August 18, 2006

A Flute, A Goblet And The Value Of Life

So the ‘מצב,’ or the so-called ‘situation’ here has changed for the moment. The skies are eerily quiet. Last Shabbat, choppers and transport planes filled the night sky, rumbling above. It was nerve-wracking but we grew accustomed to it. I would always be searching the sky, wondering whose son was up there and what fearful battles he would be soon facing in Lebanon – and if he would ever be home for next Friday night dinner.

And many boys will not be home this Shabbat. Or ever. Their seats at the table will remain empty. One son’s last words to his parents before he was killed in Lebanon, just moments before the ‘ceasefire,’ were, “I’ll be back with you for Shabbos.” They buried their 21-year-old son on Monday.

And what did this senseless loss of young life accomplish? How many parents are grieving – and how many more will? This so-called ceasefire will not bring peace. We may have silent skies for now, but for how much longer no one knows. Everyone here is depressed. I couldn't read the paper or watch the news for days. I didn't even want to talk to anyone about it. (And thanks, Amy, for giving me the incentive to continue sharing my thoughts on this blog as I was truly feeling sickened and hopeless.) Many people here, including Amir and I, are also very angry at the government.

I overheard two women talking at the grocery store. And although my Hebrew is still very rusty, I did understand their parting words, Ma La'asot? They did not say the friendly l’hitraot to eachother. They just shrugged, saying ‘What can one do?’ and walked away. We do not know what to do but continue with our lives.

And now the people who ran from their homes in the north are returning. At ulpan, we were given a performance by the Ma’alot children’s orchestra. Ma’alot is very close to the Lebanese border and over the past month, it was pummeled time and again. Many of these children were shipped out away from their families to Netanya and other cities. Some remained in bomb shelters for a month.

And yet here they were, sitting proudly with their violins and saxophones, drums and flutes, playing beautiful music for us. They were all wearing white Jewish federation T-shirts that said “I Love Israel” on the front. Is this because they could not wear their regular performing clothes? Did they have any clothes? Did they have homes? My heart broke thinking about how they would feel returning to their home town. Was their favorite park still there? Was their school still standing? Was there any grass to lie on or a place to ride their bikes? Was it safe? We heard the sounds of Mozart, of Beethoven and of Shubert.

Some of these children were as young as 10 and yet they were playing with the beauty and proficiency of any adult. As I listened to their music and saw their determination to be normal kids and go on with life, tears started to roll down my face. (And I confess that this is a normal occurrence for me in Israel; I cannot go a day in this country without being moved profoundly.)

In the Jerusalem Post I read a story about fifty couples from the north who were married in Tel Aviv last Monday. They were all married together because their wedding plans were cancelled due to the devastation in the north. One couple from Kiryat Shmona told the paper that they had already invited 600 guests to their wedding. They were heart broken when the war broke and their plans fell apart. The bride said, “Until last month I was a normal person. I didn’t know what a katyusha was.’’

Over 300 couples whose wedding plans were cancelled were interviewed for this event and 50 were chosen. Bridal gowns and NIS 10 million were donated, the first time such an event has happened in Jewish history. A string quartet greeted the thousands who gathered on the boardwalk at the port in Tel Aviv. And the sound of 50 glasses being smashed all at the same time brought incredible joy.

So although Hizbullah wanted to destroy Jewish homes, these couples were building them. One groom said, ‘It was a real answer to our enemies. All the broken glass will the biggest bomb that we send to Nasrallah. It is a bomb of happiness against hatred.’

Life does go on here. People look to the future and dream of peace. Israelis are simply used to living a life without it. I too will have to deal with knowing how to lead a normal life under a severe threat to this country’s survival.

But as those exquisite notes soared from the flutes, the violins and the piano, as as those goblets were smashed at the wedding, I realized that a love for beauty, for culture and for life is carefully imbued into every Israeli. This is more valuable than anything and it must be preserved at any cost.

We lost the war.

We lost the war. Unbelievable. My mind is reeling as I watch events unfold.

