Friday, September 5, 2014

Reflections from My Summer in Israel

By: Dr. Tammy Jacobowitz, Tanakh Department Chair

When I asked my children what I should tell the students of SAR High School about our summer in Israel, I got two pieces of advice:
1. Don’t make it seem that scary.
2. Don’t get too emotional.

The truth is, since I got back from my summer in Israel just a few weeks ago, I have thought long and hard about what to share about my experience there. Of all the times that I have been to Israel, and thank God, I have been blessed to have been in Israel many times, this past summer was different. What I felt there and saw there and learned there were of a different order than any other trip, and I want to tell people about it, if only to explain why I feel and think differently now about Israel, about being Jewish, about chesed, about empathy, and about war.

But  most of the time, I have felt like a kid back from sleepaway camp, unable to find words to explain why I feel so changed, and looking at everyone around me like they just won’t get it.

But I will try.

This summer in Israel, I learned the true meaning of 90 seconds. What it feels like to hear a wailing siren in the middle of the night, a sound that rips me apart in the inside like the first blast of the shofar, to drag my sleeping children down to an underground bomb shelter, to hold them all as tight as my arms will allow, and to sing them back to sleep, even if it takes hours, when the only thing I have to help them is my voice and my presence.

And yet, this summer in Israel, I heard the knocks on the door from strangers in my building, eager and willing to help anyone with kids down to the miklat.  I saw the smiles of unfamiliar people in the bomb shelter, a woman who the next day brought down rugs and snacks and paint, for the next time, so the kids won’t be scared. I felt the connectedness of Am Yisrael, when everyone cares for each other during those 90 seconds, the ten minutes of waiting until it is safe, and the days that follow.

This summer in Israel, I spoke incessantly to my children about rockets and launching pads, about rifles and mortars, about safe rooms and Army service and guards and guns and dying children in Gaza. We watched a YouTube video about the Iron Dome. They asked questions that I could barely answer, and if I could, my heart was breaking while I did. My 7 year old asked: How does the Israeli army know who is Hamas and who isn't when they attack? Why don't we tell everyone who is not Hamas in Gaza to come to Israel, and then everyone who is Hamas can stay there to fight?

And yet, this summer in Israel, we returned from a week of traveling up North, learning about mosaics and hiking in water, imagining life from the time of the second Beit Hamikdash and eating as much ice cream as we could— and my children decided on their own to raise money for the soldiers who had been dying all week. On their own, they went to the makolet, bought lemons and sugar, and sold lemonade at our park למען החיילים. Young and old came over to see the stand run by American children, donated money, told them “kol hakavod”. They raised 100 dollars for the Lone Soldier Organization. They told me it was the best part of their summer.

This summer in Israel, as we walked across Yerushalyaim on Shabbat, we took note of good spots to hide if there were a siren, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief every time we made it back to a building with a known miklat. Our itinerary kept changing, and there were places we were too scared to go. I did not go visit close friends in Beer Sheva, but with trepidation, paid a shiva call to an old friend in Ashdod. Every day, every choice came with it a low dose of anxiety, an unknown, and a sense of relief when all was okay.

This summer in Israel, I took long walks with my children in the streets of Yerushalayim, meeting friends whose husbands were fighting in Gaza, and who greeted us with strength, joy and love. On our walks, I told my kids stories about the people whose names were on the street signs, so that they would know that Jewish history and Jewish present permeate Jerusalem and Israel.

To view this on YouTube click here.

As I wrote in my journal in July:
In America, stories about Jews under attack and near annihilation are stories. Stories that generate holidays we love. Stories to tell at the table while we eat latkes and hamentaschen, and dip lettuce into delicious haroset.  But here, in Israel, the stories recede from the playbook and overcrowd the space. It is hard to tell what is now and what is then.

This summer in Israel, I felt like I was living inside Jewish history in a way that is unparalleled in America. And with the pain and the fear and the sadness, there was tremendous power in the connectedness, the sense of family that is a reality in Israel under crisis. As American Jews, we may live most of the time far away from Israel, but we are a part of the story, when we go, and when we call, and when we fight for Israel from here.