Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

My Hanukkah break


My husband and I snuck out on an El Al flight to spend 10 days in Europe. My sons were not coming here. We needed to see them; they needed to see we were safe. Our Hanukkah candles, this year, were in the December light festivals each night around the cities where we stayed, our Israeli identities toned down for the trip, just in case.

My view of Europe is not in the least comprehensive, but I can report that both sons – one in the Netherlands, one in Germany – say they do not feel discriminated against either as Jews or Israelis. We saw a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in front of the royal palace in Amsterdam, a few small signs in support of Gaza, and one large sign in Berlin calling to free Iranian women.

And yet, I see my sons grappling with their Israeli identity. In contrast with previous generations of Israelis who left the country for studies or work, but always planned on coming back, my sons see their futures outside of Israel. Their career tracks do not include a foreseeable transfer to Tel Aviv or Haifa; they will not apply to Israeli universities for academic positions.

Still, on October 7, they found themselves sharing our anguish. One son keeps up with rocket alerts, checking to see we are safe when one sounds in our area. The other refused to discuss the “situation,” deciding our break from our reality should be a real break. (Of course, we could not completely disconnect, but he was right in that nothing has really changed in our absence.) That same son had flown to see an old friend living in Switzerland in October, just to be with “other people who understand.”

And yet, and yet – they see the rising antisemitism and calls for genocide in the US, the women’s groups refusing to condemn the rapes and human rights organizations ignoring the bloody massacre – and they have been forced to rethink the idea of our Jewish state. It is their birthplace that others are calling to wipe off the map. Much as they have railed against discrimination perpetrated in the name of Zionism and raged against our various governments, they are, in their souls, in the language of their dreams, Israeli. Those calling for genocide would ship them to the gas chambers, no questions asked.

When I got back, I went on a shiva call for the mother of a friend – a women who died, mercifully, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.

“You must be happy your kids are not here right now,” another friend said to me. I looked around the room. That woman had a son in Gaza, another pair had a son in Gaza and the woman whose mother had died had both her husband and son serving in the war (both had been let out for a single day). Those loved ones do not have cell phones on them, parents do not hear from their children. They worry constantly, lose sleep every night.

With a pang of guilt, I agreed with my friend. I am selfishly happy my sons are not here now.

How can I explain to my sons that checking the news is a ritual? I need to see the faces of the soldiers who have died, even as I hope, each day, for a break in the constant stream of casualties. I need to feel the rush of sorrow for their families, for their terrible, inconcievable loss. I need to be reminded that the sons and daughters of my friends are at risk; that over a hundred are still in captivity. In truth, I am happy for every one who is not here now, whose life is not in danger. But my heart, at the same time, is with those who are fighting for our very lives.

It has taken a few days to get back into the swing of life here in Israel, to reacquaint ourselves with rocket fire and jets flying overhead. To check the news frequently throughout the day. But the break has made me see, more than ever, that we need to get rid of Bibi now.

We need – deserve – a prime minister who is concerned with the loss of life, the conditions of the hostages and the increasing humanitarian crisis among innocent civilians in Gaza. We need a prime minister who is able to envision the termination of the war. We need a leader with some kind of vision, not just shortsightedness. One who can listen to those who offer to broker a peace deal; who can lead us toward discarding the “no partner” trope for one in which we work to become partners ourselves, to create partners where we previously saw frenemies.

I am happy for my sons who have chosen to live their lives in chilly Europe, even as I feel the hollowness of their distance on a daily basis. I am happy they are there – even as others they grew up with have been called to fight; I am terrified for the children of the kibbutz who are sleeping on floors in Gaza, unable to let their parents know they are okay. Every photo of a fallen soldier looks like the son of one friend or another, and each one breaks my heart. I am working to resign myself to those contradictions. I’ll never be able to reconcile them. I am hoping, against hope, that I’ll soon have a country my children will once again come to, even just for a visit.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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