We were just there, my family, for the holidays.
Just in Israel for 20 glorious days.
A visitor in my Homeland.
Oh, the irony.
You know when you’re laying in bed and your lover gets up and leaves, how somehow even though he’s gone, you can still feel him? You can still smell him? Still imagine he’s right there?
But he’s not.
It’s been 13 days since we’ve returned (or better, since we’ve left) and I still feel Israel right next to me. Still feel her embrace tight around my soul. Still inside me.
And I can feel her in pain.
It started again while we were there.
A Sukkah party we hosted on Thursday night, so many of our friends who live in the Land and visiting from abroad tightly squeezed into our willowy white sukkah in Jerusalem, drinking wine, eating cheese, laughing. Someone received a text- there was a piguah, a terror attack, close to a settlement called Ittamar. A couple was shot at point blank by waiting assailants while their four children were sleeping in the back of the car – murdered.
And just like that, we felt a shift.
The next one came two days later. Shabbat ended and we received a text – there was a deadly stabbing in the Old City, right where we were the night before.
And then, another shift.
In all my time spent in Israel over the last 18 years, I was never there for a ‘wave of terror.’ And now, with my family, I was experiencing just that – being present in Israel during a series of stabbings that were paralyzing the nation.
Yet with all the fear and panic, we experienced something extraordinary – a kind of strength, of bravery, of security that defied all comprehension.
A kind of fortitude otherworldly — G-dly.
And as the terror reports kept coming in faster and faster, we boarded our plane back to the United States.
It was time to leave.
Yet all of you stayed behind, facing the terror that just doesn’t seem to end.
And while I face my guilt, you are looking evil right in the eye.
How do you sleep at night?
How do you kiss your children goodbye in the morning as they make their way to school, unsure if they will return home alive?
How do you walk the streets, constantly looking over your shoulder, paranoid that someone will stab you in the back?
How do you keep yourselves so joyful, so full of promise, so freakin’ strong and courageous when there are a million reasons to hole yourselves up in your homes and live in total, utter fear? – and how could anyone blame you if you did just that?
How do you go to work everyday, trying to be productive while listening anxiously to the news?
How do you look at the Arab vendor in the eye as you take your change from his outstretched hand?
How do you tell your children that they can no longer rollick in the park with bags of Bamba in hand, carelessly playing their ingenious, made-up games until it’s just-about-dark and time to run home?
How do you still talk about peace and love and coexistence when there’s so much hate all around you?
How are you still sane while remaining so vigilant, so suspicious, so unsure of what the next minute will bring?
To these questions, I have no answer.
Because, unlike you, I am not in the Land.
And as much as I feel her inside me, as much as I love her, as much as I wish I could be back there right now, I am not there.
But you are.
You, the brave soldier, a young person of only eighteen, guarding your post with so much pride.
You, the one praying so earnestly at the Wall, the one sitting in the cafe drinking your coffee black, the one playing guitar outside on a starry night, the one lounging on the beautiful beaches that dot our Holy Land.
You, the Mother, the one pushing her carriage up hill, the one trying to entertain her kids while cooped up at home, the one who must hold it all together for so many, all the time.
You, the idealist immigrant, the seasoned war veteran, the one who’s caressed every inch of the Land?
You, the street sweeper, the pita baker, the one who’s been roasting your spices in the Shuk for years and years, showing up every morning without fail to sell your wares.
You, the one waiting for the bus on your way to work, the one responding to the cries of your neighbor, the one driving home after your high school reunion.
You, the one preparing to go on Reserves, who said to me, ” I am not afraid. Let my enemy be afraid of me.”
You, the Sabra, the one who’s been there for generations, your skin thick as old leather, your heart as soft as cotton.
You, the middle-aged woman who stopped me when she heard me speaking English to my children, who wanted to hear a familiar tongue after moving to Israel just two weeks before. “It was always my dream to make Aliya. I didn’t know it would be so hard.”
You, the young ones with hope, the children running through the alleyways barefoot, no care in the world, so pure and full of splendid light.
You, the bus driver, the cab driver, the waiter, the artist, the beggar, the street performer, the ones out on the street with no place to hide.
You, you, you.
To every single one of you, fellow Jewish brothers and sisters, who live in Israel, I say thank you.
For because of You,
And only because of you,