Olmert, Peretz and Livni can spin it as much as they want but nobody here is fooled and nor is Nasrallah. The country is in shock. The soldiers and the nation had the will to win and our government let us down. Everyone is talking about the utter failure of the leadership here. I saw some graffiti sprayed onto a wall- the words in Hebrew said “Sharon wake up – Olmert is in a coma”

It’s Kafkaesque. Nicole and I read the newspaper in disbelief and dismay. The stance of the UN and the EU is beyond surreal. Let me share with you a particular news item published in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday, and you’ll understand why I think the world has gone insane.

The headline reads “World Council of Churches: Israel Planned to Destroy Lebanon”. Jean-Arnold Clermont who headed the delegation which represents 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches said that “The destruction was both deliberate and planned… Israel would not want the existence of a democratic Lebanon where Jews, Christians and Muslims were peacefully living side by side because it does not want to see its neighbor state succeeding in what Israel is unsuccessfully trying to achieve. De Clermont was quoted as having gone on to say that Hezbollah was a scapegoat.

Hello? What planet did I wake up on? Israel abandoned defensive positions in Lebanon six years ago against the better judgment of the army, exposing us to huge security risk in the name of peace. The North of Israel is destroyed – that is the peace dividend of our pullout from Lebanon.

People are perplexed. They cannot make sense of the events around us. Voters last year put their faith in a party whose sole platform was based on unilateral withdrawal. They believed that if we uproot tens of thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria, we would have peace with the Arabs. Can any thinking person still hold on to that misconception? After leaving Gaza the reward was unabated Kassam rockets on Israeli towns bordering Gaza. Leaving Lebanon was rewarded with 3,000 missiles fired into the heartland.

The raison d’etre of the Kadima Party, that of ‘realignment’ is being seriously questioned (Duh!) by people across the political sphere. Even many MK’s from Kadima are publicly bailing on the policy. The problem is, the government is now at a total loss as to what is next on the political horizon; “If not realignment, then what?”

Twice this week I rode my bike alone, along the magnificent beaches from Netanya to Herzliyia. For many kilometers there was just me, the sea, and the sky. I’ve posted some pictures below. Near the beach at Gash I ran into a few families who had built a temporary enclave on the beach. They had left Rosh Pina a few days earlier to escape the non-stop bombing. Most of them were still sleeping (I tend to ride my bike early in the day). One man, sitting on a woven mat on the beach invited me to join him for a turkish coffee. He had long grey hair and a beard, a large woven kippah perched over the dreadlocks. We talked about the ‘Matsav’ (the situation). His eyes stared out across the Mediterranean as he spoke. “I was born here three years after the founding of the state. When I was five years war broke out with the Egyptians in Sinai, when I was sixteen there was the six day war; at the age of 22 I fought in the Yom Kippur war. Nine years later I was with my unit again fighting in Lebanon. Now this. He raised his hands, palms heavenward. “What can you do – It’s Israel, this is our life here”. He had the look of someone who had seen it all. But he wasn’t at all hopeless. He told me that it’s a big Mitzvah to have joy in life.

He explained that there are two approaches to achieving lasting peace in the Middle East; A realistic approach and an unrealistic approach. One must sit down at the bargaining table, determine fixed borders and negotiate a political solution with the Arabs. Or alternately, pray with deep conviction for God to save us. As it turns out, he laughed, it’s the latter approach that is the realistic one.

Early morning bike ride on the beach

August 7, 2006

Does the CBC really want to "Hear All Sides"?

I recently received an email from my mother in Toronto. It was entitled “Action Alert – We need your help!” The email told of a special program that was about to be aired on CBC radio last Thursday. The show was called ‘Hearing all Sides’ and was to focus on personal experiences of those affected by the war. I was moved to action. Hey, we are living in Israel and even though we may not be in Haifa, our lives are touched by this war nonetheless.

I called many of my Toronto friends who are living here in Israel and they immediately agreed that this was a cause worth pursuing. We all have memories of CBC and their stance on the Middle East.

