On Friday morning, my husband and I drove up north to visit our son in camp. As I was choosing what I was going to wear, my primary concern was not fashion or comfort. I thought to myself as I was getting dressed, “If there is a siren while we are driving and we have to crouch on the side of the highway or lie flat in an open area, what clothes will show the least amount of dirt?” The entire time that we were on the road, the digital signs on the various highways which are supposed to indicate whether there is construction or traffic ahead instead read “If there is a siren, safely pull over to the side of the road.” As we listened to the radio throughout the drive, there were constant voiceovers telling listeners where there were sirens sounding.
When we got to camp, we were greeted by something even more amazing than our son, who we were so happy to see and to hug. We were greeted by absolute normalcy; upbeat music blaring from the speakers, hundreds of smiling kids with tanned faces, families sitting in shaded areas under tree branches eating together from coolers filled with sandwiches, cold drinks, cut fruit, and other picnic items. There was the requisite bad food in the dining room including bug juice in pitchers on the tables. It was just a normal camp visiting day during an extremely abnormal time. Only in Israel.
So if everything seems normal, are we just fine? No, of course we’re not. In Beit Shemesh, where I live, we are able to lead our day to day lives for the most part. I think that this speaks volumes to the resilience, strength, character, fortitude, and determination of the Israeli nation. However, there is a lot of anxiety lurking under the surface of “normal”. Last week, as I was driving to the local bagel store, I spent the entire eight minute drive there and back surveying the area around me and thinking “if a siren went off right now, where is the safest place to seek cover?” One night when I was making pasta for dinner, I started thinking that if a siren went off before the pasta was ready, would I be more likely to ruin dinner by letting the pasta overcook or would I just stay in the kitchen and take my chances? As I was packing to spend Shabbat away at our friends’ home in Raanana, I packed “sleeping clothes” instead of pajamas since you need to be decent these days at 2 a.m. when you are a guest in someone’s home or when others are guests in your home. On Friday night, I was sitting in shul thinking to myself that I was in a dangerous spot since I was right next to an outer wall with a window over it. Instead of fully focusing on the prayers, I was wondering whether I was on the safer side of the building which faces away from Gaza or whether I was on the more dangerous side which faces Gaza. It was not lost on me that I was praying in a shul named after a soldier who fell in battle against Hamas terrorists.
Of course this leads me to my next thought. How can I be fine when so many of our soldiers are in battle? Their bravery makes my blood run cold and my heart swell all at the same time. I think that at this juncture, pride and fear go hand in hand. Prayer, even for a person like me who has lived a religious life, has taken on a new dimension. I pray to G-d every time I hear a fighter jet above my head, every time I am about to refresh my news feed for the millionth time, every time I blink it seems. One of the most incredible things about Israeli society is that we pray for others with the same fervency that we pray for our own families, because there is no concept of “them”. The families in the areas that are bombarded by non-stop rockets, they are “us”. The places that are in danger of enemy infiltration, they are “us”. The soldiers who are out there keeping Israel alive and well, they are “ours”. And so, while we can honestly be just fine and go about our daily lives, we cannot possibly be just fine.
While I have never been naïve about worldwide anti-Israel sentiments, the ferocity and popularity of what I have seen over the past two weeks strikes a chord of fear in my heart. It is painful to be the hated one, the isolated one, the despised one, especially when you have gone out of your way to respect and preserve the lives of people who want to kill you. This just adds one more dimension to our collective anxiety.
As Israelis, our drug of choice for anxiety is normalcy. When we are not “feeling the normal”, we just fake it till we make it; and most of all, we try to help whoever we can however we can.
So if you ask me how I am doing, I will tell you that things are just fine, and it will not be a total lie. Of course it won’t be the total truth either….