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Words matter.

Words are used to explain reality but they can also be used to shape reality, to create it. Sometimes exchanging a single word for another can change the picture entirely.

Personally I don’t believe there is any neutrality on the issue of Israel. There are people who are uninvolved and not particularly aware of the facts (in addition to those involved despite having no knowledge of the facts). The point is, there are facts – historical, cultural and religious, well documented facts. These can be disputed (and they often are) but not in arguments based on actual facts.

The people who wish to destroy Israel are hyper-aware of the power words have in creating reality and are consciously using well-chosen terminology to delegitimize Israel. Words are carefully chosen and used over and over as a mantra, a marketing slogan, until the general public begins to accept the words as accurate labels with historical, factual value.

Americans my age were told over and over: “Milk. It does a body good.” We heard it so many times, most people believe that milk is healthy, never considering that this message, designed by people wanting to sell milk, may not actually be true.

The words chosen in regard to Israel are specifically intended to disconnect Jews from our homeland, to diminish our history to the point where it can be completely disregarded.

And it is working.

Worse than that – people who love and support Israel are taking part in this, reinforcing and legitimizing it by participating in the narrative of the enemy.

Let’s be very clear:
When you use the terminology of the enemy you empowering the enemy.

If you are using these terms you are strengthening and providing justification to those that hate Israel. You, who love Israel, agree with their concepts, accept their terminology and by extension, are helping to create a reality where their terms must be accepted.

1. West Bank

West Bank seems like an innocuous term however it is its seeming innocence that makes it so deadly. “West Bank” is a term that takes the Jordan River as a reference point i.e. the west bank of the Jordan River.

The territory that is subtly being appropriated is Judea and Samaria, the heartland of Israel. This is the territory in which most of the bible took place. Shilo, the first capital of Israel is in the center of this territory. The Tabernacle was in Shilo for 369 years, before it was brought to Jerusalem.

Shilo can be found easily by following the directions contained in the Book of Judges (21:19). North of Bet El, east of the road heading from Bet El to Shechem (which the Arabs call Nablus), and south of Levona. The connection between this land and the Nation of Israel is very well documented.

The territory became disputed when it was conquered and occupied by the invading Jordanian army in 1948. When Israel was attacked in the 1967 Six Day War and had the temerity to actually win, regaining her ancient heartland and freeing Jerusalem it became popular to attempt to delegitimize this through terminology.

In reality calling Judea and Samaria the West Bank, as if this land is part of Jordan, is no better than saying “the occupied territories.” Can one really “occupy” their own home?

The war that the Arabs lost with soldiers and tanks is now being fought with words.

2. Wailing Wall

This commonly used, highly offensive term is an ancient form of delegitimizing Jewish history by diminishing Jewish anguish at the loss of the ancient Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

This is the term of non-Jews who occupied Israel, ridiculing the pain of the Jews who stood weeping at the Kotel, the Western Wall, which is the only wall left standing of the ancient Temple in the heart of Jerusalem. (It’s not even a wall of the Temple structure itself, it is a retaining wall of the compound).

During the period of Christian Roman rule over Jerusalem (ca. 324–638), Jews were completely barred from Jerusalem except to attend Tisha be-Av, the day of national mourning for the first and second Temples, and on this day the Jews would weep at the holy site. The term “Wailing Wall” was thus almost exclusively used by Christians, and was revived in the period of non-Jewish control between the establishment of British Rule in 1920 and the Six-Day War in 1967.

This derogatory term mocks the pain of the Jewish people, as in “there go those Jews, weeping again.”

Damn straight. We have much to mourn and weeping is a reasonable reaction to deep, painful loss. Would you mock a child whose mother was murdered in front of him? Would you ridicule the child who always remembered and mourned the loss of his mother? The Temple was the heart of the Nation of Israel, the center of the Jewish religion and culture. The Jewish people have not forgotten this and standing next to the Kotel, the Western Wall of the Temple that once stood on the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem is a poor substitute for what is supposed to be there, for what was once there.

