So, this is what it’s like to be on “the other side”.
In St. Petersburg and Orlando, FL, where a strawberry-killing frost is seen as a major tragedy, my 91 year-old father, my daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, and sister-in-law were under siege. The skies were black; the lights, extinguished. The unending news cycle blared warning after warning, death and destruction were on the horizon.
And I was… here in quiet, peaceful little Israel going about my day-to-day.
Their night was one long torrent of rain, of roaring winds and of straining for any hint of an oncoming tornado. Here, there were no winds, no sirens to keep me awake, just my smartphone on my pillow receiving WhatsApps from family, dire headlines, and update after update. I could not help but check every buzz and ding; I feared that, at any moment, my inflow of information might suddenly cease, leaving me with silence and not knowing.
What a strange turn of the tables. This time it wasn’t us. It was Boca, not Beersheva, Tampa, not Tekoa. Orlando, not Otniel.
For once, our geography placed us far from the path of disaster.
I wish my strongest emotion would have been gratitude, but it wasn’t. For me, the hardest seats are the “cheap seats”. Far from the action, my mind fills with scenes of destruction while my body feels chained. There is nothing to get up and do: no blood drives, no food collection, no running to the Mamad or out to buy pizza to deliver to our troops. There is no way to engage the self, to push back against the sense of helplessness, not when the enemy is wind and rain and rising tides hundreds of miles wide and thousands of miles away.
This kind of slow torture is what I expect it is like for our loved ones, so far away, when, in our little corner of the world, the sabers are rattling, the missiles flying or the knives flashing, and they are the ones “in the cheap seats”, far away and desperate to know that we are alright.
When we made aliyah, buses were still exploding in the streets of Jerusalem. Many people asked me how I could even consider putting myself and my family in that kind of danger. I could not explain that, for me, to be right here in the middle of it all is easier than to live with (to paraphrase Yehuda HaLevi) my heart in the East and my body in the uttermost West. Here, I can rise up. Here I can spread my wings and refuse to yield to anxiety, anger and fear. Here, I choose life.
This was so much more difficult, doing nothing, nothing but praying, following the news and trying to believe that somehow: “They also serve who only stand and wait.*”
*John Milton “When I Consider How My Light is Spent”