November 29, 2002-
So, what’s a normal 7-day period like here?
This past Shabbat, Avishai wasn’t with us…he had gone with his school for a “Shabbat Yeshiva” to the Golan. These Shabbats with the school are a regular part of the curriculum of religious high schools, and the kids have several during the year. They generally go to a youth hostel or a boarding school whose students have gone home for Shabbat, and “do” Shabbat together. The teachers come with their families, and the kids enjoy the atmosphere of singing and comraderie in surroundings outside of the school building. (It doesn’t seem that they go for the food, which, I am told, is rarely that good…at least not like their mother’s!). The day preceeding the Shabbat, Thursday, I had taken Avishai to the hospital to have the rods in his arm removed…when he had his arm set, they had inserted the rods to help strengthen the bones during the setting process, but when his cast was removed, the area surrounding the rods became infected, and he had to have them taken out. The procedure involved making a small cut in his wrists, where the ends of the rods were, and having them pulled out, and the doctors preferred to do the procedure under general anesthesia, but Avishai was so worried that he’d have to stay in the hospital overnight, and miss his Shabbat Yeshiva, that he begged them to do it under local anesthesia, and he bore the discomfort so that he would be with his friends.
Saturday, Yoni woke up with a nagging pain in his lower back. Neighbors suggested that I confer with a neighbor’s “gentleman friend” – it turns out that he’s a recognized expert among the Russian immigrant community in Chinese medicine, but because of the language difficulty, no one outside of the Russians know about him. In extremely broken Hebrew, he described the Chinese practice of plastering seeds from red peppers, both on the affected area, as well as on the area of one’s hand which corresponds to the area on the body which is in pain. Some other neighbors who have tried the procedure swear by it, but by the time we tried the seeds, Yoni’s back pain had dissipated, so we didn’t get a chance to see it work. I’m not going to forget it, though.
Sunday night was Margalit’s gan (kindergarden) Chanukah party. There is probably no other Israeli custom which is as widely observed, by such a diverse population, as the annual Chanukah parties in the gans. From the ultra-Orthodox gans to the ultra-secular ones, they all have an evening party, where parents are invited to sing Chanukah songs with the kids, watch the children perform a bit, and eat jelly donuts together (Jelly donuts ARE the Chanukah food in Israel – Sepharadim, Ashkanazim, Yeminites…whoever…Chanukah and jelly donuts go side-by-side for all). Of course, in each of these gans, Chanukah is celebrated a bit differently. In the secular gans, the historical message of the small group of Jewish soldiers overpowering the larger group of Hellenistic soldiers is stressed. In the religious gans, the miracle of the Chanukah menorah, and the success of the Jews in preventing the Hellenists from overpowering the Jewish religion and culture, are emphasized. And, of course, in the Chabad gans, (where Margalit goes now), the Rebbe plays a prominent role. But one way or another, Chanukah succeeds in bringing a measure of unity to the various groups of Jews who, otherwise, have little to say to one another.
At the week’s end, we were once again riveted to the news, as descriptions of the attacks in Kenya and Beit Shean dominated our thoughts. I think that, if I had to point to one Israeli characteristic which stands out, it would have to be the Israeli obsession with the news. Every hour on the hour, people slow down to catch the headlines on the radio news…standing next to shop doors, listening to the bus radio, or raising the volume at work for a few minutes. As the years have gone by, I have become no less obsessed by these broadcasts than my native-born neighbors, and even during work hours, I frequently “check in” to the Jerusalem Post website, to see what’s happened. And just as the news begins, one can feel the listeners holding their breaths for a few moments, letting them out in a sigh, a gasp, or a silent breath of thanks a moment later, depending on what they hear. More than others, I think, Israelis also worry about how to take the news. Do we leave the news on for hours when an attack has taken place, listening to all the details, the discussions, the commentators? Is it unhealthy to have the news on right before bedtime? (In our house, we’ve agreed not to listen to the evening news past 6:00p.m., as I began to believe that it was affecting my sleep, as well as that of our children). Is it better to listen to news of attacks on the radio, and allow our imaginations to stray, or to see the pictures on TV, so that there’s a visual connection, and we can rely less on imagination (the TV pictures tend to show the least injured…not the most horrific scenes). And, of course, how do we relay this information to our children, who, at their various developmental stages, know that there’s been a “piguah”, but understand it differently. (My 6-year-old, margalit, asked me last week if there are attacks in America).
We also worry about how we are internalizing the information. How can we begin to give the proper respect and sympathy to the families, even in our thoughts? For each person killed, and for each person wounded, a world is turned upside down for dozens, if not hundreds, of family, friends, and acquaintances. How can we begin to grieve, even a bit, for these victims, yet how do we prevent our own selves from being swallowed up in this grief? How much can one cry when one hears story after story…the attack that took place while a mother was reading a bedtime book to her children, the attack that took place while a grandmother was pushing her grandchild in a stroller, the attack that took place at a Bat Mitzva, leaving the Bat Mitzva girl to forever feel guilty because of the relatives who were murdered at her simcha? Each time that we read, or hear, one of these personal stories, our eyes well up with tears, but how much can we do that?
Describing our life in Israel involves the Jewish celebration of holidays, the interactions between Jews of various native nationalities, the description of rites and customs unique to this country. And it also involves the search for the answers to these, and many more difficult, questions. Yet in the 2 years of this present situation, I haven’t heard a single person of American extraction talk about “going back”. To the contrary, I personally have met more than a twenty people, just this year, who are planning aliyah, or who have made aliyah. I am also in contact with others who are planning aliyah, and who have asked for help in finding housing, schools for their children, jobs, etc. There are also hundreds more, whom I see daily in my job at the local Tourist Information Center, who make a tremendous effort to come and visit Israel, and show their connection to the country. So while we may grieve for our dead and wounded, while we may show our anger in various ways at those who perpetuate and support the attacks, and while we may struggle to come to terms with the “whys” and “hows” of this situation…ultimately, we are strengthened.