Kotel is the word used in Hebrew which simply means “Wall”. The choice of this term is indicative of the importance of the structure in the Jewish mind – this one remaining wall is so significant that it is not necessary to detail which wall is being mentioned, it is THE Wall. It is not the Wall itself that is holy, it was the Temple and what stood at its center that was holy. 2000 years, exile and many terrible experiences along the way, have not been enough to make the Jewish people forget the importance of the Temple. The Wall has grown in significance because it is all that remains of the Temple, because of that it is precious.

“Western Wall” is a factual description of the Wall. The Kotel is the western retaining wall of the Temple and it is perfectly reasonable to describe it as such. The “Wailing Wall” is an offensive term, used to belittle and diminish the Jewish people and our connection to Israel and Jerusalem. If that is not your goal, don’t use that term.

3. Palestine

Palestine is a name given to the Land of Israel for the sole purpose of disconnecting the Jewish people from Judea, from Israel, from Zion. This was done in the 2nd century CE, when the Romans crushed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba (132 CE), and gained control of Jerusalem and Judea which was renamed Palaestina in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel. After World War I, the name “Palestine” was applied to the territory that was placed under British Mandate; this area included not only present-day Israel but also present-day Jordan. Leading up to Israel’s independence in 1948, it was common for the international press to label Jews, not Arabs, living in the mandate as Palestinians.

Words give meaning and form to reality, thus names are of vast importance. It is obvious that Jews belong in Judea, but who belongs in Palestine?

Palestine is and always was, a politically motivated name. It is a name that is meant to denigrate and destroy the Jewish connection to her homeland. Arab “Palestinians” are a nationality invented to facilitate and justify cleansing Jews from Israel.

If you will – calling Israel, “Palestine” is the original hate speech.

Before the Final Solution was formulated, Hitler wanted to send the Jews “home to Palestine.” At the time there was no question regarding where the Jews belong. Now Jews in Israel are being told to “go home” to Europe. We are being told that we are occupiers of a land called Palestine, that we have usurped a people called the Palestinians.

This insidious lie has taken root within the world culture to the point where many nations around the world have recognized the existence of a Palestinian people and even declared there to be a country called Palestine. The fact that this is a modern day invention meant to REPLACE Israel is completely ignored.

The historical facts are indisputable. There have been Arabs in the region for centuries. There are Israeli Arabs, Jordanian Arabs, Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian Arabs. There are Arabs in Gaza and Arabs in Judea and Samaria. There are Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs.

(There used to be Jews in all the same areas, before it became necessary for Jews to flee Arab ruled lands.)

There never was a Palestinian people. This modern day invention based on the geographical territory Palaestina was created for the sole purpose of undermining Israel.

And it is working.

The Palestinian myth has taken root in the political arena, leading many to assume that with the right leadership, a country called Palestine can live peacefully next to Israel. The Two State Solution places Palestine instead of Judea and Samaria, the heartland of Israel, the territory that is or historical and religious connection to this land. The assumption that this is a reasonable or even feasible solution ignores the Arabs in Jaffa, Akko and Haifa that consider themselves “Palestinians.” It is Arabs throughout Israel who are dreaming of a new land instead of Israel.

When a place called Palestine replaces Judea, it will be possible for “Palestinians” to replace the Jews.

The Arabs that never accepted the existence of the Jewish State, who lost all the wars they waged against Israel and the Jewish people are winning the war of ideas. They are winning because people like you and me are adopting their terminology and accepting the concepts and reality being constructed by those words.

Words matter. Choose yours wisely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tisha B’Av Jewish people in Israel and around the world mourn the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temple.

The destruction of the Temple meant the destruction of the centerpiece of Judaism, tearing apart of the foundation of Jewish culture and the Nation of Israel.

This and the exile that followed should have been enough to eliminate the Jewish people. It wasn’t.

2000 years did not make the Jewish people forget.

