I sit here, two days after having celebrated my third month as an Israeli citizen, and the scene feels perfect. A calm breeze is blowing through my hair, my witty barista has just drawn a smiley face in my warm café hafuch, and Yuval Dayan’s heart-warming voice plays in the background as I overlook the Hula Valley. What could be better as I prepare for Shabbat?
As I reflect back on these past three formative months, I am overwhelmed by the changes I have undergone. The exciting and expected parts of living independently for the first time in any foreign country have been crossed off my checklist: I have successfully opened my own bank account, am the brand new owner of a health insurance policy, am awaiting my turn for a driver’s license transfer, and have arranged and rearranged my room with every donation of a second-hand couch, pillow, and blanket that I have been fortunate enough to receive. I am an adult, I am independent, I have embarked on a new path.
And yet, in this twisted world that seems to be on the brink of destruction, all of these changes seem minimal. Israel isn’t any foreign country, and as I consider the beginning of my journey here, my mind turns to the less usual, less “normal” changes that have molded my life here thus far.
“Lehishaer bashigra” — to remain in routine — is an expression that appears often in our newspapers, and one that I’ve challenged myself to abide by time and time again. With the tragedies that have plagued this miraculous country in the past few months, I’ve been vigilant in my belief that we mustn’t change our daily lives in obedience to terror and fear, for that would be enabling evil to prevail. I am firm in my stance that we must — as much as possible and with adherence to caution — live our daily lives as we would if the catastrophes that occupy our media sources and our minds weren’t happening.
In this country, ceasing to live is ceasing to exist.
Still, even with this stubbornness of opinion, I am forced to question what “routine” really means. Life has changed — changed drastically — these past three months. My morning run has transformed from calm, neighborhood roads winding through cookie-cutter homes and groomed gardens to jagged mountains lined by steel fences that read “Caution! Tank Crossing!” and “Stop! Border Ahead!” From my apartment window, I have a better view of a Hezbollah outpost than I do of my own dining hall. I have no cell service in my clubhouse because it is a bomb shelter, and the bus stops sprinkled along the road heading to my cousins’ have been painted to unsuccessfully disguise the stark reality that they are, too.
I have had my most interesting conversations with the kind strangers who have picked me up off the side of the road — many of whom reminisce on their car-less teenage years during which they, too, would wait long hours for hitchhikes — and I’ve also learned to politely deny the men who seem just a bit too eager to have a young girl in their car. I’ve been required to leave my belongings at supermarket entrances because – unlike in the U.S. – I’m at a greater risk of a weapon stealing my life than my valuables. I’ve had my bus stalled because the elderly man getting off is a good friend of the driver, and wants to show him the new technique he’s developed for getting up and down the steps with an injured hip — a brotherliness shared between distant acquaintances that only exists in a country whose citizens all ultimately share the same blood.
I’ve developed a keen eye for the simple trail markings that guide me home after a long, exhilarating hike through majestic woods, and I’ve found myself squeegeeing my bathroom, still dripping wet, wondering how the country who’s brilliant enough to engineer the Iron Dome can’t seem to build showers that don’t flood an entire apartment. I’ve had my Ulpan classes cut short because the incessant stream of horrific news has made focusing on anything else too overwhelming, and I’ve placed dozens of phone calls to friends and family who reside more centrally to make sure that they didn’t happen to be shopping, driving, riding, or praying in the store, road, bus, or synagogue where the latest catastrophe has taken place. Life has changed.
How do you define routine when the Paris tragedy is shocking because of its location rather than its nature?
How do you define routine when you change your weekend plans last-minute because it’s Friday and you still haven’t been able to get a hold of the pepper spray you ordered from overseas?
How do you define routine when you wake up every morning thankful that it is Hezbollah looking into your window rather than an educated girl your same age, concealing a knife in her handbag?
How do you define routine when an 18-year-old boy has been murdered while donating food to soldiers serving in the same area where you spent last Shabbat?
Three months in, I don’t have the answers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next three, six, or nine months don’t expose a hint of truth, either.
What I do know, however, is that we must remain.
We must wake up each day, no matter how fearful, and live as though the pain we feel from yesterday’s attacks has passed. We must draw smiley faces in our coffees. We must stop to feel the breeze that refills our heavy lungs with new air. We must make music. We must hike. We must wrap ourselves in blankets and sit by a bonfire on a chilly night, talking to friends about things other than how deep-down nervous we are for the day where we look in the mirror and see a soldier in uniform staring back. We must plan for the future. We must laugh. We must share in dialogue. We must wander, and we must grow. We must believe that understanding, or at the very least, tolerance, await. We must live our lives as if each day is a miracle, because in this defiant country that perseveres against all imaginable odds, it is.
We must remain.