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Red alert — south and north

On the dual Israeli reality of a life steeped in beauty and joy, and permeated by anxiety and sadness

Red poppies and anemones stretch as far as the eye can see. The south is aflame in blooming flowers, celebrating the Darom Adom (Red South) Festival. Earlier this week biking alone among the fragrant eucalyptus trees in the Shokeda forest located just a few kilometers from the Gaza strip, I maneuver on a narrow trail through carpets of bright red flowers with black centers, framed by the green grass and trees. The birds are chirping. In the distance, cars and buses are pulling up filled with sightseers who have come to see nature in all its ephemeral glory.

Shokeda Forest - this week
Shokeda Forest – this week

The red is so vibrant. Blood red. Life. Passion. Vitality. I freely associate to the red, and before I know it I arrive at Red Alert, Red Dawn, the code words used to warn the civilian population for the past decade, that a missile is on its way and they have between 10 and thirty seconds to find safety. I am swept into memories of this past summer, of Operation Zuk Eitan. I see pictures of people running to shelter, of funerals too numerous to count. I feel the knot of fear, deep in my stomach. As I ride along the trails and into the lush fields, bringing me closer to Gaza by the minute, I am struck by this dual reality. On the one hand I am out in nature, enjoying the very best it has to offer. The desert is blooming. Spring is here. This is a sanctuary, a time to relax, take a deep breath, smell the green, and feel restored. Yet at the same moment, my mind flashes back to the summer, recalling it instantly sends me back to the atmosphere filled with anxiety and fear.

I consider how our lives in Israel consist always of this dual reality. We live our daily lives, with all its mundane ups and downs, some predictable, others not. We celebrate births, weddings, new jobs, vacations. We are thrilled with our neighbor’s new baby. We come down with the flu and focus on doctors, tissues, hot tea and healing. We comfort the bereaved, visit the sick, call our children, our parents. Yet every once in a while, and sometimes more frequently than that, our screen of normalcy is pierced. We remember that we in Israel are living at the edge, surrounded by enemies, a nuclear threat hanging over our heads, and our borders protected by young boys and men putting their lives on the line every minute of every day. We can turn into a war zone at any given moment.

While the mounting tension in the North has been reported regularly by the media, and I worry about my two nephews and all their friends who are stationed up there, I am stunned when I hear that two soldiers have been killed by enemy fire. Waking up this morning to the funerals of these two young men who belong to each and every one of us, brings this dual reality into sharp relief.

Tomorrow is the brit of our neighbor’s son. Today we mourn, tomorrow we celebrate. Holding both the pain and sadness along with the joy and gratitude in our hearts at one time is the lesson this land of Israel teaches us and is indeed the tale of resilience.

About the Author
Naomi L Baum, Ph.D., is an international consultant in the field of psychological management of traumas and disasters with an emphasis on resilience. She recently published a book, "Life Unexpected: A Trauma Psychologist Journeys through Breast Cancer." She is the mother of seven and grandmother of 12.