I’m pretty sure that when Nat King Cole’s silky smooth voice sang the lyrics of the song heralding the carefree days of summer–already a bit dated given the throes of the Civil Rights Movement and the imminent upheavals of 1963 America–he had nothing like our summer of 2014 Israel in mind. Still, it has been crazy and it is all a bit hazy.
I got up a week ago Thursday morning at 4:00 a.m. to drive from our apartment in Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport to pick up our first granddaughter, Shoshana Bette, on her first visit to Israel. As long as I was there, I also picked up her parents, our oldest son and his wife.
At that time of the morning, it took me 32 minutes to drive about two-thirds of the width of the country. As we think about giving up territory for peace, and as we endure missiles aimed at our civilian population centers from Gaza, from which we withdrew nine years ago, those 32 minutes trouble me.
I first came to Israel at the age of 18. My son first came at 14. His daughter is here at 11 weeks. The march of Zionism.
Even though she cannot appreciate it, it is an unabashedly joyous feeling to share Israel, particularly Jerusalem, with another generation of our family. When our other son heard that his niece was coming with her parents for her first visit to Israel, he decided to come too, so we had our entire immediate family here.
Even as tensions rose, we all delighted in strolling on Ben Yehuda and Jaffa Road and in exploring the Old City for the umpteenth time, this time with the next generation literally in hand. Accompanying my son as he approached the Kotel with his infant daughter was one of those moments that make life worth living.
And we were not the only ones living life’s moments, cherishing the minutes and having fun. Israel is a remarkable place, and Israelis are a remarkable people. Despite the problems, the Old City was full.
The rest of Jerusalem was bustling. Israelis, tourists, Jews, Christians, Muslims were visiting, eating, shopping, working, riding the bus. People living life, and taking care of business. From spectacular joy to the mundane minutes of life to taking cover from rockets, Jerusalem and Israel are marching, sometimes prodding, onward.
Yet, simultaneously, we were incredibly sad, ashamed, and distressed. Deeply saddened over the death of three of our teenage boys who were mercilessly murdered for the act of trying to get home from school. It’s been said many times, but one of the truly unique aspects of life in Israel is that everyone feels it when we lose someone, especially when the victim is an innocent youth.
If we don’t know the person, we know someone who does. Regardless of a connection or not, we feel like we know the person. Other than perhaps on 9-11, I don’t think Americans of my generation have ever felt this feeling of loss over someone who is a complete stranger. At least, I have not.
We here in Israel feel it much too often. And we have felt it terribly and deeply over the loss of our three boys. We feel shame, and anger, and sadness, that extremist Israeli Jews would take revenge by killing an innocent young Palestinian teenager and somehow think it is justified. They do not act and they do not speak for me, and they do not act or speak for most Israelis.
As things began to heat up, with rockets hitting the South of Israel and Israel increasingly responding, but with no inkling of what was to come, we gathered up the whole family and headed for a long-anticipated overnight in Zichron Yaakov. Wine, food, views, nearby beaches, and peace and quiet. Or so we thought.
After a nice day tasting wine and strolling Zichron’s charming central area, we wound up for dinner at a small, quaint restaurant called Ayelet and Gili. That’s the Gili from the Israeli group Gaya, whose anthem Yachad (Together) was one of the go-to songs for Jewish youth groups and camps a decade or so ago. Think Youngbloods’ Get Together 40 years later and Jewish.
Ayelet beautifully cooks her family’s Yemenite dishes. Gili welcomes you, waits on and clears the tables, makes you feel at home, and, with just a modicum of a push, plays wonderful, wistful tunes on his flute and sings.
Sure enough, after each of our now adult kids related the year and campuses or parks at which they had seen Gaya perform, Gili picked up his flute. Then, for the finale, he picked up a guitar that was missing one string and, with an audience of the six of us and one 11 week old, went into a beautiful rendition of Yachad. Only in Israel.
Gili’s big concern: did our food get cold while we hummed along with him. You can’t help liking the guy.
