Friday, December 28, 2012

Be the Change

I went through an incredible and life transformational experience this past Shabbat that I will forever be grateful for.  I hope that the power of the experience can continue to shine through my life for a very long time.  I would like to share a bit of my experience.  I hope that the peace and serenity that I currently feel within myself can be transferred into written words.  So here goes...

The heaviness of life and especially living in Israel has a tendency to take it's tole on me sometimes.  In an effort to face my own life issues I've been seeing an amazing therapist for the past 1 1/2 years.  Let me try to clearly express the gratitude I have for this man.  He has helped me to make changes in my life that have been the most difficult and absolutely most rewarding.  He is my Guru.  (He doesn't call himself a Guru... it's just the best word I can use to describe him.)  I encourage you all to find your helper.  Someone to guide and help you deal with the difficulties that life has a tendency to throw at us time and time again.

My Guru has a self developed practice called "breathing the change".  It's a combination of many things; Chinese medicine, acupressure, shiatsu, deep breathing, meditation, and talk therapy just to name a few.  He not only treats the mind, but also the body and the spirit - soul.  I've tried many different types of "self help" and nothing has been close in comparison to the total package of healing as the treatments I receive from him.  It's important that when you finally get the courage to make a big life change that you have someone to lean on and help guide you on your new path.  Someone who not only treats your body or your mind, but someone who remembers the importance of your mind, body, and soul - all three together.  Don't forget your soul.  Your soul is what you special and separates human from animal.

My Guru has been encouraging me to come to a weekend workshop in the north for a very long time and I finally agreed.  Although I was reluctant to spend the time, money, and effort (the entire workshop was in Hebrew) I went anyway.  I participated in a workshop by him over a year ago, and although I also felt that it was beneficial, I still knew that I had a lot of work to do.  A year later I found myself carpooling to a very remote location in northern Israel with complete strangers (who didn't seem to speak much English at all).

I have learned from him that when we experience traumas in life and we don't properly deal with the emotion we lock that energy inside of us.  It doesn't just go away... no matter how much we hope it will.  It's still there.  With much courage and encouragement 13 of us went on a journey together of facing our fears and traumas in a safe and healthy environment.  I won't go into the details of what that was like for me, but I what I overcame left me feeling like a different person.

I would like to share my top 3 moments of the weekend...

1.  During the weekend, specifically on Friday night, I found myself singing Kabbalat Shabbat songs (songs to welcome the Sabbath) and dancing in the rain.  I have NEVER danced in the rain in my life.  I have always been too shy and self conscious of what people might think of me.  If you have never had that experience... it is a MUST.  You simply MUST dance in the rain at some point in your life.  You must sing with reckless abandon and dance in whatever way is the most freeing.  It has to be a personal and liberating experience.  Who cares what anyone else thinks?  You want to dance?  DANCE!  You want to sing?  SING!  Liberate yourself from your self imposed shackles.  I've always envied those people who were free enough to dance in the rain.  Friday night, I became one of them.

2.  I allowed myself to show raw emotion in front of people.  I am typically not one to show much emotion, especially not raw emotion.  I can count the number of times on one hand that I've ever cried in front of people.  I'm not sure if most women have this same problem or not, but I sure do.  I feel like modern society has made it so that women have to be strong and choke back their tears.  It's not in our nature.  My sisters, don't be ashamed of crying because crying doesn't show weakness.  It shows truth.  We, as women, are emotional creatures and we shouldn't be afraid of being called "crazy" because we show our hearts and emotions.  It's what makes us women!  Our emotions don't make us "crazy"... holding in all of the beautiful emotions we have inside of us DOES.

3.  I spent a weekend communicating in a different language.  When I couldn't find the right words to say in Hebrew I was able to show my love and support to others in other ways.  Sometimes words aren't needed and are the last thing anyone wants to hear.  I feel like I spend an enormous amount of time in my head trying to find the right words to say.  Sometimes there are no words.  Sometimes the compassion that we want to give and receive has no need to be spoken.  A look, a hug, a shoulder rub, a shared tear are all incredibly powerful ways to express yourself.  As I found myself crying out years of repressed emotion all I really wanted was a shoulder to cry on and comforting hand on my back.  I found that as the guy next to me was rubbing his temples with a furrowed brow of intensity I knew I couldn't communicate with him in his language.  So I offered a head and neck massage to help alleviate his pain.  It turns out that's exactly what he needed.  Body language doesn't have to be sexual and it shouldn't always be.  It should be a tool to help create universal connectivity that breaks down the barriers of misinterpreted words.

