never a dull moment

I’m just now back from an unholy sickness of five days’ time. I thought it was flu, I thought it was ear infections, then I thought it was a dybbuk infestation—the latter after struggling awake in the middle of the night, because unreadable flying disembodied Hebrew words were stuffing themselves down my dry throat and suffocating me. (Can a word be disembodied? They were silent, and out of context. Dis-envoiced/dis-ensentenced.) That little hallucination happened two nights in a row. But I’m again among humanity, and enjoying my plain crackers and applesauce. Um yum. Eternal gratitude to my suppliers of sympathy and instant soup, ND hugely first among them.

Of course there’s far more to report than the dramatic physical meltdown. Was supposed to facilitate with Encounter on a big trip to Bethlehem last week, but the trip was (turns out) wisely cancelled. In response to the Gaza incursions of the previous week, there had been demonstrations throughout the West Bank, also in Bethlehem, and stone-throwing in some of our spots-to-visit.

It’s an interesting problem: Encounter wants to give American Jews access to regular Palestinian Bethlehem life. Is it dishonest to want to visit in the best possible times, not in the middle of grief and pain and anger? We exist because our participants—mostly American Jews in Israel for a year, for rabbinical school or other leadership training—don’t have access to Palestinians, and come largely from a culture in America that fears and blames Palestinians for the conflict. We’re trying to increase mutual understanding, and it’s hard to work against the inculcated image of violent, mobbish Palestinians when they’re (however justifiably) hanging out in angry crowds.

Fearless leader Ilana decided to postpone on Monday. Thursday afternoon, when we would have been enjoying the gorgeous weather in the Bethlehem Hotel, the Encounter staff instead enjoyed each others’ company for a festive lunch on the patio outside our new office. Thursday evening—when we would have sent our participants off with their Palestinian host families—was the terrorist shooting spree in the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva that left eight young men dead. It was desperately hard for people to process this horror while relatively ‘at home’ in Jerusalem. I can only imagine what it would be like to facilitate 50 people dealing with this while in Bethlehem, amidst Palestinian hosts.

Last week the IDF bombed and invaded civilian areas of the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of 40-100+ Palestinians, depending who you ask. This was calculated to stop Hamas from launching rockets into Sderot and Ashkelon, two Israeli towns bordering on the Strip. I felt sick and depressed. Others did too, both here and in the States.

And this is the part where some people think I’m justifying terrorism. For the record, I deplore violence and pray for all parties to the conflict to renounce its use. But, and this is the really painful part, did the Gaza “incursion” hit much of Jerusalem in the gut? The front-page photos of flag-draped coffins—the few Israeli soldiers who died in Gaza—were sad, and the anguish of their families real, and many of us also supported negotiations, not attacks. However, there is something much more shocking about hearing sirens and helicopters, getting panicked phone calls from neighbors, friends, and overseas family about your location and safety, worrying whether there’s other terrorists running around your city.

Thank god that I was born a relatively safe and free person in America, hostage to neither side of this bloodbath. Thank god I don’t have to listen for sirens and helicopters every day in Gaza, waiting for the next member of my family to be arrested, jailed, or shot. Thank god I have no relatives in Sderot or Ashkelon or, shudder, Hebron, to fear for.

This is what it takes to make Israel hurt. It doesn’t help anyone, but when your people are killed and there’s no end in sight, well, marginal people are pushed into sociopathic actions. Israel hurts, and it strikes back, but retributive attacks don’t work. You can’t stop terrorists with maximum violence. (Without unacceptable collateral massacre.) As my esteemed colleague from Jewish Dialogue Group writes, the only remedy for extremism is moderation.

So my friends and I went out dancing on Thursday night, as we had planned. It was beautiful. Totally random crazy Israeli DJing, from “We Go Together” to Bollywood hits to “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu”?! Typical ultra-casual hippie-ish gaggle of Israelis and Americans (this being Jerusalem). The dancing concluded with a lanky, lank-haired guy helping us channel our beautiful energy for peace. This involved linking arms and chanting “shaloooommmmm” with other sweaty people. Ended up home late and tired—perhaps why I got sick Friday night?—and standing by my own belief that the way to deal with terror is not to be terrified.

Since then it’s been a blur, honestly, of hot drinks and aching joints. Briefly, also, last week I chose fatefully to remain in my ulpan, which continues to be too hard and a bit of a madhouse, rather than switch to one that had smaller classes and nicer students but met only twice a week instead of five times. I am reassured that no one learns to speak Hebrew in ulpan, only grammar and vocabulary. This week I have practiced key cultural idioms such as “do you have applesauce?,” “I am very sick,” “a large glass of orange juice,” and “please, another orange juice.”

Ha ha! No really, I am so well prepared for this upcoming weekend, when ND and I will luxuriate in the bosom of his family in Katzrin, a lovely spot in the Golan. His parents are celebrating their 42nd anniversary (not really the point of the trip) and are hosting us in a charming B&B. The planning email was priceless: Yael (ND’s mom) responsible for nostalgic photo albums and stories, Irit (older sister) and her three sons bringing board games, Ilan (brother-in-law) finding the local pub, and ND and I giving a d’var Torah/sermon. Etc. At this point I will settle for being able to eat food and speak in sentences. English or Hebrew!

Missing you all terribly.