Many friends ask me, “How are you, how does it feel there now?” It seems an impossible questions to answer because the air here holds such intensity and so many feelings.
I don’t want to discount the tragedy, the bombings, the sirens, the trauma, the fear, the displacement that are happening on our side of the border, let alone on the Gazan side. But as though in the equal and opposite reaction of physics, the evil that Hamas unleashed on the world brought out a violent love — an open, visible, proactive goodness that had laid latent in us all. I want to share the beauty of this experience if I can capture it. How do I feel here now?
I feel protected.
The beginnings of the conflict were filled with the deepest violations — of physical boundaries and moral ones; of personal safety and indeed our existence as a nation. But what I witnessed was transformative. People we know well — the softest and most mild-mannered people — kindergarten teachers, silly dads who throw their kids in the air, scientists, farmers, therapists, nurses suddenly appeared in the streets in uniform. These are not warriors, but regular people, gentle people, who would turn me down for camping because they need a good night’s sleep in a bed or who would catch and release a spider in a cup rather than squash it. They were ready at a moment’s notice to lay down their lives for us, for me, for my children. I know on TV they look tough in their khaki gear, but would believe me that underneath that shell, they are soft-bodied and big-hearted people who tutor my special-needs kids with quiet patience and love?
I feel hopeful.
In our shared Arab-Jewish town, hand-written billboards in Arabic and Hebrew read “Good Neighbors Even in Hard Times.” Arab restaurants donated meals, mothers in that community cooked for soldiers. Many of our Arab neighbors have sons in uniform as well. They stand shoulder to shoulder with their Jewish friends to fight for a country that has given them freedom, education, and opportunity, to protect their homeland from the ravages of a radical terrorist ideology that destroys Arabs and Jews alike.
While past conflicts often served as wedges between these communities that deepened suspicion and divide, this time, it has done the unthinkable and brought us closer. I remember, at the beginning of the war, an Arab owner of a bicycle shop donated hundreds of bikes to those Jewish refugees from communities around Gaza who were now without home, work, and transportation. It was a brave and powerful stance, and for it, his store was torched to the ground by radical Islamists in his community. A crowdfunding campaign was started and within 24 hours and increments of 10 shekels ($2.50), the store owner received repayment for the bikes and the building — 800,000 NIS (some $212,000) collected from everyday Israelis grateful for the solidarity.
I feel connected.
The invisible bonds that tie us to each other are alive. We cook for each other, watch each other’s children, text each other “You OK?” and “Want to talk?” and “I’m dropping diapers.” We organize therapies, donate any money or knowledge or skills that we have that can be useful. We ask for help. We fall into the arms of strangers without doubting that they will catch us. We are the village that it takes to keep going. We also hold the pain of everyone, the worry for our loved ones on the front lines, and the darkest most unspeakable fears for the hostages. We drop work to attend funerals of those we have never met. We attend their parents’ shivas (mourning) and ask with tears in our eyes, “What were they like as babies?” To their fiancés, “When were you planning to get married?” We want to know every person who gave their lives so that all of us can tuck our children in safely at night. We never let our family and friends held hostage underground in the tunnels of Gaza escape our thoughts. They are not just with us, they ARE us. In this vibrant, pulsing nation, we momentarily feel our oneness, all parts of a living organism.
I feel strong.
One life coach writing about the epiphany we all must have as individuals said: “No one is coming to save you, to give you permission, to choose you, or validate you. This has always been your job. You must love yourself so fiercely and fully that you have no choice but to be strong for yourself, to fight for yourself, to be yourself, and to build yourself.” It seems that we have had that epiphany as a nation. We are good people, ethical people, compassionate people, who do not harbor hate. We are doing the best we can to protect ourselves in a way that minimizes harm to others. We are fighting a war we never wanted and doing so committed to being able to look ourselves in the mirror after it. We are shutting out the endless cacophonous stream of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda aimed at harming us, and, instead, choosing ourselves. Choosing to love, to connect with those who came before us in this very land, to instruct our children in the ways of peace and hope. And, despite the billions who would see us die, to live. Living as a Jew is an act of defiance.
I feel proud.
I am proud of the community around me — of the gentle, authentic, creative, self-reflective, resourceful, resilient, brave people that we are. A people that I witness daily to be steadfast in our care for each other and for the world.
I am proud that we stand up for ourselves, and that we do so in life-affirming ways: with cheers and smiles and hugs and song on the mall in Washington, DC, with music and joyous dancing in the airport terminals of Paris, and with faith and devotion to our nation and to each other on the battlefield.
I am proud to see that we that carefully instruct our children that our fight is not against any people, but against the common enemy: evil, oppression, and hate. It is a fight for our right to live peacefully as Jews in the home of our ancestors.
I feel that I have caught a glimpse of the unbreakable fabric that has kept my tiny people and its traditions alive against all odds — a fabric of many colors, textures, patterns, but unified into something beautiful. For the first time, I understand what it means to be part of a larger story that stretches over continents and millennia, what it means to be a Jew. And I am startled by how beautiful it is.