Erica Lyons

Should I stay or should I go now?

Erica finds it hard to leave Israel in a time of conflict, even when her eight-year-old starts adding bomb shelters to his Minecraft worlds

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know.
Should I stay or should I go now?
(Song by Clash, Songwriters: Mick Jones, Joe Strummer)

We arrived mid-June just one week after the boys (Eyal, Naftali & Gilad, obm) were abducted. I visited the bus stop where they were last seen at a time when there was still hope.

Something was most definitely ‘off’ here from the moment we arrived for the summer. Our ‘idyllic’ summer holiday hasn’t been quite what we expected.

We were of course here when their bodies were found too. We were here when they were buried, when the protests followed, when the horrific news of the revenge killing became known and when the violence began to escalate.

I overheard my thirteen-year-old last week being asked what he likes most about living in Hong Kong, which is actually a fairly strange question as my children have no point of comparison.

“I like it because it is safe. It was ranked as the second safest country in the world,” he responds without hesitation.

In the first couple of days of Operation Protective Edge, in hushed whispers while our children slept, my husband and I debated whether the kids and I should cut our trip short by three weeks and return home to Hong Kong with him the following week (he had to get back to work). We went as far as checking with the travel agent to see if there were seats available on the flight. There were. We were initially apprehensive, perhaps even fearful. He would be leaving and the children and I would be staying in a reality that would otherwise be a story on the news and blips of information on our Twitter feeds.

I read an article on the new Olim arriving in the midst of this madness. They are lauded as heroes. I have no desire to be a hero, I think to myself. I just want to be a mom, a mom on a holiday with my children.

My own mother, in the US, watches reels that show footage of missiles exploding over and over again. On a daily basis, glued to the news, she questions my decision to stay in Israel with the children. With each new development, at all hours of the day and night, she messages, “Will you still stay now?”

Friends from the US also call and message on a daily basis.

“Will you go now?” they ask.

I try to explain what it is like here. I tell them that I dropped my older children off at sleep-away camp in Israel earlier in the week. My youngest still goes to day camp. We have bnai mitzvot to attend in the upcoming weeks, all still going on as planned.

Last night my eight-year-old and I, on a private bus en route to a bat mitzvah, watched the slow dance of the white pillars of smoke that fell from the sky in the aftermath of a successful Iron Dome interception. Our bus rolled along the road past rows of cars lining both sides of the highway, parted like the Dead Sea. We somehow missed the sirens but we watched as people stood up again in slow motion, emerging from the small spaces between the roadside barrier and their cars to also watch in silence.

The ground offensive is announced on that same bus ride. Then the downing of the Malaysian Airlines jet. The world has gone mad.

I live in an altered reality, like everyone else here. Whereas at home, I haphazardly toss my keys when I enter the apartment and then find myself in a frenzied and lengthy search for them each time we leave, here I am systematic about where I place them. I need to be. Ninety seconds isn’t a tremendous amount of time (yet more than many others have). I try to be better about keeping my phone charged too.

My children and I have learned new words in Hebrew this summer, azakah (alert) and miklat/mamad (shelter). My eight-year-old can explain how the Iron Dome was invented and likes to point out that it isn’t an actual dome at all. He has now added shelters to all of his worlds on Minecraft. My thirteen-year-old and I have a new favorite iPhone App: Red Alert.

While, as a mother, I have long been accustomed to surveying parks and playgrounds for the nearest bathroom, because inevitably someone always needs to use one, it has now become second nature to look for the shelter, or at least a solid wall.

There has clearly been a shift in our consciousness, but not toward fear. We are stronger. We no longer speak as if Israel is somehow separate from us. We now all speak in terms of “we.”

My friends in the US message constantly to say that they are aware of the latest developments. They watch the news and ask us if we are afraid of what is going on now in Israel.

I tell them that I too watch the news, and that I am very, very afraid. I am afraid for what is going on in the world outside of Israel, a world where a terrorist organization somehow has perverted the truth, creating an altered reality where they have legitimacy; where “news” reporters can opine that Israel has no right to defend itself against terrorists, and the terrorists have every right to attack; a world where vitriolic anti-Semitic rhetoric is now seemingly the norm and where hate speech and hashtags like “HitlerWasRight” are now perfectly acceptable discourse.

I am proud of the decisions we have made as a family this summer. As we will likely spend a considerable amount of time living outside of Israel, I am glad that this trip will better prepare my children to speak out as Jews and as Zionists throughout their lives. We are now far better versed in the reality of life in Israel and feel more connected to it. Ironically, it will be much harder to leave at the end of this summer than it has been in previous years.

Though it may seem, from the outside, that our summer is an experience of Israel at its worst, the opposite is true. We have seen beauty and resilience, conviction and compassion. We watch as strangers first ensure that their own children aren’t in imminent danger, and in that same single breath of relief, turn to take care of complete strangers, ushering them to safety.

I call my husband, now back in Hong Kong, this morning. We talk about the latest developments. We talk statistics, like the increased range of the missiles, the ground invasion, the unlikelihood of a speedy resolution and the unfaltering pace of azakahs.

“I am going to call today,” I tell him. “It’s really time now.”

“Definitely,” he agrees.

I hang up the phone and make the call.


“Hi. We are looking to buy an apartment in Jerusalem,” I say.

About the Author
Erica Lyons is the founder and editor-in-chief of Asian Jewish Life. She and her family have called Hong Kong home since 2002.
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