After the workshop I have reentered the normal grind of daily life and I am blessed with enormous joy and a lighter spirit.  I have found a different type of courage within myself.  The courage to love life and people.  We are not here to pass judgement on anyone else.  Only I have walked in my shoes and only you have walked in yours.  Your choices are yours alone and no one has the right to judge you for them.  I have learned to love life to it's fullest through it's ups and downs.  I feel as if I'm able to keep putting powerful and good energy into my life only good things will come of it.  I have been enabled to have the courage to dance while I get ready for work, sing my way through the day, and smile at complete strangers.  I see light in the world. It's there if we want to find it.

Like Mahatma Ghandi says, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

My advice a week after the seminar is: don't wait for life to happen.  Make it happen.  Everyday is a new day and a new chance at life.  Humbly be thankful for it and take advantage of every moment.  Peace begins with us.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tikun Olam

In the wake of violence erupting across America I would first and foremost like to offer my sincerest condolences, pain, and sympathies.  What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is nothing short of horrific.  Innocent children, teachers, and administration were terroristically murdered by the hands of a deranged maniac.

Today, at the elementary school I teach at, teachers were coming up to me and asking me questions about what is going on in America.  How is it possible that a huge and powerful country like that could be grappling with such internal atrocities?  In the eyes of the average Israeli it is incomprehensible that a school would not have a "shomer" (armed guard) watching over the school.  Everyone who walks onto my school's campus walks through the same entrance, where an armed guard sits and watches over the campus.  Truth be told besides morning pleasantries of "shalom, boker tov" (hi, good morning) I never think twice about him sitting in his booth buzzing people in through the locked gate periodically throughout the day.  We usually smile, nod our heads in recognition, or wave as I hurry along to my classroom.  He has an under appreciated job.  He protects over 600 students, faculty, administrators, and volunteers 6 days a week.  

As I sat in the teacher's lounge this morning sipping my tea I found myself lost in thought.  Would I be brave enough if, Gd forbid, I had to face the same situation the teachers at Sandy Hook faced a few days ago?  I have no idea.  Right now there are talks of a 3rd Intifada rising and tensions are high.  Everyone knows it, yet everyone continues on teaching and smiling and living their lives.  

Last night I went to the doctor for treatment for a cough that has been keeping me up at night.  After a short wait I was admitted in to see the doctor... an armed doctor.  Does this scare me?  No.  Now-a-days it gives me relief when I see a gun.  I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would find relief at the sight of a gun. 10 minutes later I had my prescription in hand and was walking out the door.  Doctor's copay and prescription all for the whopping cost of 15 shekels (approximately $4).  

In my opinion Israel is doing something right here.  Very, very right.  I, as a struggling new immigrant, can get health care services for anything I might need in less than half an hour and for coins at the bottom of my purse.  I can see doctors, specialists, holistic practitioners, therapists, etc with minimal hassle and very low cost.  Anyone can.  

I, like many Americans, spent the majority of my 20s without health insurance.  I couldn't afford the plan, so I opted out and prayed for the best.  I never once talked to a therapist, although I think it would have done me a world of good.  I went 7 years without going to a dentist only caving when my wisdom teeth started to come in and I couldn't take the pain in my jaw anymore.  I only went to an optometrist when I finally caved to the fact that I couldn't drive safely at night anymore (since I couldn't read street signs).

What is this stigmatism in America that makes it so that our pride won't allow us to make real change?  There is a problem when mentally ill people can't get the treatment they need and are left out in the cold to fend for themselves.  There is a problem when depressed people, like I was for a very long time, can't afford and are afraid to get treatment.  It doesn't make you less of a person to realize that you need help!  It only makes you stronger and wiser.  

As a society what do we do when our children are showing signs of mental illnesses and we can't afford to get them the help they need?  

The problem is not only with the guns.  The problem is within ourselves.  

Now these are sweeping generalizations, but for the most part what I'm about to say is true... We are raising a generation of "me, me, me".  Selfishness, ADD, ADHD, mental illnesses, rage, lack of patience, and an unwillingness to do work is crippling our future.  Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents had it right in a lot of ways.  The child respected and listened to their parents and teachers.  A parent (doesn't matter which one) was home when the kids got home from school.  I was raised knowing that I should come home and start on my homework.  If there was time, I could go play outside with my friends until dinner.  When I heard my Dad whistling I came running home where we all sat down for dinner... every night.... the whole family.  After dinner we could watch 30 minutes of tv as a family, then it was shower time and then bedtime.  As I got older I was allowed to leave the house again after dinner, with strict rules of when I needed to be home and in bed.  That was my reality.  We never owned a video game system, and when we got our first computer we were only allowed limited time playing games.  When our time was up, computer time was over.  We had to play outside with our friends, or read books.  End of story.  We were a middle class struggling family of 6 in the 1990s and it never crossed my mind that life would, could, or should be any other way.  If I wanted something outside of these things I needed to get a job, work, save my money, and buy it myself.  

