Nancy Cahners

A Letter to my American Family and Friends

(Ra’anana, May 13, 2021) Last night’s siren seemed almost routine.  We knew it was coming and we knew what to do. No one spoke much. The night before —the first night of sirens– everyone was very chatty; meeting people from our building we didn’t know and seeing people we did know in their jammies. A new level of intimacy.

I had packed up my computer in preparation for the rush to shelter. It reminded me of the Passover Seder question: If you had to leave in a rush, what would you bring with you? Now I know.

I figured that if a missile hit Sarah’s apartment and destroyed my computer, I’m lost. (When was the last time you thought that your house might get blown up?) My sense of personal safety (even if a bomb hit) amazes me and feels a little whacky given the circumstances.  Iron Dome in action looks like a video game. It feels unreal. Let’s hope it stay that way.

I need to contact each of you who has written to me to check in. It’s deeply moving.  Even the shortest text brings a wave of warm feeling.  I thank you with all my heart.

But if you’re calling or writing to persuade me to leave Israel–don’t bother.

I can try to explain why I’m staying, but I bet I’ll sound to you like I’m a frothing-at-the-mouth Zionist, or a fervent religionist, or high on some adolescent sense of invincibility.   And frankly, I’m worried that, in some ways, you might be right.

The truth is, you don’t come to live in Israel without realizing that you are joining the front lines of The Jewish Story. Even if you’ve only read a single page of Israel’s history, the streets, highways and fields of Israel throb with miracles.  And then there are the creature comforts of life here: the food, the weather, the flowers, the ocean, the hiking, the surfing, the styles, the culture, the people—especially the people.  Most days, Israel is a wonderful place to be.

Maybe it’s even more wonderful because of the tensions. (Oh no.  I sound like an adrenaline junkie.)  What I mean is the blessing is felt more acutely in light of the possibility of its loss.

How to explain how just staying put, holding fast to the ideals that brought me here, feels like a meaningful thing to do with my time—and my life?

How to explain the way leaving this cluster of friends would be a grave personal loss and even worse, feel like a betrayal to people I care about and who care about me?

And do I dare admit to you my hope that by holding onto the dream of a mutually-respectful country committed to fairness, and living according to the values of that dream, my presence might actually make a difference?

So here’s what I have to say to my American friends and family: I know the news is brutal, and the images terrifying.  I know the Whys of the conflict sound byzantine and intractable and that there are plenty of bad guys on both sides.  I know that some of you think I ought to pack up my clan and get out of here. But quick (as Grandma Esther used to say for emphasis)!

But we’re staying.  At least for now.  This might be crazy and/or it might be the most important thing we can do.  We’ll check back in as time goes on and let you know. Meanwhile, we’ll treasure your warm wishes.

About the Author
Nancy Cahners was the Design Director of MIT Technology Review, until one day, the entire staff was fired. Poof! Gone. After a stint at Harvard Divinity School and Medical School, she became a Healthcare Chaplain and Medical Ethicist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, The Jewish Advocate and has been broadcast on NPR’s Morning Stories and Morning Edition and TLV1’s WhyWhyWhy. She lives in Neve Tzedek where she takes the same Ulpan course over and over again, and steals posters. She also helps her daughter’s family keep up with their laundry.
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