These Israeli-Canadians called and called and called but none of them got through. Meanwhile, I sat with my laptop and listened to the program. I heard traffic reports and all about the big story of the day -- the weather. Even though it was just 7:00 a.m. Toronto time, it was quickly turning into a steamy day on those downtown streets.

On the show, there was a panel of three Lebanese and three Jewish Canadians who were trying to devise a plan for peace in between the all-important humidity readings. What happened? Here is the story of my friend Kendall.

Kendall dialed the number again and again and got no reply. Hmmm, a phone-in show with no one to pick up the line? Eventually a woman at CBC answered. Kendall explained that she was calling from Israel and thus has some direct experience with this subject.

“Do you know that we are now discussing how to implement ever-lasting peace in the Middle East?” the CBC lady reiterated over the phone.

“Oh,” said Kendall, “I can comment on that.”

“So what is your solution?” asked the woman.

“I will quote Golda Meir,” said Kendall matter of factly. “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

“Hmmm….” said the woman. “I will take down your phone number and you may get a call back.”

Kendall waited three hours for that call. To date, she has been waiting five days for the CBC to call her back. Is the CBC really interested in some live coverage from Israelis who are feeling the effects of war? It seems as if the show “Hearing All Sides” just wasn’t interested in this side, yet again.

August 6, 2006

Day 26 of the War

I just signed up for FOX News last week through my satellite company because my friends in the old country told me that it was the most balanced of the major non-Israeli networks. I already want to give it back to them. One problem is that the other news channels that come with the package - CNN and BBC are completely and totally insane. Those guys are actually worse than Al Jazeera because they wrap their anti-semitism in cloaks of objective journalism.

I don't know what it is, but even with FOX it gets me way more uptight than when I watch Israeli TV. Now I know why my friends in Canada are more nervous than I am.

I think there are two reasons for this:
1) My Hebrew isn't so great so I only understand what my sub-conscious allows to filter on Israeli televison :)
2) I like FOX and they do present the events fairly but it is still an outsider's view.

I preferred watching channel 10 tonight. It shows the big picture as well as the little picture. There was the composed mother from Nahariya start off by calmly saying that she's decided that the situation is such that she should head South and she then completely breaks down, crying - "I'm so scared for my children". They also interviewed little kids in Ra'anana Park who were refugees from the North. Four year olds should not be able to tell you about the different types of sounds that Katusha rockets make. Still you get a sense that even though it is terrible, we'll all get through this together somehow.

Even the commercials remind you of where you are. Orange, a cell phone company, let us know that people from the North and those in the Southern communities within rocket range of Gaza now enjoy an 80% price cut as a gesture of unity. Other companies are taking similiar actions.

Today was a terrible day. I was in Ulpan and when I called a guy I work with at a break. He told me the horrible news of the miluimniks who were killed. Then tonight it was Haifa.

Ulpan is so weird. The teacher asked each of us what we did on the weekend. My face sunk as Sarah from Catelonia decribed going to a Jews for Jesus Service on Saturday. She hangs out with another woman in our class - Maria Grazia from Italy - a Christian woman who walks around with a Star of David around her neck and just happens to want to learn to speak Hebrew. My mind spins - I see nefarious plots forming around me - they are coming here to learn Hebrew so that they can convince the hapless Russians Jews to pray to Jesus. Oy vey.

Then later in the morning we had an assembly where they were teaching us Hebrew songs from the 50's and 60's. Songs that are deep in my bones from when I was a child here. The assembly ended with a moving rendition of Ha'Tikvah - the Israeli National Anthem. All stood except for the Israeli Arabs who are being subsidized by the state to learn to speak Hebrew. Go figure. To be fair, there were two Muslim women who rose to their feet. They are both in my class - Manar and Ranan. They moved here from Kuwait four years ago. I came up to Manar afterward and thanked her. I said that 'It must have been hard for you to stand when you saw that the others would not'. She replied 'Anachnu midina echad' - We are one nation. I've read on YNET that many of the Arab residents of Haifa who had their homes blown up this evening by Nasrallah share her sentiments.

Yihee'ye Tov.