Ruthi Soudack
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Living the micro within the macro

The conundrum of focusing on personal ups and downs against the tragic backdrop of hatred, violence and fear

On Friday, I left my wallet on a bus in Tel Aviv. In addition to cash, the wallet contained all my credit cards, driver’s license, teudat zehut (identity card), and much more. There is that awful moment when you realize that your wallet (or cellphone) is missing, that instant of feeling absolutely helpless, before you move on to considering how best to address the situation. In my case, some quick thinking, the right telephone calls, an immensely helpful sadran at the Tel Aviv central bus station and an honest bus driver enabled me to retrieve my wallet, completely intact.

I was, of course, immensely grateful, ecstatic and relieved. I posted a picture of myself grinning from ear to ear, holding my wallet, surrounded by the sadran and driver, on Facebook. I told the story in brief, and wrapped up with “God loves us. Shabbat Shalom.” While the post accumulated over 100 likes, my feeling of uneasiness increased. How could I post “God loves us” over my small victory when, the day before, a 21-year-old father was stabbed to death at Damascus Gate, and he was only the most recent in an abhorrently long list of victims of this wave of terror, broken families, orphaned children? Jerusalem wailing in pain.

I arrived in Israel three days after the onset of the first intifada. I was in my late twenties then, an age, for me, characterized by serial heartbreak and ongoing romantic drama, searching for meaning in life and attempting to decide where I would make my home. But even then, I felt the dissonance, the discomfort of being involved in my own small life, with its personal pains and pleasures, while the country was burning around me, the list of victims of bombed buses and restaurants grew daily, and the future seemed entirely uncertain. And now, 28 years later, I feel the same discomfort when I rejoice in retrieving my wallet, and immediately, that moment of helplessness I felt when realizing it was lost seems utterly insignificant when compared with how a wife or husband or mother or father or child must feel the moment they are informed that their beloved spouse or child or parent has been stabbed to death.

And so, this is the question: how do we continue to live our lives, to feel pain and joy in our daily events, while existing in the presence of constant violence, death, inexpressible suffering and unbounded hatred? Hatred that foams at the mouth and stands, like the reaper, with a knife held high. Hatred that leads young people (as young as 12 years old) to sacrifice their lives in order to kill. Hatred that targets the old and the young. Hatred that causes families to be burned in their beds or stabbed at their doorsteps. Hatred that is the greatest tragedy of our sibling peoples, of Israel and Palestine.

And yet, should I NOT rejoice when I get my wallet back intact? Should I not breathe in deeply, with great pleasure, the scent of almond blossoms that accosts me as I drive down the hill to Ein Karem, or the terraced hillsides covered in yellow mustard-flower carpets dotted with red anemones? Should we not continue to laugh at all the silly little things of life, cry in sad movies, or grieve when love ends?

This conundrum of perspective, of balancing the micro with the macro without devaluing either, has been, for me, one of the greatest challenges of living in this country (although, really, the situation is similar everywhere, if we consider suffering in a global context). I pray for a time when reality does not tear us in this way, when we can experience the emotions of our personal lives fully and only rejoice in the goings-on of a peaceful and just world.

About the Author
Ruthi Soudack, originally from Vancouver, arrived in Jerusalem for a short visit three days after the beginning of the first intifada, and has been here ever since. She is a traveller, yoga teacher, writer, translator, editor, storyteller, musician, and occasionally, a stand-up comic. (Profile picture by Shira Aboulafia)