The image people around the world today have of the Temple Mount is that of the golden domed mosque which was built on the ruins of the Temple in 691 C.E. Since that time the Dome of the Rock has been a holy place for the Moslem people – although not central to their religion. Considered the third holiest location in Islam, it is not mentioned a single time in the Koran.

Temple Mount expln

Within the Dome of the Rock is the Foundation Stone, the foundation on which it is believed that God created the earth. This was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, within the ancient Jewish Temple.

Today Jews are not allowed anywhere near the site that is most holy to us. We may not enter the Dome of the Rock, not even to look. Ascending to the Temple Mount is highly restricted and prayers are strictly forbidden.

Today we mourn what was lost to our people.

Inspiration from Zion: This is a Love Story

Today is a day of fasting for religious Jews around the world – the 9th day of the month of Av (Jewish calendar) is the day when both the first and second Temples were destroyed, the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.

The destruction of the Jewish Temple meant the destruction of the most holy, pivotal location to the Jewish religion, culture and people. Destruction of the Temple was an attempt to destroy the Jewish nation – take out the cultural linchpin, the one element that ties everyone together and everything will fall apart.

It is written:
As the navel is set in the centre of the human body,
so is the land of Israel the navel of the world…
situated in the centre of the world,
and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,
and the sanctuary in…

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Israel doesn’t do things the way other nations do and our national anthem is no exception to that rule.

What other nation on earth has had a national anthem at a time when they did not have a State they could call home?

Hatikva English and Hebrew

 

The original poem was called Tikvatenu (Our Hope), was revised over the years, including by Imber himself and eventually became the two stanza anthem, Hatikva (The Hope), sung today.The words of Israel’s national anthem were written as a nine-stanza poem by poet Naftali Hertz Imber and were first published in 1876 or 1877 (the exact date is unknown). It served as the anthem of the Zionist Movement at the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933.

Although Hatikva was firmly established in the public’s consciousness as Israel’s national anthem, it was not formally legislated as such until 57 years after the establishment of the state.

For other nations, the anthem is a tool to build and reinforce national consciousness. Their songs speak of pride, superiority, the glory of battle and/or upholding the reign of the ruler. The lyrics reinforce the cohesion of a people based on their similar traits, taking part in the same battles and living in the same land.

Here too Israel is different.

Hatikva mentions no battles, no fight against oppressors and no similar traits belonging to our nation.

The consciousness of Israel as a nation has existed for thousands of years. There is no need to “pump” ideas of brotherhood or belonging together, the “our” in the lyrics comes quietly, naturally, without fanfare.

A people scattered across the globe, we are not bound by similar traits but by our Jewish soul.

Hatikva speaks not of external struggles, although oppression and survival against all odds have been (and still are) a common experience for our people. After the re-establishment of Israel as the Jewish State there were many battles and victories that could have inspired anthems like those of other nations. Instead, Hatikva, The Hope, remained. It was never an external circumstance that held the Nation of Israel together, it was a state of mind or rather a state of spirit.

That was true during the exile and it is still true today.

The hope, the yearning of a people to be free in their own land is the story of the Jewish people but it is also a universal sentiment. The yearning of the soul to be free and shape its own destiny is a human truth, something that all people can identify with.

Our national anthem is unusual because we are unusual. One could say that, as Israel serves as an example of possibility and potential for all people, so does our anthem. Hatikva is the story of hope even in the darkest times, when there is no logical reason to retain hope. It tells us that the soul is stronger than any external circumstances.

Yearning to be free in a place one can call home, is a sentiment that resonates with all souls. To belong, to be safe, to be free are basic human needs.

Zion and Jerusalem are the home of the Jewish soul but they are also the example, the proof that all people can find the home their soul yearns for. Possibly this is the secret of Israel, why she fascinates and why she gives so many, including non-Jews, the feeling that coming to Israel is coming home.

 

 

 

 

Education in Israel

Last week I attended the graduation ceremony at Tiltan, one of Haifa’s two art schools.