We now live in a world of instantaneous information and pleasure.  People can get what they want, when they want, and how they want.  Put it on a credit card and just give the kid what they're screaming for and pay for it later.  Our incomes are far less than our debts.  Our quality time spent with people outside of facebook, the internet, and our smartphones are minimal.  

We have increased our intelligence and technology to the point of stupidity.  We have crippled ourselves emotionally and are nearly incapable of interacting with another human being.  We have no attention spans and no patience.  We have no affordable healthcare system that works to take care of the people.  

As an adult I would come home every night from work and sit with my friends laughing and talking and playing card games around my dining room table.  Now I can rarely sit in a room of people without it eventually turning into silence because everyone has the uncontrollable urge to check their facebook.  Why are our internet friends more important than the person sitting right in front of us?  Have we become so desensitized to human interaction that we can't tell that the person next to us, with hundreds of internet friends, is really incredibly lonely?    

In a generation of great information, knowledge, and technology we should become a more sophisticated people.  Instead we have become selfish and self serving and desensitized to the beauties of the world around us.  Our ability to have great knowledge at the touch of a button on our cellphone (that lives in our hand more than our pockets) has led us to ignorance.  We are not the enlightened generation that we think we are.  

Is it worth it to potentially have your children come home at the end of a day when they've been bullied and have no one to talk to?  Is it worth it to allow our children to feel so alone and desperate that they "take matters into their own hands?"  Look at the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School.  Those boys planed to kill over 500 students.  What have we done to make changes in ourselves and our society even since then?  

The problem is not only the guns.  It's not just guns that kill people... people kill people.  It's time that we take a look around to see what is causing so many destructive tendencies in our children.  If we're like this now, what will the world be like for our children's children?  We must act now!

I knew there was a gun in the house as I was growing up.  I never questioned it, and I never dared to touch it.  I think I slept more soundly at night knowing that my father had a way to protect the family if the need ever arose.  I knew that guns are not toys and I knew the potential danger of having one in the house.  I was an educated child.  I knew that if I had questions I could get the attention I needed to get the answer.  I had the patience to allow that to happen.

As I started to research the numbers of school shootings in America I was overwhelmed by what I found.  My search began as one of curiosity.  How many shootings has there been since I graduated from public school.  I graduated high school in 1999, 6 weeks after the Columbine shooting in Colorado.  I still remember that day.  I remember the shock and horror that kids my age would even think to pull off such an atrocious act.

Here are some of the "highlights" of what I found:  
From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, the United States saw a sharp increase in guns and gun violence in the schools. According to a survey conducted by The Harvard School of Public Health,[38] "15% [of students surveyed] said that they had carried a handgun on their person in the past 30 days, and 4% said that they had taken a handgun to school in the past year," a sharp increase from just five years earlier. By 1993, the United States saw one of the most violent periods in school shooting incidences.

  • 1992–1993 (44 Homicides and 55 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1993–1994 (42 Homicides and 51 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1994–1995 (17 Homicides and 20 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1995–1996 (29 Homicides and 35 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1996–1997 (23 Homicides and 25 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1997–1998 (35 Homicides and 40 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1998–1999 (25 Homicides from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1999–2000 (25 Homicides from school shootings in the U.S.)
According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 1998-1999 School Year, 3,523 students (57% High School, 33% Junior High, 10% Elementary) were expelled for bringing a firearm to school.[40]

The late 1990s started to see a major reduction in gun related school violence, but was still plagued with multiple victim shootings
April 20, 1999: Columbine, Colorado 14 students (including 2 shooters) and one teacher killed, 27 others wounded at Columbine High SchoolEric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, had plotted for a year to kill at least 500 and blow up their school. At the end of their hour-long rampage, they turned their guns on themselves.[41]
April 16, 2007: Seung-Hui Cho, age 23, offender in Virginia Tech University shooting. 32 students and faculty were killed, along with another 17 students and faculty injured in two separate attacks on the same day.
December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza, aged 20, killed 26 people and himself at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He first killed his mother at their shared home before taking her guns and driving to the school. During the attack, 20 first-grade children aged six and seven were killed, along with six adults, including the principal, the school psychologist, and Vicki Soto, a first-grade teacher who gave her life to save her kids by shielding them from the gunman. Lanza then took his own life.[56] 
List of School Shootings.

