This is not the article originally intended. It was to be a reflection on an uplifting, almost idyllic week in Israel. One that combined meaningful work and time with family and friends.
The itinerary included my community’s (Chicago) Partnership Together Region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir, a microcosm of Israel-Diaspora relations at their best. The personal bonds between Chicagoans and Israelis, and the impactful grant making we do together, set a high bar.
Take, for example, a major new regional educational project, the Israel Children’s Zone, which the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is adopting as part of their own emerging signature initiative. Then, while touring Hewlett Packard’s amazing plant in Kiryat Gat, we heard the news that neighboring Intel decided to invest an additional $6 billion in its local facility.
I intended to write about all of that until Sunday night, June 1. Just before midnight. 11:45 PM. Exactly.
After a late dinner, we walked past the familiar memorial to 21 young Israelis murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber at Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium disco.
Pausing at the memorial festooned with an unfamiliar amount of lowers and memorial candles, suddenly 21 balloons were released and dozens of car horns honked for a full minute. It was, we realized, the 13th anniversary of the carnage. We stayed and listened to a bereaved brother, himself a young man, anxious to tell the story to anyone passing by.
We had stumbled into a poignant moment, a sobering if brief interruption to a leisurely stroll along the city’s promenade.
Suddenly, without warning, our uplifting week tumbled into a somber, teary closing. Without the tumult of the memorial anniversary, we would have barely broken our stride in front of the Dolphinarium. The jarring reminder of what happened there, and of our utter ignorance of the anniversary, prompted a twinge of guilt.
How, why could we have forgotten?
Yes, a week in Israel can and should be almost idyllic. But it can’t and shouldn’t be only that. The country, and our Jewish people, have too many anniversaries, too many memorials to innocent victims to focus solely on the mundane and the pleasant.
“Keep on dancing,” Israel’s youth pledged in the aftermath of the attack on the Dolphinarium. They, and the country, have largely kept that promise. Amidst tragedy, that is the story they intended to write.