It is stunning to consider that, in a city with a population of less than 300,000 residents, we have two universities, including the world renowned Technion Institute, two art colleges and a teacher’s training college. Haifa also has one of the most famous high-schools in the country – which was founded 103 years ago, before Israel became a State. We have one of the best grade-schools in the country as well.

Education has always been important to Jews. We are, after all, the People of the Book.

Tiltan is a school of design and visual media. The student population, like at all the institutes of higher education in Haifa, is mixed Jewish and Arab.

The graduation ceremony I attended took place on the roof of the school. It was packed. The sheer amount of creative people all together was amazing to consider and doubly so after learning that the ceremony was split in to two sections, according to what the students studied. There were simply too many students to include in a single event. When considering that this is just one of two art schools in Haifa it becomes even more remarkable.

20160717_175346

There was an exhibition of student projects on each floor of the school. The projects are made available for public viewing so that, in addition to displaying the students’ achievements for friends and family, business people can come scout out fresh talent they would like to work with.

The building itself is interesting. The funky interior design is wh20160714_225911cat could be expected of any art school, anywhere in the world. It is in the basement where visitors can see the building’s past – under the British Mandate it was used as a bank and it still has safe-rooms, where the money was once stored, fortified doors and all.

The ceremony was uniquely Israeli; very simply arranged and ultra-casual but it was the content that made it unlike anything you would find anywhere else in the world.

The ceremony started acknowledging students who had been killed in terror attacks over the years, people whose families donated scholarships in memory of their loved ones. These scholarships were given to exceptional students: men and women, Jews and Arabs.

First, second and third year students who were outstanding in their field of study received certificates of excellence. More than one student was honored for their kindness towards others, for going out of their way to assist people in need.

From the beginning of the ceremony a woman sat at the side of the stage, translating everything in to sign language. Who was she translating for? Simultaneous sign language translation is done for prime time news on tv but is not something one would normally see at a graduation ceremony. It wasn’t long before I discovered the explanation. The student deemed the overall most outstanding in her studies also happens to be deaf. This translator had attended every class with her throughout her three years of study! Many of students, her friends, surrounded her, also speaking in sign language.

Everyone in the audience quickly learned that raising your arms and shaking your hands signifies applause which was given with great enthusiasm.

In an aside, the Master of Ceremonies, noted that this student would also be participating in the upcoming Olympics though he did not say in what capacity.

At one point a certain student was invited to the stage. I wondered how he would mount the stage as he was in a wheelchair and there were a few steps to reach the stage. Out of nowhere a few students unfolded a mobile ramp, set it in place and made sure it was safe for the young man to roll up and take center stage. To my surprise music began playing and the young man began singing.

Did you know it’s possible to dance in a wheelchair?

His song was about hopes, dreams and achievement. The crowd was moved by the strength of his performance, the uplifting music (not by his handicap).

20160714_225835For those attending, not already familiar with the story, we were given an explanation. This young man had not been wheelchair-bound all his life. It was in 2009 that his life changed. He was one of the victims of an attack that horrified the nation: a psychopathic nut shot up a youth LGBT nightclub, murdering two and injuring others. This was one of the injured.

He will never be able to walk again but he soars on his music, proving to us all that it is possible to skip walking and move straight to flying…

As the ceremony continued, the ramp was moved aside just as swiftly as it had been put down. A representative of the bereaved families stood up to speak and present the scholarships. He spoke of his daughter who had been blown up in a suicide attack in Haifa. He spoke of her creativity and how he was happy that other students could expand on her ideas, how the students should grasp on to even the most fleeting of ideas, never dismissing them, because it is impossible to know what something that began small could eventually grow to be…

I watched as the graduating students received their certificates. Jews, Arabs, new immigrants, young and older students. People of all shapes and sizes. One mother received her diploma with a baby in her arm and her older children by her side. The ramp was again brought out to accommodate a different student in a motorized wheelchair. It seemed like he was born with cerebral palsy which weakens and can, as in his case, deform the body but does not affect the quality of the mind inside the head.

