This time, hold the guilt
I was mildly disappointed, but not terribly surprised when I was unable to find a locksmith on a recent trip into town. I began walking home, when something made me stop a woman nearby who was getting into her car to ask if she knew where I could get keys made.
“Sure,” she beamed. “You see that white car parked on the sidewalk? The shop is right over there.”
It took a few minutes for me to narrow down which sidewalk, which car, and which color white. But after I finally got it, I turned triumphantly towards the store to finish off my last errand for the day.
“We met before… at the beach,” I heard from behind me.
I took a few more steps as I pondered this. I didn’t know who this lady was at all. But then again, there are still people I work with every day that I constantly introduce myself to. I’m not known for having a great memory. And for some reason, people seem to take notice of me more than I do of them.
“I asked about your daughter’s bathing suit, but I guess you don’t remember” she continued. And then she got back in the car.
That did it. I rushed back to the car and pantomimed rolling down the window. She obliged.
“Oh wow. I remember now! Did you ever find what you were looking for?!”
She went on to tell me a complicated but cute story of walking into a store in Tzfat and discovering the perfect suit. We chatted a little more, and then she drove off, while I went to get my keys made. It was one of the first times that I had run into someone at random since moving to Hadera in March, and it made me feel a little more like the city was becoming home. It wasn’t until I had gotten back my keys from the locksmith and resumed walking that I realized I hadn’t thought about the war during that entire 10 minute timespan, not even once.
I’ve spent a lot of the last few months feeling sad, angry, anxious, and guilty. Unlike what most of the world (including a few members of the Israeli left-wing) seems to think, it’s depressing hearing about people dying, even when I’m pretty sure some of those who died were trying to kill us, or at least supported our deaths. It’s frustrating when the world can have such a skewed idea of right and wrong that lobbing rockets at civilians because of a blockade (which, ironically exists to minimize the number of rockets that can be constructed) is a justifiable piece of resistance, but firing rockets to protect your country from being targeted is an abuse of power. And each time that a siren went off, leading to a mad dash for the nearest shelter, or when the national airport was closed due to rocket fire, it was another attempt at making us be afraid, either for our bodies, or for our economy.
But the worst was the guilt. My existence during this last Gaza war wasn’t so different than what went before it. How could I dare to basically go about my life, when babies were dying on beaches? How can I be concerned about the price of an iPhone 5, or the problems that can come up from stress eating or a too elaborate Shabbat menu? There are people who are going through hell because of the government I helped elect. Doesn’t that make me complicit? Don’t I owe it to the dead, maimed, homeless, and desperate to dedicate some part of my happiness to them, through a simple act of reflection? After sampling that small taste of guilt-free freedom, my answer is that I owe the world nothing aside from the compassion I feel for any individual facing unfortunate circumstances, such as, for example, the Yazidi currently dying on a mountain top in the wake of the Syrian civil war. I feel sorrow for them even though I don’t feel that their situation is Israel’s fault. Although, unfortunately for them, if there were a way to blame it on Israel, I imagine they would have received more press coverage.
The job of my government is to improve the chances that its citizens can be happy and productive, and I’m thankful for all of the steps taken to make that possible. I live in a modern country, where almost every convenience is available (notice I didn’t say affordable… nowhere is perfect), and I’m not going to pretend that I live in a third world ghetto, no matter how bad a person the world thinks that makes me. Our country’s success didn’t happen by accident. Generations of Israelis – Arab, Christian, and Jew – worked hard to carve out a comparative paradise from a barren desert. And if the people of Gaza had spent the last 10 years doing the same thing, instead of building rockets and tunnels, they could now be enjoying the fruits of their labor just as those of us in Israel are. A country that chooses a violent path likely to lead to the deaths of its civilians, instead of relying upon negotiation, is the one doing something wrong.
I’m not a soldier (and as a woman who made Aliyah in my 30s, I’m not even a potential recruit, for those who argue that all Israelis should be considered combatants based on compulsory draft laws). The best ways in which I can support my country are through consumption, and by standing up emotionally for those who are working hard to keep me safe. From now on, I resolve to spend more time enjoying the great things I have been blessed with. Bartender, bring me another… and this time, hold the guilt.