Sometimes, to defend Israel you must absorb shrapnel with your body. Sometimes, your chest and shoulders intercept molten fragments on the battlefield so that now, when you enter an airport, full body scanners often light up like a battalion of fireflies.
Sometimes, to defend Israel you must absorb slings and arrows, stinging condemnation hurled your way from crowds on campuses where you speak. Sometimes, your ears intercept cutting insults from those who consider themselves your enemies: They fire “Terrorist!” at you. They snipe, “Apartheid enforcer!” Sometimes, they assemble into formations the better to bombard you with “Baby-killer! Baby-killer!” so that when you head home, you need days to recover.
Welcome to my life.
Over the last half decade, I’ve had cause to recoil from both scalding metal and noxious words. Attacks, detonations, the firing line—these are the hazards that a defender of Israel faces. But it’s only recently become clear to me which weapons are better at cutting to the quick. Sometimes I require reflection, meditation, and sometimes that backfires.
Sometimes I need to write, to strike my keyboard roughly so that I might learn my own thoughts, how I feel about certain conundrums. Sometimes, when I search for answers, I find them waiting nervously at my fingertips, like a line of warhorses chomping at the bit. Today, my fingers tell me that defending Israel from behind a lectern is more frightening than crouching beneath a night sky full of glaring suns and bursting stars, that being on stage is a greater hazard to my health than another barrage of fire from above.
On the one hand, my skin has grown thick. I have learned, with great training and greater effort, to overcome the repercussions of catching lead during a firefight. I have learned to recover from awful afflictions of the flesh. On the other hand, I find the mental membrane, the psychic wall meant to shield me from criticisms, true or false, has not evolved much since my childhood. There are chinks in this sensitive armor that a tank can drive through. Is this as dangerous as standing up in a foxhole without a helmet? Or is this hyperbole?
Sometimes, I feel as if our universities are lost, as if I have no reason to push myself when the hate runs so deep. And sometimes, I need to consider that I’m not really trying to reach those who’ve already decided how they feel; I’m talking to the students that aren’t sure where they stand on Israel, the young adults who I have the potential to sway toward the truth.
Sometimes I need to remind myself that, like recovering from a physical injury, I can overcome words laced with lead – that approaching the stage is always worthwhile, despite what might sometimes follow.