Right after Gili finished his mini-concert, our daughter’s phone range. She exclaimed that he would never believe what we had just heard. His response: the tzeva adom in Binyamina, another quaint town just down the road. Her response: huh??? Gili!!
Simultaneously, Gili stepped out to take a call. He returned and told us that his step-daughter who lives in Binyamina had reported a Tzeva Adom (red alert). Not believing that Hamas’s rockets had that kind of range, everyone concluded that it was a false alarm. Little did we know.
Woke up to a beautiful Zichron day on Wednesday. By now the Tel Aviv area had had several alarms, with the Iron Dome working well to protect the area. To their credit, Birthright groups, synagogues, and tourists were still coming. As they re-routed to avoid Tel Aviv, Zichron and the north started to reap the benefits. Enthusiastic, undeterred young people and others were walking Zichron’s charming streets. Tel Aviv’s loss was definitely a banner day for Zichron’s merchants.
As we ate a late lunch in a nice little restaurant, the sirens went off. Whoops, we thought Zichron was out of range. The owner and staff were all calm and class. Everyone got up calmly and were escorted into the shelter, aka kitchen. Glasses of water were distributed.
The chef correctly said the biggest danger was the slippery floor. Otherwise, beautiful day, lots of tourists. No panic. Impressive reaction from locals and tourists alike.
We headed to Dor beach, one of Israel’s nicest, to spend a very pleasant late afternoon. Birthright and other groups had “discovered” our beach. Families came out to relax after work.
The beach is a great place to spend a war-time afternoon. There’s no cover from incoming, but the sounds of the sea block out the sirens giving you notice.
We made our way back to Jerusalem Wednesday evening. Jerusalem had had a few alerts but the missiles either landed outside the city or had been knocked out by Iron Dome. Tel Aviv and the surrounding area had had more than enough to disrupt life and fracture nerves, but virtually no injuries or deaths. It is the South that has really taken the beating and that is mostly featured on the news in the U.S.
The evening we were back in Jerusalem everyone, including tourists, were out in force at cafes, restaurants, walking, etc. Large screens and chairs were set up on the sidewalks outside many restaurants, the World Cup clearly prevailing over any concerns about safety for many. The fact is that, with the primitive targeting capabilities of the terrorists and with the Iron Dome, one probably has more of a chance of being hurt or killed in any major city or on the L.A. freeways than you do in Jerusalem.
(Funny thing about Hamas attempting to hit Jerusalem with rockets. All this time one of their stated reasons for trying to destroy the Jewish nation has been a pronounced love of their holy city of Jerusalem. Apparently the love is surpassed by the hate. Sad.)
Accurate or not, effective or not, for first-timers and even for some veterans, given that it is totally random and often unfamiliar, reactions are often more emotional and visceral than rational and fact-based. That’s why it is called terrorism.
However, not everything is statistics. Everyone reacts in their way, which is totally legitimate and understandable. I’ve been through enough now that I am pretty ok, but then I get very sweaty palms on a particular Squaw Valley chairlift that hangs high and long over a gorge.
For our daughter-in-law, add in an 11 week old beautiful baby, and you have a perfect recipe for stress and frayed nerves. Rather than leave the country, as many would understandably do and as they almost did several times, our son and daughter-in-law decided to head north for a few quiet days in Sefat, where there has been no activity at all.
Following the granddaughter/niece, the rest of the family also went north. Nothing like being the center of attention. We booked rooms at a beautiful French-style villa hotel. Pool, views, jazz in the background, great food. If you have to be a refugee, not bad at all.
We felt a little guilty. Our friends’ kids being called up for Reserve duty, and our countrymen in the South subjected to alert after alert, boom after boom while we are enjoying the best that faux-Bordeaux has to offer.
My two sons and I sat at the small bar in the hotel one evening. Our bartender was a religious Jew, one of the sons of the secular family that had bought and restored the beautiful building and created a little bit of France in Israel. Though religious, he related well to us and poured a full glass of brandy.
