Irving Safdieh

Hello from the Homeland

For the past three years, we’ve left our home on the Jersey Shore to spend our summers in Netanya. This was never part of our plan but became something we considered following the pandemic. During COVID, our kids were always home from school, and we voluntarily chose to host impromptu backyard summer programs when catching the virus was still a concern. Those years made us realize that time is short, and when you have the opportunity to do something, you do it. Israel’s lockdown during the pandemic left a hole in our lives. After 2000 years, Jews had a homeland, but for some reason beyond our control, we couldn’t return. It felt strange not being able to go. We told ourselves we would as soon as we could.

When Israel finally opened in March, we booked our flights and started a new chapter of our lives. We got to know the country intimately by putting thousands of miles on our Citroen C4, building an unbreakable bond between our kids and their Jewish heritage by having them spend their days with Israeli kids at camp, and going to as many concerts as possible to immerse ourselves in the culture of the land with our brothers and sisters. To say that coming home every August was a major ירידה is an understatement. We’d book the following year’s flights the moment they’d become available.

Last Thursday, we landed in a different country. Gone were the thousands of Israeli flags that lined the highways following the judicial overhaul protests. Angry but proud to be Israeli, the protesters’ banner of arms was the country’s blue and white Star of David. You’d see no flag burnings here. Now, burnt-out cars litter Highway 2 with their disfigured yellow pool noodles resembling the hostage ribbon, as well as the faces of our hostages currently being held in Gaza. After nearly 10 months of war and under the threat of a looming war in the north that has the potential to bring utter destruction to the doorstep of 80% of Israel’s population, there is a cloud hanging over the country. The jubilant camp counselors from previous years carry a heavy weight on their faces. Did they lose friends at Nova? Have they spent most of the past 272 days in reserve duty? There are few tourists in כיכר העצמאות these days.

Before we left for the summer, friends and family asked if we’d reconsider going this year, given the situation. Would we really be willing to put our kids in harm’s way? Was it really necessary THIS YEAR? I’d respond that we are also at risk in the diaspora these days with the reemergence of the antisemitic beast almost everywhere in the world. But I knew and know it’s not the same. It’s one thing to be sitting comfortably from your home in America reading about a college campus encampment in Berkeley. It’s another receiving 200 Red Alert notifications following a Hezbollah barrage of missiles the day you planned to visit the Kinneret but couldn’t now because the area is on fire.

So why did we come back this year? First, ironically enough, because of Israel’s enemies. Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran win if they deter Jews from being a part of Israel’s story. It’s what happened in the 1920s and 1930s when, following years of Jewish immigration to Palestine, Arab revolts encouraged the British to limit how many Jews could actually live in the land. If we choose not to be a part of the story, our enemies don’t need another round of revolts. They will have already achieved their goals through this war of attrition. What type of message would I send to my kids if we didn’t come here to be with our people during the darkest hours? That we are fair-weather friends? What type of message would I send to myself?

Second, because of the Israeli people. In most interactions we have here, people get a kick out of us trying to embed ourselves within Israeli society because we stick out like sore thumbs. The tell is Israelis don’t wear shorts, even in the height of summer, and I don’t pack pants. The conversations here are always lively and very quickly turn into much deeper discussions about the state of the nation and an attempt at Jewish geography. The interactions have taken on a cathartic tone when Israelis can share the burden of their past year in hell, take comfort to know that we are thinking about them all the time in the States, and be a little relieved that even though they are living under a fog of war, they at least don’t have to deal with Ivy League zombies proudly marching in support of Hamas outside of Manhattan’s Nova exhibit or see a Free Palestine emblazoned car in Pier Village.

Last week, we went to an Eden Hasson concert in Be’er Sheva. It was an outdoor event, and before it started, a message went up on the board letting everyone know that in the case of a rocket attack, which had happened just a few weeks before, we were to stay in our seats and cover our heads with our hands. Another reminder that we were only a few kilometers from an active warzone in Gaza. But when the lights went down at 9:30, thousands of Israelis, young and old, lit up the night. A reminder that even in our darkest hours, Jews love life! Eden didn’t go more than a few minutes without talking about our hostages or how our soldiers were protecting our right to freedom and liberty to live as Jews in a tough world. How fitting that this concert took place on the Fourth of July?

About the Author
Irving Safdieh launched The Sabra Report in 2015. The Sabra Report is a newsletter intended to stimulate conversation about Israel by recapping major events from various sources. Our conversation points are meant to encourage discussion amongst friends and family.
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