With all of the unrest and tragedy that has occurred over the past several weeks, it is always a privilege to hear positive stories related to Israel. Last night, during one of our online classes, a 12th grade student stood up in the middle of class and proudly proclaimed that she was still coming to Israel during the upcoming winter break.
As a teacher, I generally frown upon students interrupting class and blurting out personal statements about how they are planning to spend their vacation days. In this case however, I realized instantly the power of this student’s words. During “normal” times, a student coming to Israel during winter vacation would not be considered unique. In any other year, Israel would be the obvious destination for thousands of families from the US. This however is not a typical year. For every day, we read about the terror and devastation that is taking place in our own back yards. So, this student proclaiming in the middle of history class that she is coming to Israel during winter break is in fact a big deal.
As a US-born Israeli, the fact that coming to Israel during these times is such a big deal saddens me for a number of reasons. Growing up in the US, coming to Israel, either on vacation, or even to move here, was a given. Of course people came whenever they could. Now, this is sadly not the case. After the murder of Ezra Schwartz z’l, a parent emailed me and told me that she was thinking about bringing her older son home from his yeshiva in Israel. She wrote that she was unable to sleep at night knowing that the same thing that happened to Ezra could happen to her son. I was not sure at first how to respond to this email. As a Jewish educator, I try to instill my students with the values of “Ahavat Yisroel/Love of Israel” and “Am Yisroel Chai/Nation of Israel Lives.” I would be a hypocrite to tell this mother to bring her child home. After all, if she caved into her fears, it would mean that the terrorists would get what they want. But then I started to think about this mother as a fellow parent. I tried to put myself in her shoes and think about what I would want to do if it were my son learning in yeshiva. There is no easy or correct answer here.
Eventually, after much thought and deliberation, I answered by telling this mother that I could not imagine what she must be going through, but that she had to think about what was best for her son. Her son did not want to return to the US. I asked her if bringing her son home would have any lasting consequences. The mother was not able to answer this question. At her son’s request, no airline tickets have been purchased yet, but the fact that this scenario even needs to take place is a sad sign of the current times. What is even sadder, is that this is not a unique question. Every parent with children in Israel is facing the same dilemma. And there is no easy answer.
We all hope that the current state of affairs ends quickly and peacefully, but most of us would agree that this in itself is a tall order. This past week, my son’s school, here in Modi’in, made a difficult decision to cancel a planned school trip to Jerusalem. In wake of recent events, the principal did not feel comfortable bringing the students. While I understood and even respected this difficult decision, it saddened me to realize that once again, Jews were being prevented from visiting Jerusalem. This is itself, a major step backwards for our people, and we must not let it continue.
Israel is still and always will be the home for all Jews. So yes, the fact that my student was proudly able to announce that she is still coming is newsworthy information, even important enough to interrupt class. While we understand that not every family can make the same choice, those of us living in Israel are proud of those that are coming to support Israel. These people serve as an example, ensuring that “Ahavat Yisroel” will not end, despite these difficult times.