Todd Berman

A tale of two daughters: a meditation on life in Israel

From my vantage point, my oldest daughter has two major duties.  For her national service, she works with autistic 4 year olds in a pre-school and is responsible for their welfare during a war. That is her primary task. Her second requirement is to text me that she is fine after every missile strike in her area.   As a neurotic father during wartime, too patched in to social media, I have the app on my phone which alerts me every time a siren sounds. I know as soon as my daughter does, that a Hamas missile is headed her way. Whether at the mall, at school, or in the shower, she has 30 seconds to make it to shelter lest she be in harm’s way.

My daughter volunteers and lives in Ashdod along the Israeli coast about twenty kilometers north of Gaza.  Unlike my town of Efrat, located in the Judean Hills, her city is a prime target.  She and the other staff in her pre-school must usher autistic kids into a safe space. The children don’t always handle the sirens and emergency procedures so well. Sometimes the adults don’t either.

Oddly, she and I have developed a new for of communication through texting. We have formed a new bond in quick but meaningful responses.

I live in Efrat in the Judean hills. From my window, I can see the road Abraham walked from the binding of Isaac to buy a last resting place for his beloved Sarah in Hebron. Around the corner the Maccabees fought for freedom.  Below my house Arabs tend lush grape vineyards and pick olives and almonds.  Here, we have only had a few sirens. Last time Hamas tried to launch in our direction, they landed missiles among the Arab populations of Hebron and Bethlehem.  We had one close call, but, now, they mostly leave us alone.

Among my many children I have a 16 year old daughter.  She is the same age as two of the boys who were kidnapped and murdered at the beginning of this horrible summer of violence. They were stolen around the corner from her high school. Two other girls from that same school buried a brother who was killed in action in Gaza fighting to prevent the rockets launched at Ashdod.

We live in a very small country. I know in this way or that several parents of casualties of the fighting. I have attended too many funerals and cried too many tears.

The other night my wife, daughter, and I had a brief conversation about our lives in Israel and former lives in America. We explained how we feel we deepened ourselves by making Aliyah. How we feel a stronger demand to ask big questions and struggle with real issues. How we are a part of the greatest experiment in Jewish history and how figuring out life here seems, to us, to be more demanding in the most profound and meaningful ways. Here where religion and land and life mix. My 16 year old daughter turned to us and thanked us for raising her here, in our homeland.

Despite the missiles, and safe rooms, and wars, this is our country and we are not leaving.

Sometimes it’s important to say that.


About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.