I awaken early to catch a beautiful sunrise coming over the hills of Shomron, but my spirits are low. The devastating news of the death of three hostages has made it hard to move quickly. I drag my feet. Suddenly I spot three beautiful and amazing hoopoes who land on a hilltop that hosts a memorial to a fallen officer from in the First Lebanon War. As I climb the hill, the hoopoes land in front of me, and, suddenly, glorious crowns emerge from their tiny heads, their majestic beauty on display, just for me. I hope to watch them for a few minutes, and let my dampened spirit be lifted, when, as quickly as they landed, the three of them fly off together. Are they, like our beautiful three hostages, momentarily free, only to be gone again?
We receive a text about a funeral march for a soldier who was killed on Friday. A procession will head down a nearby street in Netanya, where his parents live, en route to the military cemetery. We quickly rush to our car to give this soldier the honor and respect he deserves. His name? Don’t know. His age? Don’t know. The circumstances of his death? Unknown. When we arrive at the street, we see crowds standing along the sidewalk, waving large Israeli flags, as the procession of police cars, a large van, and then a number of cars with bright lights on, flags flying from the side of their cars, pass us by. I ask one of the flag holders, a slim young woman in a long beige dress and matching beret “Do you know anything?” “No,” she answers in her French-accented voice, as she walks away at the conclusion of the procession, flag in hand, returning to her apartment. The crowd disperses, and people, including me, return to their “routine.”
I visit my doctor’s office to renew my prescriptions. He is still not there. My beloved young handsome doctor, married with children has been absent since day one of the war. A substitute physician is maintaining me and his other patients in a holding pattern.
Now I am off to Bnei Brak to purchase clothing for an upcoming wedding. Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox suburb, is well known in Israel for its selection of white shirts and men’s suits. Getting there this time is a new experience. The “light rail” called “DanKal” is not what I had imagined. It is an underground railway. The entrance at Savidor (Tel Aviv’s main – overground – railroad station) is an elegant tent-like structure. Descending the escalator, I marvel at its beauty, far below ground.
Is this how far down the Hamas tunnels are built? I am thinking, or, Are the subways this deep underground as a safety measure and to serve as a massive bomb shelter?
The paneling of the station is clear gray column-like alabaster. The only words to describe this new subway are ‘sophisticated,’ ‘tasteful,’ ‘dignified.’ Yes, that is what was dreamt of for Tel Aviv, a world-famous skyscraper-filled city. Not a city that would have to endure barrages of rockets and alerts for 72 days now and counting.
Emerging from the subway, I am back in the hustle and bustle of the “Alte Neu” land – Bnei Brak. The streets are jam packed. Men in black hats, men in kapotes, men in black fedoras, black suits and white shirts, long beards, short beards, books in hand, or carrying the typical Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) “briefcase,” a plastic bag from some business establishment, walking briskly up and down the crowded streets on their way wherever. Young women, their hair concealed in elegant and expensive wigs, or wigs topped by a hat or wrapped in fancy scarves, or berets, lead caravans of children, one in the carriage, or maybe two in a side by side stroller, and flanked by little girls in pink oxford shirts, navy blue pleated skirts, their hair held back in neat ponytails, oxfords on their delicate feet, and lugging heavy backpacks. They follow as ducklings follow a mother duck. Young single women, probably high school age, immaculately dressed in modest sweater sets, walk together in groups of two or three, perhaps on babysitting duty, browsing through the myriad of tiny stores that line Rabbi Akiva Street. Everyone is rushing somewhere – home or shopping or perhaps to a wedding; the energy is electric. From time to time a soldier in uniform is seen, carrying a gun, a kippah on his head, but it is a rare sighting. No posters line the street with pictures of hostages, in contrast to Tel Aviv where all streets display such posters or signs demanding the release of all hostages. Life goes on as if nothing has changed whatsoever.
Mission accomplished, I am on the bus back to Netanya. I have a bitter message from a dear friend who relates that a friend’s son was killed in an ambush as he was evacuating injured soldiers in Gaza. He leaves behind a wife and six children. Our friend has just returned from the shiva where the family and all the community have come to pay their respects. The family is well known. Our friend is heartbroken, as am I. Yet another soldier to add to the list along with another father of six who was killed in heavy fighting, the nephew of our former rabbi, a brilliant officer, medical student, and father of six. No one in Israel is untouched.
I receive pictures of the orchard where our friend is now picking passion fruit, helping farmers cope with the scarcity of farm laborers. He has come from Skokie Illinois to be a volunteer “farm hand.”
Finally, I make it home. There is a call to volunteer in a school in Netanya. This one has a large contingent of students displaced – not sure from where, it could be from Sderot in the south or possibly from a northern community. I will find out soon enough.
The end of an “ordinary” day in Israel…at war.