I hate to be so bold, but here we go... It's about damn time we take a stand.  How is it possible that after one failed attempt at a "shoe bombing" at an airport we all have to take off our shoes at security?  Yet, after hundreds of children have been murdered over the course of the past century we don't have proper security at our schools?  Is tight security when traveling more of an issue to us than protecting our own children where they're supposed to be learning?  Isn't school supposed to be a safe environment?

I don't have all of the answers.  Far from it.  I do know that we have a warped system that allows weapons get into the hands of "bad guys".  I know that "good guys" shouldn't be scared or have to loose their rights to defend themselves because of it.  I know that mental health and education is extremely lacking and far from perfect.  I believe that we should start there.  We need to sit down with our children and talk to them in a real way.  We need to educate on all levels.  We need a health care system that works for the people, and we need to encourage the people to get the help they need.  Without being ashamed!  

I leave you with these thoughts... hug your children, love each other, open your hearts and open your minds.  Don't judge or point fingers without realizing that change starts in your olam katan (your small/personal world).  Change can start in the home.  Affect your home, then your neighborhood, then your community, then (and only then) can you start to make positive changes in your world.  

Don't just go into the world to do well... go into the world to do good!  Tikun Olam!!

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers... so many caring people in this world." - Mister Rogers

Friday, December 14, 2012

David versus Goliath

Each morning following the Modeh Ani prayer I say to myself, "I feel safe in the unknown."  Followed by, "Thank you Ha'Shem for another day of life.  Give me the grace to live this day... Deeply, fully, and joyfully!"  Each time I open my computer I struggle in deciding if I want blissful ignorance in my day in regards to world events, or if I should start checking news outlets to see what's going on in the world.  Each day the news wins and each day I get more and more frustrated with the UN and the international community's double standards for Israel.

While countries all around us are killing their own people, expelling non-Islamic persons, and are building and buying nuclear weapons and arms; somehow Israel continues to get the bad press.  We're fired on, attacked by rioters, and condemned by the international community over and over again.  For what?  For being Jewish?  For wanting to protect our people and our own country?  For allowing religious freedom?  No other country in the world would allow such nonsense to continue.  No other country would be condemned for protecting it's own people the way we are.  No other country in the middle east protects democracy and freedom the way we do.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) broke agreements with Israel with their bid to the UN for upgraded status recognition.  After more restraint than any other country in the world, Israel announced plans to approve and build over 3,000 homes in the area now known as "E1".  This piece of land connects East Jerusalem to Maale Adumim.  It's the space between Judea and Samaria, connecting the southern and northern parts of the "West Bank".  The world is in an uproar screaming, "injustice!"  Israel has also announced that we will stop paying aide monies to the PA until at least March.  Billions of dollars is currently owed to the Israeli government by the PA for water and energy consumption.  Palestinians in Judea, Sameria, and Gaza are supplied with water and electricity from an Israeli power grid.  Billions of dollars worth of energy is paid by the Israeli tax payer for what?  So some "poor Palestinian" can have water and electricity?  The same Palestinian who will pick up a rock, or sometimes even a molotov cocktail, and hurl it at oncoming traffic.  The same ones who will attack soldiers and start riots.  Thank you Israel for the electricity, water, and aide money.... take a burning tire thrown on the road in front of your car as a token of our gratitude.  Can you sense my frustration?

This week has been nothing short of shocking and frustrating to me as I continue to read article after article about what is going on in the world.  History is about to repeat itself.  We are on the edge of World War 3... we have been for a very long time.  The Christian nations of the world are about to battle with the Arab nations of the world.  This will be a religious war.  If the Christian nations don't make the moves needed, the Jewish nation of Israel will.  Our tiny sliver of land and population will move forward and do what needs to be done.  We will take out nuclear weapons in Iran, we will crush weapons and arsenals in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, etc.  Whatever and however the job needs to be done, we will do it.  We will do it holding the shield of King David as we fight for what is right.

Do I want war?  Of course not.  Who WANTS war?  I want to see an end to conflict.  I want to see an end to terror and murder.  The world is on the edge of the biggest change we've experienced in our lifetimes.  I truly believe that.  I would love to see us come to that change with openness, love, and tolerance, but that seems to be a reality that is moving further and further away.

