These are extraordinary times in Israel. Not the ‘good’ kind of extraordinary, but extraordinary nonetheless. Unfortunately it’s somewhat ordinary to go through extraordinary times here. And yet, we are here. And we come to Israel. We take Birthright trips. We spend our gap years here. We come for the holidays. We spend our summers here. And we make Aliyah — the big decision to make Israel our home. Because regardless of where we are from, or even how much we may love that place we are from, whether we pop over to Israel for a weekend or move here for good, Israel is not just a destination; it is our Home.
My family moved here over 13 years ago. I have never regretted it for a moment. We have been here through an Intifada, several military “operations” (I swear the last one was a war, whatever they want to call it…) and now this…thing… that no one wants to give a name to but is feeling more and more intifada-like with at least 22 people killed and many more injured in shooting, knifing, run-over attacks and stone throwing.
People are incredibly tense; especially in those areas that have seen the most attacks such as Jerusalem and the area around the Gush Etzion junction. Pepper spray has been flying off the shelves and in some places are sold out completely. People are jumpy and nervous. Stress levels are high. While statistically we may still be safer than some areas of Chicago, these attacks have taken a toll on everyone.
Like when I did errands this week with my daughter. We got stuck briefly at ‘Tzomet HaGush’ — the Gush Etzion Junction — behind a Palestinian car. There were soldiers all around. And yet, as I looked at that little station wagon in front of me, the sun’s reflection preventing me from knowing if the back seat was empty, or if there was a terrorist pointing a semi-automatic at us, about to pull the trigger, I realized that all the soldiers in the world couldn’t have done much to prevent anything at that point.
Then I found out that there was just a huge meeting of traffic and safety bigwigs, as well as Gush Etzion council heads, to improve the security of the roads. Work will begin immediately on widening the junction and adding some traffic lights and other traffic circles. This should certainly improve road safety. Though I can’t help but wonder exactly how driving on our shiny new roads with new traffic lights will prevent the potential terrorist in the little station wagon in front of me, with the semi-automatic pointed my way, from shooting his weapon…
Or when I saw an abandoned backpack on a Jerusalem sidewalk, and I desperately wanted to ignore it and keep on walking. But seeing other nervous bystanders made me pause, and somehow they all looked at me as the responsible adult expected to call it in to the police as a ‘suspicious object.’
My fingers shook as I fumbled over the three simple digits in several futile attempts to reach the police. As I tried one more time, I saw a child reach for what I then realized with huge relief was his bag, and with nothing more suspicious in it than perhaps Sunday’s smashed lunch or last week’s undone homework assignment.
That is when I realized that adrenaline was coursing through my body and I just wanted to collapse on a couch with a cup of tea or a shot of Scotch… But I kept on walking because I had places to go, and, well, life to keep living…
As I walked I thought about that… I have life to keep living. We all do. And I got angry. Because really, I have not been living. Just going through the motions. Tonight, in an utter act of defiance, I went to the grocery store. No, I didn’t just go to the grocery store; I went without pepper spray clutched in my hand. I wore my headphones and listened to my music. I sauntered through the aisles, ignoring everyone, regardless of how suspicious they might look. I let my guard down. I simply shopped. And it was so gloriously ordinary.
For an hour of my life I forgot that there are enough soldiers in the immediate vicinity of the grocery store to conquer a small castle. I forgot about the challenges facing those who are tasked with our security; I doubt I would have anything of value to offer them anyway. I focused on how nice the lettuce looks. And which napkins would complete my dinner table. And the perfect white wine for both extending the gravy for my turkey and sipping on while I would write this. And I thought about how very much I have to be thankful for.
On Shabbat this expat American family is going to have Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. And we’re going to be thankful that we live in the extraordinary little country called Israel — and that we call Home. And nothing that anyone says or does can ever change that.