April 17, 2013

My heart is in Boston.

On Monday evening Itzik and I went out for dinner with friends to a lovely Italian restaurant to celebrate  Israel’s Independence Day. Libbie and her husband Tzahi joined us and we all made merry. That is, until Libbie and I received news alerts on our phone about the Boston Bombing. Libbie and I met (and fell in love) in Boston, and we both immediately began scouring the interwebs for information about what happened, and for word from our friends and families there. I had been following updates all day from friends of mine who were in Boston to run the marathon, and when I heard about two bombs detonating near the finish line I felt my heart drop into my stomach. The rest of my evening was spent making calls and checking Facebook in an effort to account for anyone who may have been downtown that day (thankfully, most of my friends in Boston usually avoid the shitshow that is downtown Boston on Marathon Monday) and I was grateful to learn quickly that my loved ones were safe.

It is hard to put into words the feelings I experienced after learning about this. Confused. Sad. Scared. Homesick. Sick. Worried. When I lived in Boston and followed Israeli news (esp after Libbie moved to Tel Aviv) it was always upsetting to learn about terrorism happening here. But it was never altogether surprising. It is, after all, the Middle East. These things have a context here. That context never mitigates the horror and sadness of terrorism, but there’s a frame of reference and usually there’s never any doubt about the motive. 

When it comes to Monday’s events in Boston, however, there is no context. And for me to be living here, in Israel- where a certain level of violence is expected on occasion- and to watch bombs exploding in Boston? It was surreal. Videos of the explosions were online before we even paid the bill, and I watched in horror on my phone as buildings I used to walk by daily were torn apart. The Boston setting was familiar, and the scene of terror was familiar- but I could not wrap my head around the two together….and it made me homesick in a way I haven’t experienced until now. Knowing how 'commonplace' things like this are for my Israeli friends deepens my respect for the Israeli experience. It also makes me hope that those in Boston effected by this tragedy can rebound from their pain, and stand strong against whomever is to blame.

When Israel and Hamas went to war a few months ago, I had an experience of war and terrorism that was new for me. And the biggest lesson I learned from Israelis was this: if the fear prevents you from living your life, the terrorists have won. You must press on, you must garner strength from the knowledge that life will always conquer death, good will prevail over evil.

So, to my friends and loved ones in Boston- my heart is with you. I am overjoyed and utterly relieved that you are all ok, and I wish so much that I could be there with you right now. My heart breaks for our city, and for those who were affected by this tragedy. I pray that whomever is to blame will not be allowed a victory of fear. May justice be swift, and recovery short.

UPDATE: my friend Jen lives in Boston and wrote an account of her experience here. Jen and I worked together at the David Project, and she moved to Israel a year before me. She's an American-Israeli who has studied counter-terrorism, and the article is excellent. Check it out.


A quick (but nonetheless important) aside:

Four years ago, I drove a new little family home from Mass General Hospital, and was introduced to a little girl who would change my world forever- Liron Etta. I watched my good friends Sasha and Ellen become exemplary parents overnight, and I hope that one day my family will be half as happy as theirs. I had the privelage of becoming a part of their family, and the memories we made together are precious to me.

You guys are my family, and today I wish more than ever that I could be with you to celebrate. I miss you every day, and I can’t wait to be back this summer to make more memories together. Keep a place for me at the table, and in your hearts.

Happy birthday, Liron!! I love you so much.

April 15, 2013

More holidays? More holidays!

I am constantly asking myself (and my boyfriend) "what holiday(s) is Israel observing this week?"
Cause, yeah, there are almost weekly holidays here.

Well, yesterday at sundown began Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day).
When that ends (at sundown today...sensing a pattern?) Yom Hatzma'ut (Independence Day) begins.
I love this time of year, because the holidays Israel observes are simultaneously somber and celebratory 
(Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day).

What I love about these two days in particular is how meaningful and present these days are for the people of Israel as a collective, and the significance found in observing them side by side.
Yesterday, at 8pm, a siren rang out across the country (just like on Yom HaShoah), and again, the entire nation paused and remembered those 23,085 lives lost in service to the Jewish State. Another siren was heard this morning at 11am to mark the 'end' of the holiday.
Here's a video from this morning in Jerusalem. 

In such a tiny and new nation (only 65 years old today!)- not to mention one with such a bloody history- every Israeli knows someone who died in war. Memorial Day here is a somber day- television is filled with documentaries and special programming about individuals who died in battle, families telling of their sons and daughters whose lives were given so that a nation might live. 

