't treat someone who is injured?" Well, I guess I am the kind of monster who is picturing my family member who was just hurt or murdered by that terrorists, not really concerned with  his physical well-being. But that's me. I guess I'm the kind of person who is more concerned about the safety of myself and my friends and family than the rights and feelings of the community stoking the flames of aggression and terror against the Jewish people. 
Cracked window on Jerusalem Lightrail

        It is hard for me to remain neutral in this situation, it brings out the radical in me, the Kahane-loving, orange bracelet- wearing, Temple Mount- reclaiming, Blue and White- bleeding, crazy Right Wing-er in me. Does this mean that I would, G-d forbid, be involved in some counter- extremist measures? Never. Does this mean I will start throwing rocks, or yelling at random Muslim passersby, or comporting myself as anything other than the model Jewish Israeli? Absolutely not. But it has most certainly shown me that the government needs to take stronger and more forceful steps to avoid further aggression. We can't keep putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds and we can't keep putting up barriers to protect ourselves after we've already been attacked. We can't blame this on "the Settlements" because the attacks are in Tel Aviv too, and we can't blame this on the IDF, because they are attacking babies and the elderly. We have to be honest with what we are facing, as uncomfortable as it makes those liberals among us and realize that as much as we want this not to be happening, it is happening, and we need to remain unified if we want to stop the terror now.
           You know I can't leave a blog post without optimism so allow me to tell you a little story. I was having a talk with a fellow recent new immigrant to Israel. Like me, her birth country is friendly to Jews and relatively safe (ie- not France). She said to me "Jords, I'm scared and sometimes I feel like I wanna go home. Do you ever feel that way?" Mind you, this girl is a real- deal Zionist and left a super- easy life to come to Israel and start her family here. And I looked at her and said, "Sometimes I do feel like I want to go back to America, but only really to see family and friends. And go to Target. Because America really isn't my home anymore. This is my home." Am I the best Zionist in the world? (yes) No. I am just someone who moved here, knowing that life would get rough and that we had some very angry neighbors and that life might get kinda scary sometimes. But I also know that this is where I'm meant to be, that the struggles in Israel are my struggles too and that that this is my home, and I'm staying.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jerusalem of Cold

              I've always loved language. As you can probably tell, I love to write, but unless you know me, you might not know that I also adore reading and probably love speaking most of all. (There is no use pretending I don't talk a lot. This is an honest blog.) I've always been infatuated with words. It was this love of language that convinced me that I would be happy as a speech therapist, enabling others to communicate effectively. Of course, I was never truly content as a speech therapist (a blog for another time), but I did always love the magic that came with connecting a child with language (cue after-school special music.) One of the things I love about language is that the same word can have several meanings. In Hebrew, we are told "yesh shtei mashma'uyot"- there are 2 meanings. This can be slightly frustrating for a new language-learner, but also endlessly fascinating to a lover of words. The multi-meaning word I wanted to focus on in this post is "cold."
          Our first translation refers to the current weather pattern here in Jerusalem. While surely not as cold as my hometown of Queens, or other northern areas of the United States and Canada right now, Jerusalem is certainly no longer the balmy, sunny and breezy oasis it had been since I made aliyah. Now, upon waking up, I actually have to check the weather in order to dress for the day. I've had to unpack my sweaters. I've had to buy tights and leggings. While none of these is all that terrible, I do long for the days when I didn't have to bring a jacket and scarf, in anticipation of a chilly Jerusalem evening, or plan ahead by shlepping an umbrella on my errands. And I know in Israel you have to be psyched when it rains, but I'm not there yet, and my rain boots are sitting safe and sound in my bedroom in Queens! It's not my fault though- how was I to fit all my winter stuff into my 4 oversized duffles when I made aliyah? This all makes me sound pretty jappy- moving on!

          The second translation for "cold" refers to the irritating illness that befell me this past week. I'm sure you were wondering where I was and why I wasn't blogging. Well, I'll tell you! I was dealing with a huge, intense, hideous cold. I used to get sick all the time in the States. It's probably my fault- I incubate myself tremendously and am terrified of germs, so at the slightest exposure- boom- bad cold. I've been getting flu shots to lessen the possibility for the past few years (as Chanuka presents- do I have the best parents, or what?) but it totally slipped my mind to get one here. Last week, I felt that foreboding tickle in my throat and I knew it was coming. In the spirit of honestly, I will tell you how I dealt with a cold back in New York. I went to my parents house, and they took care of me for those few days. It was one of the very few perks of still being single, and I took total advantage. My mom would buy me Puffs Plus (ohhhh I miss you, Puffs Plus...) and bring me medicine (I'm a medicine gal- not remedies, not Vitamin C, not saline solutions- medicine. So sue me) and I would ride out the illness on a cloud of Nyquil and Saved By The Bell marathons. This time around it was me, my tiny room, a roll of toilet paper (no Puffs, remember?) and whatever shows I downloaded free on iTunes back in 2010. After 40 hours, I emerged from bed, mostly healed, and praying for continued good health this winter. Amen.
             The third "cold" I will discuss is cold in the emotional sense. Apparently, Jerusalem is going through quite a bit right now. We have what is being referred to as "the Silent Intifada," where Muslims are targeting Jewish people, sites and police in a series of violent activities which individually are troubling and collectively are completely unnerving. In just the last few weeks, we've seen rioting, destruction of municipal property, a murder of a 3 month old baby, an attempted assassination of a Jewish Temple Mount advocate and untold numbers of rock and molotov cocktail- throwing. Last week I attended a rally at police headquarters, showing both our support for the police and our desire for them to actually have freedom to ensure our safety. It appears (although I am not totally privy to all information) that they have the unenviable task of keeping the peace while being unable to use any true measure of force when dealing with the violent element. All this leads to a small but tangible chill of unease walking around Jerusalem, this city that I love with all my heart. Compounded with this is the news out of the US last week where senior members of the administration chose to call out their staunchest ally in the Middle East, if not the world, as a coward. How frosty is that? Considering the source and the target, the assessment is almost laughable, if it wasn't so damaging to our two countries' relationship and the way our detractors view us. One only needed to read the New York Times or Ha'aretz or some other such anti-Zionist publication to see how much enjoyment enemies of our State gleaned from this snub. There is indeed a tinge of cold here in Jerusalem of Gold.

           But I hate to ever leave a post on a sad note so let's spread a little warmth, eh? My close visiting friend visiting from the States brought me my jacket, so already I'm feeling less cold physically. Because of the kindness of friends and family, and untold hours of sleep, my head cold is clearing up. And I have all the faith in the world that whatever hardships this city (and this country) go through, we will always be okay, as long as we Jews who love it continue to defend it with all we have. For now, I will be here in Jerusalem, and I invite you to join me here maybe with a nice, hot cup of caffe hafuch!