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How is everybody doing?

Neil Lazarus, an expert in Middle East politics, spoke to Restart Israel, my volunteer/solidarity mission group in January. His wife is a tutor for small children. He relayed the following anecdote: Recently, a few tutees (yes, that’s the correct word), aged five, were sitting at his kitchen table. “Do you have children?” they asked his wife.

            “Yes,” she answered, “but they are not here right now.”

            “Were they murdered?”

            Shaken, she answered, “No, no, they are just not here.”

            “Were they kidnapped?”

            “No, they are fine. They are just not here right now.”

That gives you an idea of how some, if not most, Israeli children feel right now. I spent several hours in Tel Aviv with Brian, a friend of a friend who made Aliyah from the United States many years ago. I asked him what the general mood was in Israel: “Somewhere between depressed and angry,” he answered. And that was almost two months ago. As the war continues, and so many hostages remain in Gaza, and so many people are still displaced from their homes, I can’t imagine that anyone’s mood is improving.

Everyone is waiting. For hostages and soldiers to return home, for the war to end, and possibly for other wars to begin. The soldiers I met have an app on their phone that shows them how many days they have left of their service. But, no one knows how long it will be necessary to keep fighting this war or how long it will be until Israelis feel safe again. And “safe” takes on a different meaning now. While in the past, communities like Sderot may have accepted the need to have “safe” playgrounds where children could hide from the rockets which rained down from Gaza for the last two decades, there is little appetite for living with those risks now. ”Safe” means safe from the constant fear of rockets.         .

I am generally a pretty optimistic person. I do everything I can to lighten the very heavy feeling which has settled upon me since October 7th. To that end, for fiction, I gravitate toward beach reads– anything with the word “summer” in it is acceptable. I watch light television shows; I avoid dark and depressing. I usually love the Academy Awards. I was looking forward to watching this year, and then I saw lapel pins calling for a (unilateral) ceasefire with a bloody hand logo evocative of both the Ramallah killings and the Farhud— massacres of Jews. Then I heard a speech by Jonathan Glazer, a Jewish director who won for a movie about the Holocaust, in which he refuted his Judaism being used to hijack an “occupation.” Sitting at home, I audibly gasped. I felt like I was kicked in the stomach.  In the last couple of days, an open letter of Hollywood figures, already garnering close to 1000 signatures has been published, stating: “We refute our Jewishness being hijacked for the purpose of drawing a moral equivalence between a Nazi regime that sought to exterminate a race of people, and an Israeli nation that seeks to avert its own extermination.” Amen.

The anti-Zionist crowd does not seem to appreciate irony. Joanna Chen, an Israeli writer and translator, wrote an article in the literary online magazine, Guernica, about attempting to seek common ground with Palestinians. After publication, her essay was retracted when half of the staff resigned in protest. One staff member told the New York Times that the essay was an “attempt to soften the violence of colonialism and genocide.” Ms. Chen told the Times: “It is about the willingness to listen and the idea that remaining deaf to voices other than your own won’t bring the solution.”

Diaspora Jews are clearly facing a very different sort of continuous trauma. Read Franklin Foer’s article in the Atlantic entitled, The Golden Age of American Jews is Ending.  It is beautifully written, but shattering. And it is not hyperbole.  The rapidity at which vitriol against Israel and Jews has been normalized and in some circles, extolled, is astonishing and terrifying.

The optimist in me wants to offer up silver linings. But, silver linings are for clouds. And in this metaphor, there are no clouds; there is a tsunami, a hurricane, an earthquake. So, I’m not comfortable opining about silver linings. But, as spring takes over and flowers bloom in Israel and here in the United States, hope glimmers, and we take solace in any and all positive signs. Sales of Magen Davids have soared worldwide. All kinds of clothing items emblazoned with “Am Yisrael Chai” are available for those of us seeking to engage in retail therapy while declaring our love for Israel. Restaurants in Tel Aviv are full. #Make Jewish Babies is a hashtag.

Dizengoff Square is full of memorials, but on the grass surrounding the fountain, groups of friends and family gather with coffee and food to relax and enjoy their time together. And I guess that scene in Dizengoff Square epitomizes how Israelis are dealing with their grief and their trauma. While standing in front of the fountain, Guiliana, who organized my volunteer mission to Israel, told us to ask ourselves, “What you are doing for this war?”

This week, Giuliana, who has pivoted from her pre-war job to coordinating missions for Israel to the World, posted the following on Linkedin: “If one day my children ask me what I did during the war in Israel, I can proudly share that… Over the past four months, we’ve been bringing volunteers from around the world, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to support the people of Israel. To bring hugs, love, and unwavering support…. Participating in this endeavor, known as a Mitzva in Israel, has been deeply fulfilling. It’s a testament to the power of global solidarity and compassion, and it reaffirms our belief that together, we can pave the way towards peace and unity.”

We are approaching Purim and Passover, both of which are holidays of the “They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat” variety. It is hard to celebrate when we are still fighting for survival, but we will do our best, because we want to honor those we have lost by continuing to choose a meaningful and full life.

About the Author
Leslie Perlmutter resides in New Jersey with her husband, her dog, Hank, and occasionally her three almost-grown children. A former attorney, she is a freelance writer covering a wide range of topics.