I was speaking with a friend recently, and I told her that I wanted to get together as soon as the war was over.
“Yes,” she said acerbically. “It’s this new ‘after the war’ time everyone has switched to. I’ll tell you what … Let’s meet at 6 after the war…”
Of course, it’s not like I’m completely unused to the crazy ways that Israelis can relate to time. When we moved to Israel in May of 2007, we came on one of the first “group Aliyah flights”, where a block of seats on an El Al commercial plane are reserved for new immigrants. What we didn’t know about coming during May was that we were about to run up against the cyclical nature of Israeli bureaucracy. After taking a couple of weeks to sort out our local situation in Modiin, we began to work on things like ulpan and medical appointments. We started hearing a common theme: It’s summer now; you’ll need to get back to us in the fall.
We mentioned the situation to some of our more veteran olim neighbors, and I saw the first of those enigmatic smiles which I now frequently find plastered on my face when speaking with NBN newbies. It’s a mix of nostalgia, bemusement, and PTSD.
“Didn’t you know?” They asked with pity and not a little disdain.
No. We didn’t know, even if perhaps we should have. And we saw no recourse but to hunker down until September when everything was scheduled to reopen. Even the job opportunities over the summer were slim to none, perhaps due to the fact that anyone looking in those three months was probably desperate or clueless.
We got excited during the first week of September, and began visiting government offices, trying to get everything we needed accomplished. And that’s when we learned that the summer break wasn’t an exception. Every few months, Israel shuts down. And we had barely accomplished anything when we began to hear “after Chag”.
We couldn’t make appointments. We couldn’t order goods. And we still couldn’t find any work. I didn’t understand how the country functioned if at least one quarter of the year was spent shut down for holidays, or slowed down waiting for the holidays to begin.
This cycle continued year after year. But each time, I became more used to it. At first, when my friends shopped for Pesach the day after Purim, I thought it was overkill. But now, I know that if you wait too long, the stores will run out of all the tastiest goodies, and you might be forced to live off of macaroons for five days (I wish I weren’t saying that last part from experience).
But even as difficult as the Chag breaks might make life for someone new to Israel, at least you can learn the rhythm, and eventually become attuned to the seasons. And, you know that no matter how annoying it gets, within a few weeks it will be over.
The scary thing about when someone says “after the war”, is that we don’t have any idea what this means. Netanyahu keeps warning us that the war may take longer than expected. What happens if weeks should stretch into months? Will we continue to delay? Or eventually does the war just become such a part of the background of our lives that we will no longer put things off. And even worse, will the uncertainty become unbearable, leading us to end the mission before reaching our goals?
When I see news clips from countries where conflicts have lasted for years, and in some cases decades, such as Somalia and Afghanistan, I think of the generations of children there who have grown up never experiencing that moment of freedom that comes “after the war”. May our leaders have the clarity to see what needs to be done, and the strength to complete it, so that both our children and the Palestinian children are spared a similar fate.