Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem

Israel is not a normal country

Tel Aviv's City Hall will be lit up for this year's Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration on April 28, 2020, which will eschew fireworks and parades for a more modest festivities in honor of Israel's 72nd year of independence. (courtesy, City of Tel Aviv-Jaffa)

Let’s face it. Israel is not a normal country.

We cut each other off on the highway, but will help a total stranger carry her baby carriage onto the bus.

We will steal your parking space at Azrieli, but will pay for your coffee when you’re five shekels short.

We scream at our neighbor because her dog peed in our garden, but we will be the first over with a basket of food when her mother dies.

We cheat on our taxes, but give to charity.

We litter in the park, but plant trees.

We draw lines. But reach across them.

We are cynical. We are optimists.

We don’t agree on ANYTHING, and yet we will stand on our balconies by the tens of thousands and applaud our healthcare workers for their bravery in the face of COVID19.

We can be jerks. We can be brash. We can be rude but we will bring down joy with tambourines and timbrels, and we will join hands and dance the Hora with total strangers.

And remember this — today and all days: We have all grieved over someone killed horrifically and violently – a parent, or a lover, or a friend, or neighbour, or God forbid, a child. And this place is so small, so close, so FRAUGHT that even if we haven’t felt it touch our flesh, we feel it, and you can see it in our eyes when the news broadcaster announces “a bus has blown up in Talpiot.” “There has been a car ramming at Pisgat Ze’ev.” There has been a shooting in Tel Aviv.” “A young girl was stabbed to death in her bedroom in Kiryat Arba.”

And we take it very personally.

This isn’t a headline or a sound bite for us.

These are the people we sat next to on the train this morning, or jostled in line at Aroma, they sat shiva with us at our uncle’s funeral three months ago, they danced with us at our cousin’s wedding last May.

And we keep our phones on all the time just in case, and as soon as the news hits that something terrible has happened, we calling, we are texting, and we hold our breath and our heart stalls in our chest waiting for a response.

And everytime we relax just enough to breathe a little, it happens and it hurts so hard in that space beneath the ribs until we are afraid to breathe again too deeply.

And it’s like this every single time.

And it’s true, we are a strong and mighty nation, but we have never known a day of peace since we came into being – and that fear does something to us and you can see it on the roads and in our lines and in our homes and when we vote.

We are messed up and PTSD-riddled, angsty, angry, handwringing, nail biting people.

But still, we stay out all night and swim in warm sea water, or argue with our friends on crowded corners, or drink whiskey until sunrise or dance until our feet hurt and then stop for a minute and keep on dancing… we chose life with our arms and eyes wide open.

We are full to brimming.

We are not a normal country.

We are in pain at times, but joyful still. We make mistakes, and struggle, and defend. But we keep on moving on that spiral through history — a beautiful and messy work in progress — and we are a miracle.

(UPDATED POST COVID-19 – Yom Hazikaron 5780)

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel. She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems, and she now lives in Jerusalem with her 3 kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors, talks to strangers, and writes stories about people — especially taxi drivers. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.
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