I’ve been back at my home in California from Israel for about a month now. And I feel extremely guilty for being here.
When I was visiting Israel with my dad and 15 year old daughter last April to visit friends and sight-see for 10 days, I never imagined I would be returning again so soon. But within a couple of weeks of that trip, a war broke out. Nothing could describe the helpless feeling in my stomach watching the news, reading the news, talking about the news. In passing, I mentioned to my dad “maybe we should go back.” He replied “no, we’d just be in the way.”
Besides, I was busy going about a California summer – all three kids together for boating trips on Lake Tahoe, lots of time at the pool, lunches with friends in the city, even some time in Southern California at my favorite resort. And we had even more plans. Lots of plans. In the interim, I downloaded the Red Alert app, and it was going off all.the.time. It would go off while I was at the supermarket, restaurants, shopping malls: alarming myself and no one around me. People moved about their business, seemingly oblivious to anything being amiss.
I can’t speak for all Jews, but for myself – an American secular Jew who was taught to love, support and not take Israel for granted- the escalation of the war and move into Gaza was heart-wrenching to watch. When several IDF were killed and wounded including lone soldiers from my own state, it was a feeling of despair like no other. My dad went to Israel for the first time as a teenager, soon after Israel became a state. He eventually became a major donor to the Jewish National Fund and supports many JNF projects in Israel including the Sderot Indoor Playground, Aleh-Negev, and the Alexander Muss High School. And after my first trip to Israel, I “invested” in this amazing country myself by becoming a Sapphire Society member with JNF, and now I sit on my regional board. It’s not just my money that is in Israel – it’s my heart.
And my heart nearly stopped in mid-July with a Facebook posting. JNF CEO and (good friend) Russell Robinson posted a brief link offering a “Solidarity Mission” to major donors. This would mean drop everything, fly to Israel, see, hear, and help! I quickly dialed my dad and he said “I’m in if you’re in”. Nevermind that the airlines had already begun suspending service to Israel, we were going (they later cleared the flights a mere 24 hours before we took off).
The comments about my going to Israel at that time were expected. They ranged from “well… do you think it’s safe?” to “do you have a death wish?” My own husband didn’t believe I would actually get on the plane; the morning I left, he said “you’re really doing this? What happens if you don’t come back?” I didn’t know what to say, how could I guarantee I would be back. I didn’t know what I was getting into exactly so how could I provide any assurance.
Yet all of Israel was dealing with Hamas and its missiles. The Solidarity Mission consisted of about 20 people, and we all talked openly on our first day about how others’ reacted to the timing of our trip. In the end, it didn’t matter, we all had to be there. The notion that my Israeli brothers and sisters are living with this risk every day, and somehow I was too good for that, was just a crazy notion in my mind.
Over the course of that week, we spent much time in the south, the part of Israel that has been most affected. Beersheba, Haluza, Ofakim, Shlomit, etc. Many of the residents of these wonderful start-up communities have no shelters or too few shelters. One day we volunteered in a daycare center in the south, making packages for soldiers and painting the day care building, and in the time we were there we had three missile attacks. Being a mom myself, I cried every time I heard the preschool-aged children scream as we pushed them quickly into the shelter. The first time I had to run into a shelter myself was in the middle of the night (with soap in my hair no less, having been in the shower), and I will never forget what went thru my mind: someone is trying to kill me! That is a very heavy realization when you know that someone or something wants to kill you.
Since I’ve been back in the U.S. this past month, I’ve been busying myself getting my kids ready for school, visiting with family, taking advantage of the last few days of summer. Having an easy, mostly carefree life, while knowing that my friends in Israel (especially in the south) don’t have that right now. And it’s hard. The guilt weighs on me, but all I can do now is text my friends and give them support, let them know I am thinking of them every single day, and continuing to ask what I can do to help.
My Red Alert app still sounds often. And still, no one around me has ever once looked up.