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Lonye Debra Rasch
Hadassah Editor, Writer and Member, Hadassah's National Assembly

Bearing Witness to Joy in Israel and Savoring It

The author with her husband Stephen with cousin Doron and his wife Ronit.  Photo courtesy of the author.
The author with her husband Stephen with cousin Doron and his wife Ronit. Photo courtesy of the author.

Many people—you may be one of them– have traveled to Israel to bear witness to the atrocities of October 7th and its aftermath. I admire the courage it took to bear witness to this continuing nightmare and I very much appreciate knowing the truth– gruesome, devastating and heartbreaking as it is.

I, however, have been just too forlorn to embark on that sort of journey to our Jewish homeland. Instead, this past month, my husband, Stephen, and I traveled to Israel simply to be with our Israeli cousins, the Gertners—a relationship that spans four generations.

We came to deliver our love in person and to bear witness to the fact that not only life, but also joy, goes on.

Photo courtesy of the author.

I walked on Tel Aviv’s boardwalk (known as the tayelet) in the bright sunshine and watched little children laugh with exuberance as they slid down the slide in the tayelet’s playground. I took off my sandals and walked along the water’s edge, dodging the volleyballs as highschoolers kicked them into the air and over the net. Because they had just taken matriculation exams that morning, they had the afternoon free and were decompressing at the beach.

At one point I came across a section of beach reserved for pets. Men and women of all ages were tossing a ball to their dogs. I watched as these canines of all sizes and colors jumped into the water to retrieve the shiny objects and frolicked in the sand in groups of two or three.

Our first Shabbat in Israel, all the family gathered for lunch at my cousin Yael’s apartment. We were 16 in all, ranging in age from six and a half to 75—with also one baby on the way. The food was delicious and there was lots of catching up and laughter. Of course, the conversation inevitably turned periodically to an upcoming memorial service for a young soldier who died in Gaza or to how hard it was for the people displaced from their homes in the north to try to live some semblance of a normal life. But we knew that we needed to emerge from that heartbreak and experience the joy of being together. And we did.

Beach reserved for digs. Photo courtesy of the author.

The next Shabbat, we gathered again—this time at the Carlton Hotel on the Tel Aviv beach, where Stephen and I like to stay when we come to Israel. I still have a strong image in my mind of my youngest cousin appearing in her flowing white apparel. “Is that a new dress?” I asked her enthusiastically. “Yes,” she answered (in Hebrew), with great excitement. I then requested that she please twirl around so I could see the whole thing. She was happy to oblige—an angelic ballerina—a simple moment, but one of joy—for both of us.

Speaking of simple joys, I took a yoga class at a studio on the boardwalk. As so many times before, I was thankful that I could speak and understand Hebrew and enjoy Israel all the more. Yoga is yoga in any language, but it was a kick to hear the instructions and the names of the poses in Hebrew.

It was also joyful to watch a group of people dancing energetically on the boardwalk to the beat of very upbeat music. Apparently, it’s an opportunity provided on a regular basis—replete with someone leading the dancing.

One Tel Aviv suburb I never visited before was Ramat Aviv. This time, cousin Doron and his wife, Ronit, took us out to dinner there at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean. Such a nice evening!

The author with the ring she brought in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the author.

We always visit Jerusalem on our trips to Israel and this time was no exception. We had dinner at the Inbal hotel with long-time friends Barbara Sofer and Barbara “BG” Goldstein, Americans I met after they each had made aliyah many years ago. I continue to be in awe of their zest for life, their stamina and their ability to be joyful despite the heartbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

Our dinner the next evening was also special as we sat in a serene garden restaurant in the famous Gan Sacher (Sacher Park), catching up on the lives of our nephew, Josh, and his wife, Michal. They are young Americans who made aliyah a number of years ago. Josh, who served in the Israeli army, is now pursuing a university degree, and Michal, through her job as a social worker with the Jerusalem Municipality, is easing the way for new immigrants.

While in Jerusalem, Stephen and I returned to Hutzot Hayotzer, the Artists’ Colony we fell in love with so many years before. We had bought me a blue sapphire necklace there and ordered a pair of earrings to match. When we hadn’t received them after what seemed a very long while, we contacted the jeweler and found out that he had had a heart attack. Fortunately, he recovered and today is well.

