Holding Our Breath

Next week, in preparation for the upcoming holy day of Rosh Hashanah, many Jews will go immerse in a mikvah, a special body of water. At that time, they will need to close their eyes and mouths lightly, and of course, hold their breath.

Ever since my family came back to Israel on August 26th, coincidentally the beginning of the latest ceasefire, I feel as if I have been holding my breath. As we stood in line at passport control, having passed numerous signs directing us to the “mirchav mugan”-safe area-, there was a siren. Since I was on vacation in America for most of the summer, I didn’t know what to do, despite being in other wars. So I did what everyone else did—stood around in confusion, waiting to be told if we should go to the safe areas or not. We all looked around at each other, but no one left. Was this dumb, or did it not matter, since passport control is deep inside and protected enough in its own right? I still don’t know. However, after a few minutes the lines continued moving, and everyone went on as if nothing had happened. Barring a few conversations I had over the week before school started, that’s how it feels here; as if nothing happened. I was fortunate to have been away and miss the entire war, start to finish—I hope. However, part of me knows better. I just read warnings to Jews going to…well, the list went on so long, I want to say anywhere that isn’t America is possibly dangerous to us. But life goes on here. I spent the first week back extremely jet-lagged, shlepping to stores to get ready for the new school year. But if the war itself felt like a bad dream, especially to those of us who were not here, I must say that the shadow of the latest war was, and is, felt by all.

The first conversation I had was with our taxi driver, discussing whether schools should open at all. As a mother and a teacher, I had strong concerns about safety, if schools should open on time and the cease-fire turn out to be more of a “reload” period. As a stiff-necked, stubborn Jew, who doesn’t want to let the terrorists know they’ve won, I was more inclined to say that we should absolutely start school on time, no question. But it *was* a concern. Happily, school has been in session and everything feels normal, mostly. Only the voice at the back of my mind strains to be heard, reminding me that world opinion this summer, as per articles that I found time to read, was so strongly against us that it hurt. Even in the comments section, the invective spewed by ignorant people was almost enough to make me scream and cry. So few wrote back in our defense that I felt like we were alone. We had the Iron Dome, we had our own most amazing and indefatigable IDF soldiers, but for the majority of the summer, it was almost as if the debate was “Do Jews have the right to defend themselves?” Still wanting to scream, I know the answer is that we do, and what would ANY country do if their neighbors, state/country or whatever, were throwing rockets on a constant basis? Would they stand for it for one minute, much less the years we let it continue? That is not rhetorical; for we know the answer is absolutely NOT. My point is, the war happened, and seems to be over—again. I say again because this has all happened before, and seems likely to happen yet another time. We pulled out of Gaza years ago—that’s not enough. We continuously try to “make peace”, but it seems that all they want is pieces—of us, our blood, our bodies, our land.

Another awful conversation I had was with a reservist who spent his time this summer picking up the pieces—of our soldiers, to identify them and hopefully send them back to their families. what do you say to “How was your summer?” when that’s the answer? Also, quite a few people told me how they didn’t go anywhere during the summer, for fear of not being able to get to a shelter in time. And then there is the lasting impact on the children, who still jump and cling to their parents when there is a loud noise.

One other conversation I had that impacted me deeply: my husband mentioned that during the war, the security guards at the hospitals were posted on the inside of the doors. Why? To stop the injured soldiers from going back to their posts in Gaza. Who does that? If you want an answer, read my fellow blogger on Times of Israel, Izzy Ezagui: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/today-reflections-of-a-one-armed-warrior/

I know there are some Arabs who just want peace too. They want to be able to work and live, and not worry that their houses will be destroyed because they’re being used to launch rockets, or their children used as human shields. I don’t want to compare us to the ultra-horror that is going on in the world right now, ISIS. I don’t want to say “But we are better than them.” I don’t think we *should* even be compared to those horrific agents of terror. As I see it, we did our best, during war-time and at cost to ourselves, to both defend ourselves and minimize damage. I tried to read all sides, and I still think we did what we could and more. Therefore, I am beyond frustrated at being painted as the “evildoers” for trying to protect ourselves, although I do hurt for their actual victims as well. I think that if the world would take a minute to stop blaming us for everything, and go in there to get the real evildoers out of power, we could all stop waiting for it to start again, and stop holding our breath.

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a TWELVE year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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