After the ceremony was over, the exhibition of student projects was officially opened. Some were not that great. Most were really interesting, thought provoking and unusual.

It was a night celebrating academic achievement, education and accomplishment.

Education is important but the real education isn’t in books.

In a ceremony honoring so many talented people and so much obvious academic achievement, the real accomplishment, the real education was in being a better human being: someone who knows that value is in content of character, not the way a person looks, their background or anything else.

The real education was in the understanding that if you allow your spirit to soar and you try hard enough nothing can ever hold you back: “If you can dream it, you can make it real.”

How very Israeli.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes. I said it.

Don’t jump on me, hear me out. This is not about being derogatory to an entire culture, this is about a little discussed but very dangerous trend that is effecting the entire world.

Yes. This is a generalization. Again – this is NOT about individuals, it’s about a culture.

To clarify (because many people find this confusing):
Not all Arabs are Muslim, there are Arab Christians too. In addition, not all Muslims are Arabs; for example the Muslims in Iran, Indonesia and Africa (who are converts to Islam). Arab culture stems from Islamic domination but is not consigned only to people of Muslim faith. There is an empathy problem in the Arab world. People of Arab descent raised in Western cultures will have more difficulty identifying with what I am writing. Looking to the Middle East (and ideology exported from the Middle East) things become more clear.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To be moved by the joy of another, to feel someone else’s pain. A word seldom used, an idea seldom discussed… where does empathy come from? What happens when it is missing?

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is a lack of empathy, something else will enter the void and take its place.

In recent years it has become impossible to ignore the violence that seems to permeate the Arab world. 9/11, 7/7 and an ever increasing list of terror attacks have brought Arab violence in to focus: violence against women, animals, gays and the handicapped – violence against anyone weak. ‘Honor killings,’ fathers killing their own daughters, sons killing their own mothers in the name of ‘honor’. Violence against Christians, Jews… Muslims killing Muslims that are not the right kind of Muslim. Muslims killing Muslims, killing their own neighbors. Trading in slaves. Terrorism: Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Jabat Al Nusra, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Hezbollah, Hizbut Tahrir… Did I miss anyone?

Even the most politically correct amongst us have difficulty explaining it away: “its workplace violence,” “because poverty,” “because Israel.” None of these often postulated “reasons” stand up under scrutiny. Others, knowing there is no excusing the inexcusable, often go to the other extreme, saying that the solution is to ban all Arabs (i.e. all Muslims). There are those who add all kinds of unhelpful descriptions, the most popular being “monsters” and “in-human animals”.

None of this does any good. In fact it is exactly the opposite: BOTH attitudes create a lot of damage. Turning a blind eye to atrocities does not make them go away. Defining people as monsters is equally damaging. Monsters can only be expected to behave in a monstrous fashion.

The true horror is that we are talking about people. It is people that are hurting other people (and animals) in atrocious, sickening ways.

The real question is: how can people commit acts of unspeakable violence and cruelty?

And the very politically incorrect but oh so crucial question: Why are atrocious acts so common in Arab society?

How could 17 year old, Muhammad Tarayra, sneak in to Hallel Yaffa Ariel’s bedroom, look at the sleeping 13 year old and think it reasonable, even honorable, to slit her throat? How could his mother declare that she is proud that her son is a murderer?

How? Why?

It is not enough to say: “hatred flamed by incitement”. There is something sacred about the life of a person. It takes an enormous void, a deep darkness inside to get to the point where it feels right to take the life of a child. Something is terribly wrong with the mother that rejoices in the death of her son, rejoices that he ripped away the life of someone else’s child.

Neither saw Hallel as a person. To them, no life is sacred. Not hers or their own. There is no horror in slaughtering a child in her own bed. That was only a means to an end and thus both justifiable and praiseworthy.

This is not the existence of hatred for hatred burns itself out. Hatred can be transformed in to love – both are strong emotions, passions that are flipsides of the same coin. This is the lack of emotion, the inability to identify with emotions – not Hallel’s, nor those of the people who loved her or even their own.

