Leaving on a jet plane
At long last. In two days I’m off to Israel for a long overdue one week trip. I think I’m ready. I’ve left instructions at my office on how staff can reach me, if necessary, and I’ve put the mail on hold and suspended newspaper delivery.
I wrote about my planned January trip that was abruptly canceled by El Al because of a labor issue, and I have been looking forward to this trip for three months.
As excited as I am, people have been reading the news coming out of Israel and aren’t so excited. And so I received a text from a friend: “I’m a little concerned about your safety. Just saying those crazies are going after civilians.” I responded by saying “I’m not trying to think about it too much.” I realize now that my answer was a little flippant because, as I look back over the past 20 years, I realize this trip won’t be the first time that I’ve been in Israel during a time it faced a national crisis.
I was in Jerusalem when my daughters studied in Jerusalem in the late 1990s. It was at the time of suicide bombings. As we had lunch in the Ticho House garden, it took a then 18-year old Francine to put it all in perspective as she told me to relax after hearing what I thought was a nearby explosion.
She said I should count to myself and if I didn’t hear the sound of sirens in a minute you knew it was just a sonic boom or a trash truck not so gently placing a dumpster back on the ground. And I have followed her advice then and still follow it today.
During the time of the second intifada I cancelled a trip to Paris because of a spate of violence directed at that city’s Jews. I figured that if I was going to have rocks thrown at me, let it be in Jerusalem and so off I went with daughter Ilana for a long weekend.
When I tell you the Plaza Hotel was empty that Shabbat, I do mean empty. Dinner had 6 of us in the small dining room. But the next afternoon the number of diners doubled as a table was taken by 6 IDF officers.
On motzei Shabbat, it was Ilana and I and another father and his daughter from West Orange whom we coincidentally ran into while taking a stroll on Ben Yehuda Street looking for the one store that was open so we could spend some money. It had a sign in the window promising a big discount for “brave tourists.” But, truth be told, the discount worked in the merchant’s favor as he actually reversed the monetary conversion so that we paid more than we should have for a few trinkets. Yet we understood that very desperate times force people to do very desperate things, and we weren’t insulted and we didn’t complain.
In August 2014, we were in Israel at the height of Operation Protective Edge to celebrate Favorite Oldest Granddaughter becoming bat mitzvah. Yes, there were sirens and a trip by some of our group to the shelter on the floor of our hotel, but we also visited an IDF base to serve hot dogs to some very hungry soldiers, and it didn’t stop anyone from going to the Old City or doing the requisite touring.
And like many readers, I’ve been through my share of the scares caused by abandoned items — the ḥafetz ḥashood. Most recently for me there was one opposite my son’s restaurant on Rachel Imeinu in the German Colony.
A backpack sitting on the ground across the street brought the police and the bomb disposal expert. 10 minutes later, as we watched from 50 meters away, it turns out to have been left by a careless student on the first day of school. The poor kid’s books and gym shirt and shorts were strewn on the sidewalk for all to see as the backpack was ripped apart remotely by wire. Try explaining that to your mother without getting a hard slap in the back of your head.
Yet the reaction to the new round of violence is different. Now, I get emails at 4:30 AM from my kids in Armon HaNatziv telling me, “we’re OK.” You then read the Israeli news and see the #78 bus, my bus to their home, bullet riddled, and surrounded by police and medical workers. And so goes another day in the Arabs’ apparently unceasing war against the Jews which began more than 100 years ago.
Frankly, whether you call it terrorism or war, the violence is not stopping me from going, because I believe with all my heart that each of us has to stand for something. And the one thing I decided to do 20 years ago after Alisa was murdered was not to run but to stand with Israelis when the going gets rough. But I’m not referring solely to my son and daughter-in-law and their two children, or my machatunim in Arnona, or of the other Israelis I have met since Alisa was murdered in 1995 as a result of the same Arab war against us, but also of every single Israeli who wakes up every day not knowing what that day will bring. We on Earth have no control over, as it says in the Unetanah Tokef, “who shall live and who shall die, who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not.” That’s for the Almighty to decide.
But we do have control over who we are, and what we are, and with whom we stand in times of crisis, and I choose to stand with Israelis, in Israel.