Ariela Davis

Finding A Sense of Belonging from Afar

Israel is being attacked and everyone has been blogging. About Ezra Schwartz, about the State Department, about fear in Israel, about the Syrian refugees. I have read them voraciously, liked and shared some and felt frustration with others. But I have not felt a desire to write one myself. Why bother? What possible help could my writing be? I have nothing to contribute; more than enough is being said by others who are being affected far more than I am.

And yet, here I am, doing what I said I would not do, what I had no desire to do over the past few weeks. For me, everything changed yesterday and I cannot help but share.

I do not live in Israel and cannot relate personally to the feelings of fear, terror and resilience that my family and friends are experiencing. But being far away from the place where your heart and mind are occupied comes with its own challenges. I am not surrounded by a like-minded community where everyone is thinking about Israel. I live in a small Jewish community in America, surrounded by wonderful people, but where many Jews do not wear their Judaism/Israel pride on their sleeves. In some cases, I feel incredibly saddened by Jews who loudly share their liberal views at the expense of the fraternity of their birth.

I’ve always felt that the line Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi wrote of, “My heart is in the east, and I am in the west”, a tad overquoted. And yet, I find that line is the perfect description of what my life feels like right now. I fold laundry, I teach, I cook dinner, I speak to friends. Life goes on here. But my mind is always there. Is it a productive use of my time to be constantly following the news? Certainly not. Is it verging on unhealthy obsession? Probably. I can’t help it.

And so I take my feelings of isolation to the internet, sharing my friends’ statuses in Israel, connecting with others who are always thinking about Israel. I read article after article. I am up to date on latest attacks, the responses (or lack thereof) from the State Department, and the United Nations (actually not, their constant condemnations and ridiculous focus on Israel are not worth anyone’s attention). I oscillate between emotions. Sadness from reading about wounded and lost lives in places that I have walked with total abandon of fear. Constant nerves for my family and friends who live in Israel. Anger at the media and the powers of the world for offering rationale for acts of terror, at the New York Times and MSNBC and CNN for attempting to write “balanced” articles and justify acts of evil and attempt to compare those who who want to kill innocent people with those who are merely trying to live their lives. Frustration at those who cannot see that terror is terror- be it flying a plane into the world trade centers, attacking innocent spectators at a game in France, or ramming a car into innocent people waiting by a bus stop in Israel. West Bank or otherwise. I can’t fight against the world anymore and make them see the truth but I wish I could.

I wonder why I care so much. Do I really care if President Obama mentions a Jewish life lost since he mentioned an American killed in Mali and France? Does it really matter if the New York Times ignores a story about lives lost in a terrorist attack or if they write another skewed headline or end off yet another article that an Israeli father died because of the conflict over rumors restricting access to Moslem holy places? I wish I did not care. It is emotionally exhausting to care. I have things to do in my life and this sense of anger and frustration is a waste of precious energy. But I care because it is a natural human desire to matter to someone. As a Jew, I don’t want to feel like the blood of my brethren is not important. Like my sister in law and best friend who both live in “settlements” are not worth much to my government because of where their houses are. It is infuriating to feel like you don’t matter. It is so frustrating to feel like there needs to be a movement called Jewish Lives Matter but it would hardly get a platform because no one cares.

But over the past few days, and specifically on Thursday, there has been a different emotion, an overwhelming emotion that overpowers all else.

I no longer feel alone. I have been reminded, as we saw two summers ago when the three boys were kidnapped and during the rocket attacks, that to be a Jew means to matter so much to so many people. I feel so proud to belong to something unique, so special.

I have watched (addictively), video after video of Israelis dancing in the squares, carrying Israeli flags and singing songs of faith with incredible enthusiasm in places where friends were so recently murdered. Of the friends of Ezra Schwartz singing HaTikvah- the song of our nation’s enduring hope, as they bid their final goodbye to an 18 year old who had so much promise. I read about the 1,000 people who attended Ezra’s funeral- many standing in the rain- and some who traveled from afar to show caring and support for a family they did not know. I think of many more who traveled to the Schwartz home to pay a condolence call to his parents- to strangers!, taking on the most difficult task to offer words of comfort, when truly, there are few to be offered. I think of Robert Kraft who dedicated a moment of very public silence to a fellow Jew who had died in his homeland.

On a day when I could have been doing many pressings errands, I spent much of my day glued to the computer, watching the livestream of the wedding of Sara Techiya Litman to Ariel Beigel. Two people I don’t know, whom I will probably never know and if her father and brother had not been killed two weeks ago, I never would have heard their names. I wish I didn’t know their names.

An estimate of twenty thousand people accepted the open-invitation for all of Klal Yisrael to attend the wedding of Ariel Beigel and Sara Techiya Littman, including twelve people who flew last minute from Montreal to attend the wedding. I shudder to even think about the cost of a last minute flight to Israel when a ticket that was planned far in advance is already so expensive. But for some people, that was not a deterrent. They got on a plane- one family putting off the refurbishment of their basement to spend thousands of dollars to dance at a wedding of someone they did not know, and who if they spent five minutes with them at this wedding, it would be a lot. I think about so many who donated money to the Litman family and who bought gifts for the young couple on their bridal registry to show they cared. I think about the community of Atlanta that broadcast the livestream of the wedding to the whole world so those of us who could not make the wedding could share this meaningful experience which strengthened anyone who watched it.

I think of this young couple that has every reason to be bitter and angry. I think of what Ariel’s Shabbat Chattan must have been like- the Shabbat that was supposed to be filled with joy, gone, and instead, spent accepting the unthinkable.I think of Sara Techiya- a woman who envisioned her father blessing her at her bedeken, walking her down her aisle, rejoicing with him and her brother on her wedding day. That was stolen from her. But not only did she not let the enemies steal her joy, she chose to share this joy with all of Am Yisrael. Not only did they invite the entire Jewish nation to rejoice with them and increase their joy, they allowed their wedding to be broadcast to the entire Jewish nation so we could rejoice with them.

This young couple could never imagine how far the waves of their kindness and inclusion reverberated. What strength they imbued the entire nation with. Both inside of Israel, and for those of us watching, outside of Israel.

We are Am Echad. One nation. Be it, in Israel, in South Africa, in Australia, in Charleston, South Carolina. We feel each other’s pain, we rejoice in each other’s smachot, as if they are our own. To be a Jew means to belong to something unique and special. At times, it can feel incredibly painful and isolating. At other times, it is belonging to the largest, most diverse, most special club in the world.

And so at least for today, the bitterness is gone. The isolation is gone. Just a simple burning pride in being part of Am Yisrael.

Mi K’Amcha Yisrael?

Who is like you the people of Israel?

Feeling so lucky to be a part of it.

About the Author
Ariela Davis is an Israel/Jewish educator. Before making aliyah with her family in 2020, she served as a Judaic director and communal Jewish leader in the U.S. and currently serves as the Menahelet of Ulpanat Orly in Bet Shemesh. She is a freelance writer, editor and speaker about Israel and Jewish topic.