Empathy starts with small things. Early in life.

I have Arab friends (does that surprise you?). They are good, decent people. They aren’t terrorist or violent, they are just normal people trying to live normal lives. With all that, it was in their home that I recognized the empathy problem.

A small incident connected the dots for me, something most people would probably overlook. It happened when they were playing with their grandson.

Their first grandson, a boy named after the grandfather, is a source of extreme pride and joy. They love the boy very much, spoil him rotten and would do practically anything for him.

I watched the grandmother take the grandson, a toddler about one year old, lift him high in the air and then roll him down her chest in a kind of summersault. The grandmother was laughing at the game she invented. The baby, frightened by the height and being turned upside-down began to cry. She knew it was just a game, nothing bad would happen so she continued – up in the air, flip upside-down, laughing while he cried.

The grandmother, did not feel the fear of her beloved grandson. A woman who would never purposely hurt this child in any way, scared him and laughed while he cried. She could not feel his pain. She had no empathy for him.

This is just a tiny incident but it is one amongst countless incidents in a life. A message from the people closest to this child, the people who will be the most influential in forming his personality.

If the people closest to him do not recognize his pain, if they laugh when he cries, what will he learn?

If, when he grows a bit older, he hurts an animal and it cries out in pain, will it be so strange for him to respond by laughing? (This too, I have seen far too many times.)

When he grows up and gets married, if he hurts his wife, emotionally or physically and she cries, how will he respond? Will it be strange if he does not see a reason to reach out in compassion?

Remember, this is a good family. A kind and decent family. What happens in families that are cruel and violent? In families that pro-actively support violent activities?

Most people are focusing on the manifestations of violence. I think we should take a good hard look at their source. Understanding the cause is the beginning of the solution.

It’s all about empathy.

It begins with small incidents, very early in life. The void created by the lack of empathy is an open door, beckoning for violence to enter. The problem begins small but it is like a vacuum in space that pulls everything in to it. Light does not shine in the vacuum, everything implodes inwards.

The Arab world has an empathy problem. A big problem. And we are all suffering from the consequences.

Parents all over the world declare that they love their children so much that they would even die for them. In most countries that would be a hypothetical situation. In Israel it is not.

Honoring Ro’i Klein, 10 years after the Second Lebanon War.

This is the spirit of Israel.

Inspiration from Zion: This is a Love Story

 Meet Ro’i Klein. Look at his face. Doesn’t he look like a sweet and gentle man? 31 years old, husband to Sarah, father of three year old Gilad and one and a half year old Yoav, Ro’i (pronounced “Row-ee”) was supposed to celebrate his birthday on July 27th.

Admired for his calm peacefulness and constant smile, Ro’i was known for saying: “If I don’t do it, who will?” Many of Israel’s best say that exact same thing.

People who live in other countries do not understand why we Israelis love our soldiers so much. We keep saying that we hate war and violence, loving our soldiers doesn’t seem to fall in line with that sentiment. Ro’i Klein and others like him are the reason why.

Ro’i was a Major and Deputy Commander of the 51st Unit of the elite Golani Brigade. Golani has a slogan that captures the atmosphere…

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Ten years ago, on July 12th, 2006 the Second Lebanon War began with a coordinated Hezbollah attack on Israeli civilians and soldiers. They rained missiles down on towns in northern Israel causing injury, destruction and most of all distraction which they used to attack IDF soldiers. Hezbollah fighters crossed the border from Lebanon in to Israel, killed eight soldiers and kidnapped two, taking them back across the border in to Lebanon.

For Hezbollah that was a fantastic day.

The war lasted 34 days month. For that period of time the entire north of Israel was under siege. Our soldiers were fighting (and dying) inside Lebanon while everyone else was struggling to live in between missile bombardments.

During that time I was living with my mother in Karmiel. Lenny, who I had not yet met, was in Haifa documented the missile destruction in his beloved city. Haifa is not a border town and until that time no one dreamed that war would come to Haifa. But it did.

