Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Israel in Atlanta

Yesterday’s Israel@70 celebration at Park Tavern was one of the special kinds of events that has the potential to bring together two related but disconnected groups — Atlanta’s native Jewish population and its Israeli Jewish community.

But just because we all visit the same event at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean that the interaction is there. As Atlanta Jewish Times editorial Dave Schechter wrote last November and I mentioned in an blog shortly after, these fractured communities need to be made whole.

I know, for me, as I walked around overhearing Hebrew and enjoying the exhibits and the foods (made my day to discover The Spicy Peach selling the best chocolate rugalach in the world from Jerusalem’s Marzipan Bakery!), it also struck me how separate we all still were.

How many Americans Jews attending the festival knew what was weighing on the hearts of Israelis this week? How many had heard about the students hiking in the southern Nahal Tzafit, swept away by flash floods? The lives of nine girls and one boy so painfully cut short, the head of the pre-military Bnei Zion academy and an instructor arrested for negligent homicide for ignoring warnings, how close those beautiful children had been to the end of the hike, the vigils throughout the country… the heartache every family is Israel feeling now? How many of those at Park Tavern had a clue? I would venture to guess that every single Israeli and very few non-Israelis knew and had it weighing on their mind.

Warnings had been issued, conditions were dangerous. Students who’d been concerned were told not to worry. But Mother Nature is uncontrollable and warnings need to be heeded. No one is invincible. It must be remembered that the Israeli mantra of “Yeheye b’seder” (It will be all right), is not a guarantee, but a hopeful whisper.

Ever since I left Israel fifteen years ago to move back to America, I’ve made every effort to stay on top of Israeli news. Not only is Israel a category queued up on my Google News page, but I also turn to both the English and Hebrew language press online and via Facebook to find out where people’s concerns lie.

Israel is in my heart.

These days, it is a heavy heart. In addition to the ten teenagers killed during this school trip, two others, a Bedouin teenage boy in the Negev and a Palestinian woman in the  West Bank, died in the days before, also swept away by flash floods in two separate incidents.

This summer, when I go back to Israel for my first visit since I left, I expect it will be emotional. At the same time, I cannot wait to show my fiancé, who has never been, all the beauty and energy and character of the streets, the cities, the landscapes. I especially cannot wait to visit Jerusalem, where two of my sons were born, where I lived for over a decade, where I inhaled the atmosphere that is so unlike any other in the world. It is forever etched on my being.

As the country is for every Israeli Jew who lives in Atlanta.

When tragedy falls in Israel, there is an unmistakable feeling of shared pain. In a country so small, despite their differences, they are family. Israelis know all too well that what could happen to one, could happen to any. Perhaps it its size, perhaps it is the absence of a shared history of  struggle for existence, perhaps it is our independent outlook, but America doesn’t have that. And perhaps that contributes to the disconnect between American and Israeli Jews too.

And though we need more than a festival to bring us together, in the aftermath of Israel’s painful loss this week, it’s difficult to think of doing much more than asking those who’ve read this blog to take a moment, learn more about day-to-day life in Israel, read up on its domestic news, and feel what is in the hearts of the Israeli Jewish Atlantans in our midst.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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