My Judaism is the caressing desert breeze. It emanates from having been sent to a Zionist Youth Movement in NYC – so I could learn about the nation of my people, apart from the religious, traditional side, learned in the Mosholu Pkwy. synagogue, in a language I did not understand and with which I could not easily identify.
My Judaism urged me to take a different path from those of my childhood friends. It introduced me to a land where I would not be the outsider, the minority. The land where my forefathers roamed, where with every step, I trod in the sands of the ancient history of MY people.
When war broke out, not long after returning home to parents who had allowed their 17-year-old only child to travel to a foreign land for an entire year, my Judaism was the little voice inside me that chastised me: “What are you doing in America, when they need you in Israel?”
My Judaism is that which has molded me into who I am today: a woman who has raised a family in the desert, in a kibbutz on the border, where I know and care for every person I pass. A region which was peaceful when I arrived but has evolved into one of occasional sporadic violence and terror. My Judaism is what triggers me run for cover when the Red Alert rocket warning blares, giving me 10 seconds or less to get myself safe. It is what emboldens me to leave the saferoom when the danger has passed. It is what rallies me stay even when many have left temporarily for safer places, so I can bear witness.
My Judaism has taught me to care about the people on the other side of the border, innocents held hostage by leaders who, rather than protecting them, use them as human shields. Despite that, my Judaism provides the capacity to believe that someday I will return to the souk in Gaza to barter with the vendors, and my Gazan colleagues will visit us, as they did in the past, to collaborate in educating our children on both sides of the border to be good neighbors.
Until that happens, my Judaism is what provides the impetus to devote chunks of my life to hosting caring strangers from other lands, without even knowing – or giving a damn about – their political views. It inspires me to show them my home, describe my hopes, fears and dreams for this most-times-paradise, sometimes-hellish-home. It drives me to expose my life as a microcosm of the people who live here, in an attempt to make our lives more tangible to those who cannot understand how anyone could live this way. So that those who envision the people here as Rambo-like warriors running around with flack-jackets and Uzis, can see that we are just farmers, trying to grow organic sweet-potatoes, and children shouting with glee, riding our bikes in convoys to the mud-holes which appear in this desert after a rainstorm.
My Judaism wants the world to understand that we are young mothers who go off to work, concerned if our babies will be the fortunate ones the caretaker runs with first if there are three other babies, and she with only two arms, and a rocket is whistling over their heads.
We are 60 year-old grandmothers trying to walk our dogs, and octogenarians with walkers and wheelchair-bound teens who don’t even bother trying to make it to the saferoom in time, because we know it’s impossible to get there before the explosion detonates.
But mostly, my Judaism helps me understand that I am here to stay, in this beautiful desert land, and so are my neighbors. Here, where the desert breeze caresses us all regardless of which side of the border we’re on, things can be different. Things WILL be different. My Judaism is keeping me here: to live the change.