War in Haifa by Lenny M

Image from the War in Haifa photo series created by photojournalist Lenny M from Haifa. The series is in presentation format, according to days and can be viewed at: http://www.slideshare.net/lionhearte/

Below is a letter I wrote on July 15th 2006, three days in to the war. Three days of bombardment.

At the time I had no idea how long it would last or how it would end – a forced cease-fire in name only that has given Hezbollah time to rearm, becoming stronger and more deadly than they were then.

Update from Israel July 15, 2006

Dear all,

My thanks go out to all those who wrote or called, sending prayers for my safety and that of my family and my fellow Israelis. Your support, care and concern are much appreciated!

Some people have asked if I am safe. The answer to that is no. Israel has been bombarded with katusha rockets for the past few days now. We’re told that Hezbollah has fired some 750 rockets on Israel’s northern towns since Israel was attacked on Wednesday.

Some people have asked how far away I am from the rockets. Yesterday the answer to that was – a neighborhood away. Today the answer to that is – a street away.

This morning my mother and I went to visit my grandparents (who also live in Karmiel) and while there, out of curiosity I counted “booms”, katushas hitting Karmiel. I counted 14 that hit one after another. Earlier in the day there had been a few hits, one or two at a time, sometimes four in a row… there were more after the string of fourteen too… Oh, and for those who want to know why I wasn’t in a bomb shelter, I will get to that a bit later.

The rain of missiles all around us didn’t cause my family to panic but it did make it difficult to eat brunch calmly. A friend of the family called to check up on my grandparents; my mother and grandfather sat down to watch the news bulletin and I did the Israeli thing – I reached for my trusty cell phone and started making calls, checking up on all the people I know in the area. Most people I spoke with said they were fine. Yaron (the dear man who helped so much with the Healing Teddies Project) said that a katusha landed five meters from him but that he was ok. A good friend of my mother’s told me that she and her daughter were currently with relatives in Tel Aviv but that she knew a katusha had fallen on her street. She wondered if she’d return to a house with no windows (as they might have been broken out as a result of the missile hit).

My grandparents’ neighbor called to let us know where the katushas had landed: by the high school I attended, on the street below my grandparents’ house, some of whose residents used to go to school with me, on the street I used to live on before I moved to my current house, by (or in, I don’t yet know) the Karmiel college campus and on and on. In the previous two days I had heard of katushas landing in other places:  where friends and college classmates live, in a town that has a pub/club I used to frequent (they had really good music there), in Tzfat near the army base where I served and where officers and career soldiers I used to work with still serve, in Meron a town I used to pass through on my way to Tzfat, etc. etc. So many places that have been part of my life, so many people I know or once knew, people I may not get to see often or even speak with but people I still care very much about…

My grandparents’ neighbor told us that, like quite a few others, she decided to take her daughters to stay in the center of the country for a while. They couldn’t take the stress of the katusha bombardment or the frightening thought of “what if” – what if it had been their house hit rather than the house on the street below? It’s not the way I choose to handle this current difficulty but I completely understand their perspective. A friend of mine told me this morning that she had been unable to properly sleep at night because she had been repeatedly woken by the sound of explosions. When terrorism succeeds in disrupting your daily routine, making it impossible to function (as a result of spreading fear or simply depriving someone of their basic needs like sleep) – that’s when you know that the terrorists are winning.

Some of you asked if I’m ok. This question is very easy for me to answer. In my mind it is a question very different from “are you safe?” I can be in danger, upset, sad or angry and still be ok. I refuse to be anything other than ok!

I was horrified when I heard the news that two of our beloved soldiers had been taken hostage by Hezbollah. We already had one soldier hostage to the Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah is much worse than the Hamas. My heart felt very heavy when I heard that other soldiers had been wounded and some killed. I have seen into the lives of the wounded and the bereaved and am fully aware of the long, arduous journey they have ahead. I wish I could relieve them of their burden.  Since then there have been many more injuries and some deaths; both civilians and soldiers have been wounded and killed.

