The days since Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire would seem like a perfect time to book a trip to Israel. Things have quieted down in the Mideast, it’s getting frosty here, and to top it off, El Al is offering a $949 fare round trip from New York!
But anecdotally at least, I am not finding that to be the case. We have been planning our son’s bar mitzva in Jerusalem for some time now, and while aware that most of our family and friends cannot travel there for the simcha, we were flattered that any of them would consider it — including the best friends of my parents.
But that may have changed. “So-and-so is getting cold feet,” my mother told me the other day. Over what? I asked. “You know, the situation over there.” This, mind you, was close to two weeks since the cease-fire. “Their kids are pressuring them not to go,” she added. I noted that the rockets have stopped falling in Israel, and even had they not, the Iron Dome defense system more than proved its capability to protect Israeli citizens from missile attack.
“But people died over in Tel Aviv,” she said. Whaat? According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, six Israelis died in total, two of them soldiers — and none of them in or near Tel Aviv. And at least two of the civilians reportedly disobeyed orders to evacuate their apartment. This does not in any way minimize the tragedy — or the trauma residents of the South have gone through — but statistically, the odds were very much in Israel’s favor, especially considering that over 1,400 rockets were launched from Gaza.
I started asking around, and found that this distorted view of Israel is more common than I realized. A friend from the Midwest told me a classmate in his ulpan (yes, ulpan, where the whole point is to learn Hebrew!) had cancelled a trip to see family in Israel during the 2006 war with Lebanon, a Jewish musician who had dated an Israeli and “should have known better,” he said. My boss told me he has relatives who think Israel is about as safe as Syria, and I recall other friends of my parents — one with an Israeli brother-in-law — who refuse to visit the country whatsoever for security reasons.
I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised that the average American Jew is so ready to jump ship when things flare up in the Middle East. Except for the small segment of Orthodox-affiliated Jews and those that send their kids to day schools — where a love of Israel is essentially indoctrinated into them from early childhood — Israel is not often even on their radar. I notice every year when my kids march in the Celebrate Israel parade in Manhattan that the crowds and marchers are largely kipa-wearing Jews and day school students.
I need to emphasize that this is not an attack on non-Orthodox or secular Jews, many of whom are also Zionist, but just an observation.
Perhaps my parents’ friends — and others with cold feet when it comes to visiting Israel — should take a cue from another friend of mine who is hoping to make aliya within a year or two. She left for Israel on a “pilot” aliya planning trip the day the cease-fire with Hamas was announced.
“It looks completely – and I mean completely – different there than it does on the news media here,” she said. “I’m so glad we went. Even if the cease fire didn’t happen, we would have gone.”
“People there go on with life,” she pointed out. “That is how they deal with the ‘matzav’ (situation). They live their lives, the routine every day.”
Indeed. If ordinary Israelis can persevere through enormous stress, the very least we can do is not back away from Israel when times get tough. Is that too much to ask?