Itzik asked me this morning "does America have a day like this?"
Sadly, no. For me, Memorial Day back home was only sad because I usually didn't have the day off of work. Only government employees and really lucky people got the day. Maybe there are some sales at the mall. But it's really more of an afterthought- a day imbued with half-significance. Also, the US is so big. You could go your whole life and not know one person who served in the military. People have lost touch with the fact that freedom comes at a price, a heavy price. And those who have paid it are all too easily forgotten.
But here in Israel, forgetting is not easily done. Nor should it be.

And then, Independence Day. This is truly a festive day.
Flags galore, roof parties, beaching, picnics (and alcohol)...

It is a lot like the 4th of July back home, but what I really love about Israel's Independence Day celebration is the fact that it comes IMMEDIATELY after Memorial Day.
Because in order to truly appreciate the freedom we have, we have to remember (and thank) those who fought for us to be free.

So, to Israel (my home away from home)
I wish you a very Happy 65th Birthday!
May you go from strength to strength. 
I'm proud to live here, and grateful you exist.

April 8, 2013

Never forget. Never again.

I want to dedicate this post to a woman who, before she passed away two years ago, 
survived the Holocaust and spent the rest of her life bearing witness to the unthinkable. 
Sonia Schreiber Weitz was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Plaszow, Mathausen, Bergen Belsen, and Auschwitz. Of her 84 family members in Poland before WWII, Sonia and her sister Blanca were the sole survivors. Through her poetry, courage, humility, and generosity Sonia taught me what love really is. Despite all of the evil she endured, she came out on the other side a teacher, a mother, a poet, and a friend. How can someone look evil in the face and still be capable of such love and warmth? It is unimaginable to me.
I had the pleasure of working with Sonia for 3 years when I was in college, and not once did I ever hear her utter a bitter word against God (surely something she would have been allowed). 
Whenever Sonia was asked if she ever felt abandoned by God, her reply came without hesitation: 
“I never wondered where God was, but where was man?”
I miss her deeply, especially today.

For Yom HaShoah
By Sonia Schreiber Weitz

Come, take this giant leap with me
into the other world...the other place
where language fails and imagery defies,
denies man's consciousness...and dies
upon the altar of insanity.

Come, take this giant leap with me into the other world...the other place
and trace the eclipse of humanity...
where children burned while mankind stood by,
and the universe has yet to learn why
...has yet to learn why.

Today (starting at sundown Sunday) is Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance day in Israel. 
This is, in my humble opinion, one of the most special of all the Israeli holidays. 
For 24 hours the mood of (it seems) the whole country shifts, and the lives of the 6 million who perished at the hands of the Nazis are honored. 
At 10am this morning, a siren was sounded across the whole country; everything and everyone was still for an entire minute

Photo from The Times of Israel

Literally. Traffic on every road came to a halt. People stopped walking, drivers stepped out of their cars, and an entire nation was united for 60 seconds of remembering why and how this country came into existence- as a place of refuge for the remaining few Jews who had escaped the grasp of death and returned to the land that the God of the Bible promised to them. Israel exists as a beacon of hope, a reminder that once, the world turned away and allowed evil to take the reins.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, spoke last night at the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad V’Shem, saying that the Holocaust is still with us. His words were a reminder to us all that the evil which extinguished 6 million souls in Nazi Europe is alive and well in the supremacist, hate-filled ideology known as radical Islam. And, as if to prove his point, those extremists launched attacks on Israel, timed to coincide with this solemn day, and showed the world the true face of Israel’s enemies.

Yesterday, Anonymous, a hacker group who lives up to its name, coordinated with Arab terror organizations around the Middle East to launch a cyber attack on Israeli businesses, banks, and government institutions. The media hyped the event as an impending catastrophe, and we in the Israeli public were advised to reset passwords, avoid online banking, and told to expect slower web speed. All in all, this ‘cyber war’ was more like a dry run for the security community here, to see how their protections and security systems would withstand such an attack. It was a blip on the radar (although I have to say I was really frustrated that it took me an hour to download an episode of ‘Californication’).

Additionally, terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched rocketsinto Israel on Sunday evening, yet another violation of the ceasefire established after the mini-war which took place last winter. There have been several rockets fired at Israel in the last 2 weeks, incrementally more each time, and chatter about another defensive operation from the Israelis has already begun. Who knows what will happen, but the rockets fired yesterday sent a clear message of disrespect, and ongoing aggression from Israel’s enemies.

I find yesterday’s attacks against Israel to be despicable, but am unwilling to waste any more time on them today- the day when the world must remember what happened 70 years ago, if we are to prevent it from happening again.

In honor of Sonia, and all those whose lives were forever marred by hate and supremacism, I say loudly:

Never again.