Lia is 8 years old. She was born in Israel, is our fourth child and only daughter. Her brothers range in age from 13 to 17. By the time she could walk, she was familiar with the sounds of sirens and knew her way to our home bomb shelter. On the road, she was always prepared to lie down next to the car when the sirens would catch us on route. Until the age of five, she attended the Jewish Arab, Hagar preschool in Beerhseva. She sang in Hebrew and in Arabic. Her BFF’s were Ma’ayan (a Jewish girl) and Nur (an Arab girl).
And then, in 2012 we moved to Northern California where we remained for the coming three years. Her memories of sirens and missiles faded as her English improved, her Arabic knowledge disappeared and her Hebrew also took a far back seat. She attended a public school whose multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial character was as natural as the cool, sunny days replacing the romantic yet eerie early morning California fog.
Lia gained a new form of childhood innocence.
Truth be told, I reveled in her transformation and dreaded the time she would be reintroduced to the realities and complexities in her land of birth. Nonetheless, in June 2015 we returned. The stifling summer heat enveloped us and I immediately felt the heaviness of life in Israel.
My older boys rejoiced in their rediscovered sense of freedom in a country where youth run as wild as the millions of feral cats roaming the streets. They quickly acclimated and their adolescent lingo was once again tainted with hints of the racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia and machismo that pervade Israeli society. I was and am disturbed but feel powerless, only hoping that our family values will ultimately prevail over those of the dominant culture.
Probably mirroring my mixed feelings, Lia’s adjustment was rockier and slower. She enjoyed her day camp but refused to utter a word of Hebrew for months. The summer came and went and school began. With mixed emotions, we decided to send her to the local school in lieu of Hagar so she would have friends to play with after school in a society where play dates are a way of life, not a bi-weekly occurrence (as in California). She cried. A lot. So, did I, knowing that it was only a matter of time that her natural acceptance of all people regardless of ethnicity, race, color or sexual orientation would fade away.
But, in the meantime, her innocence was still intact.
The political situation heated up and atrocities happened (and continue to happen). But Lia was shielded. She knew nothing and sensed nothing. I didn’t leave her alone in the house because I didn’t want her to experience a missile attack when she was alone. When I left her with her brothers, I reminded them to take care of her if the sirens went off. Luckily, there were no missiles.
So, in the meantime, her innocence was still intact.
Then in late October, Lia, her thirteen year-old brother Amit and I travelled back to California for family reasons. There exists an incredible lightness of being in this world where my daughter looks at her uncle’s king size bed and asks, “who else sleeps in this gigantic bed?” I answered that my brother and his partner. Without hesitation, she replied, “oh yeah… boyfriend-boyfriend, same as boyfriend-girlfriend or girlfriend-girlfriend…right?” “Right”, I answered.
So, in the meantime, her innocence is still intact.
We’ve been here for three weeks and are due to return to Israel in a week’s time. I know that time will be different. I won’t be able to shield her forever and my 8-year old will be reintroduced to concepts long forgotten – conversations about Arabs and Jews, hate and war and “operations” and “holy places” that threaten the lives of innocents. I know that it is only a matter of time when the sirens will shriek and when the news will show horrors in Israel and in Gaza. I know that she will hear the words, “gay” used as an insult and the color of people’s skin will once again have meaning beyond “just a different shade”.
But, today, in the meantime he innocence is still intact.
But I mourn the impending loss of my third grade daughter’s innocence.
Welcome back to Israel, my dear.