When I saw the footage of our tank blowing up I felt as if gripped in a vise, the weight of what had happened squeezing my lungs. The boys inside would never go home to their mothers. Civilians on a border town had been filming the army’s movements, they saw the tank explode right in front of them and they were helpless to do anything about it.

For me the story of a female farmer was the worst. She and her workers were stuck for hours in her apple orchards; they couldn’t work and they couldn’t leave because fighting was going on all around them. She didn’t have time to panic; she had to keep her workers calm so that they could stay safe. She thought the army would come and rescue them, taking them out of danger in an armored vehicle but no one came. Finally the fighting died down and the woman decided to drive home herself. She described driving down the road, past the twisted wreck that remained of the army vehicles attacked by the Hezbollah.

The soldiers didn’t come to her rescue because they had been ambushed and murdered, two taken hostage.

In a steady but very quiet voice she said: “I had to drive past the vehicle that had the soldiers’ bodies in it and that was very hard for me.” Hearing that, I wanted to collapse into the floor, pull the tiles over my head and just stay there. Horrible, terrible situations…

You might ask, with all that how can I possibly say that I am ok? The answer is, because I am. I choose to be ok.

I choose to love the strong brave people all around me. I choose to be thankful to those who are protecting me, whether they be in uniform or are currently wearing angel’s wings, I am so thankful for the work they are doing, the sacrifices they are making. Bad as things are, I choose to distance myself from fear and bring myself as close as possible to calm, tranquility and love. That choice was why I did not go down to the bomb shelter when, on Thursday, the sirens went off. I hadn’t heard those sirens since the Gulf War in 1991. My neighbors ran in a panic to the communal shelter. My mother and I chose to stay at home. I closed the windows and put on peaceful music. The chances of a direct hit on our house are very small, why should I huddle in fear and discomfort in a bomb shelter?

[After seeing the impact of missiles I became a bit more enthusiastic about getting the bomb shelter and I certainly would have stayed in the shelter if at the time I had children to protect]

In the Gulf War I learned not to panic from an air raid siren, to take precautions and reasonable risks and to leave fear out of the equation as much as possible. Fifteen years have passed since I learned that lesson! Today we kept to the middle section of my grandparent’s house, away from the windows (potential flying glass in an explosion) and comfortably ate a nice meal together. What’s better – sitting in a stuffy shelter anxious to hear where the rockets landed or spending quality time with one’s family and catching up with the news in comfort? I chose comfort. For people living in other places in Israel choosing as I did today may not have been a reasonable risk and it’s good that they chose otherwise. Had I been in the house in Karmiel that received a direct katusha hit I might be dead now rather than writing you this update (the other rockets landed outside houses, in yards, parking lots etc rather than inside). I am well aware of this fact and I choose to be ok with this.

My country, my town, I am being bombarded by missiles at no provocation. The people launching them belong to an organization hell-bent on destroying my country. They are incapable of defeating Israel in a fair fight, army to army, so they use guerilla warfare and psychological warfare. This is terrorism plain and simple. Terrorism can be used to devastating effect but no matter how dire the situation, there is always a loophole.

Throwing rockets at my country, my family and my home is supposed to terrify me and weaken me. But instead I can choose the loophole, I can react differently. That is what I have chosen. A terrorist can cause property damage, can ruin places I enjoy, hurt my friends, family and countrymen (and women). A terrorist can make my life difficult, unpleasant and even kill me. There is only one thing a terrorist cannot do and that is break my spirit. I have ultimate control over that!

I hear helicopters overhead now, flying towards Lebanon. I do not know what tomorrow will bring or even what will happen in the remaining hours of the night. What I do know is that the Israeli people are stubborn and their spirit is strong. And that is why I believe with all my heart that spirit will triumph over terrorism.

May all innocents be protected, may all the hurting be healed,

Forest Rain

 

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