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Aliza Zeff
Director, Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim

I Live

I live in a country that is struggling to balance the emotion of intense relief and joy with fear and distress for those still held captive.

I live in a country where each soldier is connected to us. He is our nephew, the son of our neighbors, a colleague, she is the wife of an old friend. I hold my breath when lists of fallen are published because I am afraid to see the name or determine by how many degrees we are separated. I feel guilty when I am relieved that there is no known connection. Because in fact, we are all connected.
I live in a country whose borders are so condensed, our land is so small, that each loss is existential and the tears of each mother are my tears as well. Each soldier is fighting for each one of us. For our right to live as Jews, enjoy Shabbat, vote, travel, love, exercise. All the things I expect of a “normal” life in a Western country.
Only I live in a country that is not located in the West.
I live in a country where the amount of help, support and volunteer work is exponential. I picked lemons, baked Challot for soldiers, and hosted evacuees in my home. I buy produce from farms near Gaza, not knowing what will be in the box, and not even necessarily needing it, but just out of desperation to help. And then I feel pride when the box arrives laden with gorgeous tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. And I feel proud not only to help a local business, but to know that we are still sowing the seeds that built this beautiful country 75 years ago.
I live in a country where moms (mostly) have been holding down their homes alone for 51 days while their husbands are in Miluim/reserves. They work, carpool, cook, worry, do not sleep, answer the impossible questions their children ask while trying to keep it together and find clean laundry amidst the chaos.
I live in a country where we go back to our jobs, compare stories with one another, cry together, and then laugh at things that are so dark and macabre because we have no other choice. And we wonder how we can switch so immediately between our joy and our pain. And then we remember that this is what it is to be human, to show our emotions, to share them with others, to hug, yell, meditate, stress-clean your sticky stovetop. Anything to avoid watching the news.
I live in a country where our young children understand the word “Hatufim,” (hostages) because they hear us talking about them all the time. And they see their photos plastered onto every tree, bus stop, fence and building.
I live in a country where our teenagers have no teachers because they have all gone to war. Where they come home sadly stating that their high school has lost more soldiers than any other in the country. Where our teens begin considering the incredible responsibility that will fall upon their shoulders in a short amount of time. And we hope we’ve raised them to uphold the morals and values it will take to lead this country to a better time. And though these 17 year olds feel a sense of pride and honor to be a part of this, their parents, and parents in every past generation pray for a time when we won’t need an army to send our children off to…
I live in the only country in the world where more people came into it than left it in our time of war. People living overseas rushed to get here to do their part. I live in a country where my daughter tried to enlist early out of a desperate need to help, to be active, to feel that something, even if trivial, has been accomplished.
I live in a country where our friends’ son is captive and injured and they are desperate for him to return home, an innocent victim just trying to enjoy music at a party. And yet. They rejoice for every single family whose loved one has returned. We know that it could have just as easily been us whose child is in hell. Us who are mourning our child murdered at an army base or in their bed. Us whose precious child is fighting for our survival amidst the worst conditions and lack of respect for human life and dignity.
I live in a country that was built up from nothing. Our stones and our Torah remain deeply embedded in the very ground we walk upon, and deeply embedded in our hearts in too many varieties to count. We pray, or we don’t. We eat kugel or we eat sfinge. We lay the Torah on a table or read it upright. We come from pretty much everywhere and we were kicked out of most of those places. We are white, black and so many other beautiful colors.
I live in a country where we are all in some form of trauma. We tend to trivialize our pain because we know there is someone hurting, suffering, giving, grieving, praying so much harder than we are. But ultimately we are all living in this country. My pain is yours. My grief is yours. My joy is yours and so is my hope.
About the Author
Aliza is an educator and serves as the Director of Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim, a high school study abroad program in Jerusalem. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, she made Aliyah in 2012 and lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four children.