The Leaves That Are Green Turn To…What?

Many friends and former students have been asking me for my reaction to the events that have transpired in Israel over the past few weeks.

There is a beautiful line in one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs:

Time hurries on…
And the leaves that are green turn to brown,
And they wither with the wind, and they crumble in your hand…”

It always seemed to me that the message of this line was very comforting. You may not know exactly what will happen in the future, but there are things that you can be pretty confident about. Those leaves? That are so pretty? They will soon fade and turn to brown. That’s okay. That’s life. That’s nature. That’s normal.

We are not in normal times, now, in Israel. The future? So unclear.

So the questions flow from those living outside of Israel: How are you all? Are you staying safe? What’s the feeling there? What can I do to help? What’s going to happen?

I wish I had the answers.

I have tried and failed to coalesce my thoughts into a meaningful monologue.

Confusion reigns. Leaves that should be turning brown, aren’t.

So, random thoughts; It’s therapeutic getting them out.

This kind of terrorism seems different. My mind can’t get around the sheer personal and intimate genre of murder and attacking, the most primitive, cold-blooded method of taking a knife and stabbing someone you never met. The utter randomness and pure evil of it. It boggles the mind. Can murder be that nonchalant, that easy, that trivial?

Like so many other times, this is a situation that, absurd though it is, we have become used to it. In the same way that in 1991 in the Gulf War, we would sooner leave the house sans shoes than without our gas masks, most of us have instantly adapted our behavior to the situation.

We are a people for whom adaptation is in our DNA. We carry laughably makeshift or real weapons, we walk around — when we have to — with a fake cheery face while our imaginations run wild with “What would I do if I was attacked”, “He looks suspicious, help!”, and we try and stop our bubbling fear from imagining everyone and everything to be a threat.

It isn’t normal that children should wake up crying from a nightmare that (s)he was getting stabbed.

It isn’t normal that the same eyes I had in the back of my head when walking in Lebanon as a soldier in the nineties, that grew again in the Second Intifada and once more in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, have reappeared on my walk home in Jerusalem, and try as I might to enjoy that peaceful hour of alone time as I walk, I cannot and I am alert to every tiny movement; the soldier and martial artist in me won’t let the rest of me relax, not even for a second. I get home exhausted, and it’s not because of the walk.

The sheer frustration at the extent to which we are getting the raw end of the deal on the media table over the world. We always get the raw end, true, but there is seemingly no limit.

I detest the fact that the mutual suspicion in the air is tangible.

I refuse to imagine every Arab I see is about to attack me. I do not hate Arabs, I will not stoop to that level, ever. 99.9% of them are normal people, going about their lives, and I have to believe that, and I have to believe that they think I am normal too. They aren’t going to leave, and neither are we, so we have to get along, and this mutual suspicion rips that apart.

And yet. What if.

I don’t want to change my life, yet I find that while I am confident and lenient with myself, and my attitude is that I will not cower to terror and will ideologically go about my day and it’s my life and my city and they will not stop me…yet I find I’m a little less eager to let things go on as usual with my wife and my kids. I’ll pick you up, don’t take the bus. Don’t go riding your bike today. Stay indoors and let’s put on a movie. Don’t be late, not even a minute. Why wasn’t your phone on? I’ll go to the store and get milk, not you, though thanks for offering. And so on.

How do I answer my son asking me with a scared look but with confidence that I will have the answer — heck, as Abba I MUST have the answer — Abba, do these mechablim (terrorists) really think that’s what God wants them to do?

How do I breathe deeply and prepare for my next group I am guiding to Poland, in a few weeks, when I will be talking about Jewish survival under the infinitely more terrible conditions of the Shoah while part of my mind is guiltily back home hoping the kids aren’t riding their bikes?

Yet, above all, calming the jumbled mass of thoughts, is the same, normal feeling of old. Pride in our country, in our state, in our will to not give in. We are Yisrael, the ones who are born to struggle, and struggle we will, while yearning for the struggle to end with every fiber in our bodies. I am Am Yisrael Chai, yet please, if there’s anyone out there listening, let’s just stop the violence and learn to get along.

And maybe, just maybe, the leaves that are green will turn to brown.

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of Education for Ramah Israel. He is privileged to live in Jerusalem with his wife and five children.
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