As we walked along the lane visiting the various artists’ studios and shops, we came across “our” jeweler’s name on the Jerusalem stone wall. Miraculously, he was still there. We reminded him who we were, what we had bought and how, shortly after, he suffered a heart attack. As one might expect, he did not remember us, but he certainly remembered his heart attack! He shocked us by telling us it had been 20 years ago! I would have guessed no more than 10. I still enjoy wearing that necklace.

Coincidentally, I had recently chipped the diamond in my engagement ring. The tip of the pear-shaped stone had somehow broken off and I was in the market for a new ring. Instantly, I realized how wonderfully significant it would be to buy a new ring from this jeweler. Here I was, back in Jerusalem with my husband of over 50 years, at the studio of an artist we knew, providing him with an unexpected sale when there were hardly any tourists around.

I chose an artistic gold band with a lively pink tourmaline stone. It would perfectly compliment the pink sapphire necklace I had received for my 50th wedding anniversary. It seemed bashert (fated).

There’s something so very special about relationships that retain their depth despite long stints of absence. Like the one with our Israeli family. We first met the oldest members of this family—Yosef and Fania—their son, Dani, and his girlfriend, Chana (now wife of many decades), during our junior year abroad at the Hebrew University. It’s also when Stephen and I met and became a couple. Technically, these relatives are on his side, since the familial connection is his father’s cousin. But we both met them for the first time together, so I consider the Gertners just as much my family as his.

Looking back on my trip, I know I did not bear witness in the way that others have. But I visited my family and friends and reminded them that I love and support them, that I share their pain at the world’s distortion of the reality of their lives and that we in America are speaking out and countering the lies that flood our cities and college campuses.

On our last day in Israel, as we were walking on the Tel Aviv boardwalk toward Jaffa, we heard a boom. And then another. We were close to Jaffa at that point and, since we didn’t hear any sirens alerting us to find shelter, we continued to walk on.

When we arrived at a café, we approached a few people checking their phones and learned that missiles had rained down on parts of Tel Aviv. Hamas was claiming responsibility, boasting that their fighters were still able to fire missiles from the Gazan city of Rafah.

We continued onto the Jaffa promenade and went into one of the restaurants to have something to eat. Though well known as a popular tourist hangout, the Jaffa promenade was quite empty. There was one group of Arab men and women posing for photos. There was also an older man walking with a baby carriage and a few off-duty Israeli soldiers. But, other than that, it was quite quiet.

Eerily, I remembered that on my last day in Israel for the 2001 Hadassah National Convention there was also a bombing. It was the day that Sbarro’s pizza place had been the target. Our Hadassah group was given the afternoon to shop since this was the first real opportunity in a packed schedule that we had to buy gifts to bring home. There were about 500 of us, spread out around the city. Miraculously, none of us was hurt. Some of the women had eaten lunch at Sbarro’s, but they had already left when the bomb exploded.

What message was I to take from the fact that twice on my trips to Israel there was a bombing on my last day? Perhaps it was to impress upon my psyche how fragile life is and how often Israelis are reminded of that fact—but also how life must go on.

Proof of this came as Stephen and I were walking over to a bench to await the Gett taxi that would take us back to our hotel. We passed a bridal shop, where, through the window, we could see a young woman in a wedding gown, observing herself in a mirror. Was she trying to decide whether she wanted that particular gown or was it already hers and she was having it fitted? Of course, I didn’t know. But what I did know is that I had just bore witness to how life goes on—from the boom of a missile to the joy of life’s highlights.

About the Author
Lonye Debra Rasch is a special projects writer and editor for Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America and Hadassah International, HWZOA’s global fundraising arm. She is also a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. Having spent her professional writing and editing career specializing in health care and psychology, she now is a volunteer full time and a member of HWZOA’s National Assembly, its governing body. Married to an international attorney, she is the mother of two daughters and the grandmother of three small children. She is a big advocate of practicing yoga, being a member of a book club group with smart, kind women, and spending time laughing and sharing life’s little sagas with family and friends. She lives Short Hills, NJ, and New York City and is the past president of Hadassah Northern New Jersey.
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