“Dana, you know it is always worse to be outside of Israel when things are happening.”
This is what a good friend who lives in Ramat Aviv told me yesterday via Facebook after she relayed how she, her husband and her two young children had to leave their car yesterday, as sirens wailed, and try and take cover behind a wall.
Her words stayed with me for the rest of the day. While I tried to work, as I was sitting in a restaurant last night with one of my closest friends in the world, those words kept appearing in my mind, like a karaoke subtitle across the screen, the words replaying like a song, with each word being colored with the blue of the Israeli flag in my mind’s eye.
Certainly during my 5+ years of living in Israel I never heard the sirens, never had to run for cover, but I did live there during 56 suicide bombings. After every horrible one, like clockwork, my email inbox was filled with messages from friends and family in the US, asking me to report in that I was okay. In every single one of those messages, my nearest and dearest asked me again how I could continue to live in a place that was so dangerous, where random attacks happened with increasing frequency, in a place where the simple act of stepping on a bus, meeting a friend at an outdoor cafe or going to the mall could have the possibility of ending in utter tragedy and despair? I did a lot of copying and pasting in those responses and my responses were not unlike how my friend answered my message yesterday. “It’s fine, I am fine, it’s worse if you are outside of Israel.”
Quite a few of my friends and family accused me of being crazy to stay in such a dangerous place or told me that I had a death wish or a weird attraction for danger. I didn’t begrudge them their feelings because I know they came out of fear and concern for my safety and well being.
And of course, after each senseless bombing, particularly those that were closer to home, I also went through a momentary panic, wondering how it was possible to live in a place where the violence was at once so random and so horrific?
Then I would leave my apartment and leave the constant analysis of Arutz 2 or CNN and I would go outside, call a friend and go have coffee at a cafe or go shopping and be among Israelis. And just like how afternoon always follows morning, I was always okay again. I was calm and I was centered.
Therein is what is so wonderful and special about Israel and Israelis. Their resolve, their determination, their ability to pick up the pieces and truly bond together in times of danger, tragedy and crisis. Their unique way of being able to truly enjoy life and focus on what is really important in the face of a life of unbelievable risk.
Six-plus decades of war have shaped their views. They don’t plan that much for the future, they opt for enjoying now, rather than enjoying later because they know only too well that later is an iffy proposition. Many complain that Israeli children are wild and undisciplined but every single parent in Israel knows that at the age of 17, their toddler-tyrant is going to grow up in a nanosecond, because in the army they are faced with the reality of living in Israel, of being completely surrounded by enemies who call for their destruction, that they are going to have to protect and that protection sometimes mean bearing witness to terrible realities.
Israelis know first hand the very fragile nature of life, therefore they don’t waste time worrying over small things. When those tragedies do happen, they don’t shrink away in fear. They band together. They take in strangers who are in harm’s way for Shabbat. They bring children to safer zones so that they can go to a park or a beach and play and bask in the sunshine and spend an afternoon away from their bomb shelters. They don’t shy away from the cafes and malls, they flood them, refusing steadfastly to give into fear, to what Israel’s enemies are trying to destroy. They cling fiercely to life.
Bearing witness to that was exactly why the fear didn’t overtake me, why I didn’t run away and why my friend’s words were of immediate comfort and how she and the rest of the people I love in care for in Israel and the millions of others that I don’t know are surviving what are truly unimaginable circumstances.