Our company: the hotel’s security man, a former member of the Southern Lebanese Army who, with family members, moved to Israel 14 years ago, feeling unwelcome and in jeopardy in his Lebanese village. His assessment of Israel: a wonderful country to make his home in. His assessment of South Lebanon and Hezbollah: “a spring of terror.” Only in Israel.
Sefat too was having a bit of a tourist boost due to the re-routing of buses from the South and Tel Aviv. Birthright, synagogues, you name it. Tourists are surprisingly calm and upbeat. Despite understandable fears, many visitors seem uplifted and somewhat emboldened to be sharing in a not-so-small way this time of crisis with their Israeli brothers and sisters.
What we and apparently many others did not anticipate was that some small, break-off group in Lebanon would fire a few errant missiles into the northern reaches of Israel. They landed in fields. Not wanting to disrupt Israelis who had come up from the South for a break, the authorities, knowing they would land in fields, did not bother to set off alarms. Still, they were unsettling to hear about if you headed for the north thinking it was completely off-limits to the bad guys.
Our single son had a flight out early Sunday morning, so Saturday evening my wife, daughter and I headed down to Tel Aviv to drop him off at a friend’s apartment. Needing a break before driving back to Jerusalem, we decided it would be a great idea to have something to drink on the beach. We learned later that Hamas had put out a notice that it intended to shoot rockets toward Tel Aviv at 9:00 p.m.
How considerate. This is apparently Hamas’ sick effort to show its constituents how they can make the Jews jump.
We didn’t get the notice. Judging by the number of people on the beach, in the cafes, getting ready to watch the World Cup on large screens planted in the sand, a lot of other people either did not get the notice or did not care. Some refreshing coffee drinks, two tzeva adoms during which we made a lot of new friends in the hallway under the beach café, a couple of loud booms as Iron Dome did its work, and it was time for the bill.
Our single son took off as scheduled this morning. The rest of the family, granddaughter included, is here in Jerusalem. It has not been the most relaxing vacation for our family. It has had its ups and downs, particularly for our son and daughter-in-law. Several instances of moving up flights in anticipation of leaving. Non-refundable tickets, cancellation fees, starts and stops. All while sleep deprived.
Bottom line: It’s the worst of times and the best of times. By geography and by attitude, Israelis live together. We feel for, we worry for, we want to be there for, those suffering in the South.
Whether or not they actually hit a target, rockets injure and hurt. People are frightened. Kids start wetting their beds. Frightened young and frightened old tremble. It is not fun, even if you have the luxury of running up and down the country escaping most of it with family and a wonderful new granddaughter.
If Hamas thinks we are leaving, they are delusional. Do we despair? Of course. We despair because we value peace. Peace for them and for us. We despair because we value life. Life for us and for them. We despair as our young people are called up and move into position for dangerous, dirty work. But we are not leaving our country. We would like to help them build theirs.
Yet, as they say, life does go on. A rich, positive life. People providing meals. People watching soccer games. People jumping into the sea. People sipping good wine. People sending toys and blankets. People still honking their horns incessantly.
Of course, no one would wish for what we are experiencing. But I’ve been enriched though sometimes frightened watching a people, my people, come together to say we care about each other, and we will live our lives in our country.
Shoshana will, thankfully, have no memory of her first visit to Israel, and I pray that by the time she is a young adult this summer of terror and war will be only memories. But in many, many ways, it will be a wonderful memory to have had her, her parents, her uncle and her aunt here for this summer.
I’ve been pained watching my son and daughter-in-law deal with this while coping with a new baby. I would have understood, I would still understand, if they left. This is not a trip to Hawaii.
But I am proud that they and our other son chose to come and to stay, and I am proud that our daughter continues to make this her home and to love her country. I feel that, in our tiny way, we’ve made a statement of solidarity with our people, even if it included a lot of good wine, beautiful views, nice beaches, a lot of driving, and an occasional frightening moment.
It wasn’t those lazy days of summer Nat King Cole sung about in 1963. It has had its share of crazy and hazy, but then, so did 1963.