As Hanukah is coming to an end I can't help but think about the parallel between the story of Hanukah and what's currently happening in the world around us.  In the story of Hanukah the tiny nation of Israel, a small rag tag group of Rabbis, stood up to the Greeks and fought a courageous and miraculous war.  Right now, the land of Israel is once again looking to stand up for herself against the Arab nations surrounding us.  Once again we are on the side of David as he prepares to fight Goliath.  As I've said before and I will continue to say again... history is bound to repeat itself.  Time is not linear.  Time is circular.  We have stood up to the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians.  We have survived Inquisitions, expulsions, the Holocaust.  We will continue to fight.  We will continue to be strong.  Never again.

As we finish Hanukah and look towards the end of 2012 I pray that we all have holidays filled with light, love, joy, and blessings.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Laughter is the Best Medicine

This past week the Palestinian Authority took to the UN to apply for a non-voting, observer status recognition.  Their bid for this upgraded status within the eyes of the United Nations was overwhelmingly approved this past Thursday.  Our Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded with the approval to build 3,000 new homes throughout the areas of: Jerusalem, Judea, and Sameria.

Following this approval of upgraded status in the UN, I could see and hear the celebrations coming out of the Arab neighborhood across the road from my yishuv (village).  Gun fire, fire works, music.  By the way, how does gun fire support peace?

For the past several nights I've been able to see low flying Israeli fighter jets and helicopters circling the Judean desert.  They have been so low that it feels like I could look up and be able to see the pilot's faces... wave hello... share a cup of coffee.  The noise of 6 low flying fighter jets, if you've never been around them before, is loud enough to stop conversation and rattle my apartment windows.

Thank Gd, this doesn't scare me anymore.  In fact, it makes me proud of our country and our army.  The world continues to condemn every move Israel makes.  Over and over again.  The Palestinian Authority and the United Nations have continually been the road blocks for peace.  What right does the UN have to tell Israel to stop building on our own land?

I've been reading in the news about how Israel has road blocked the peace process.  Outrageous!  It's impossible for me to wrap my mind around the idea of this.  How are we the bad guys here?  We're victims of terror, rocks, fire bombs, rockets, gun fire.  We respond with caution, preciseness, and state of the art technology like the Iron Dome to protect our own citizens, our cities, our borders, our sovereignty.

Syria, which borders Israel to the northwest, is currently building GAS CHAMBERS to kill their own people and the UN is silent.

Iran is clearly building nuclear weapons.  You know it.  I know it.  Everyone knows it.  They openly talk about the destruction of Israel and America.  Yet the world tip toes around Ahmadinejad's tyrannical regime.

Israel wants to build 3,000 new homes in Jerusalem, her capital city, and the world is in an uproar.

Israel is the ONLY democracy in the middle east.  This is the ONLY place where Christians, Jews, and Arabs can practice their own religious beliefs in freedom.  This is the ONLY place that allows those same free citizens to protest and attack its own army and citizens.  Somehow we are in the wrong here.


Maybe I've never noticed before, but it's noticeable now, the tension walking down the street and passing an Arab.  My natural southern Californian girl instincts are to smile as I pass another person on the street.  I'm still unnerved by the self imposed segregation and avoiding of eye contact.  Still seeing Arabs here working on my yishuv just enforces that feeling.  They may be here just to make a decent living (one that they can't make in their own towns) but I'll tell you what... for me, after hundreds of rockets have been raining down on Israel... I also find myself avoiding eye contact.  Like eye contact is what is going to save us from a war or something?

After so much intensity and frustration I was looking forward to going to a comedy show this past Sunday night.  The Mandell Foundation hosted a fund raiser show called, Comedy for Koby.  Laughter is the best medicine afterall.  To know that I could spend an evening laughing (for my own medicinal purposes) while supporting a foundation as great as this one was a double bonus for me.

In 2001 the Mandell family, of Tekoa, had the most horrific tragedy of the brutal terroristic murder of their oldest son, Koby.  The Mandell family now runs a foundation to support the victims of terror.  Bereaved children and orphans whose parents or siblings have been killed by terrorists can attend a summer camp, Camp Koby and Yosef, of fun and healing.  Bereaved mothers can attend workshops to help nurture themselves physically, psychologically and spiritually.

I laughed until my cheeks hurts.  I laughed until I cried and found release.  In the days following I've found some perspective.  

As I said the show was a hit.  The comedians were positively hilarious for a variety of reasons.  

Each comedian was at this event to support the Mandell Foundation and all the good that they do for bereaved victims of terror.  Each American - Christian comedian should be commended for their bravery of coming to Israel when others cancelled.  You see 2 out of the 3 original comedians cancelled their trip to Israel due to the recent rockets from Gaza.  They should also be commended for attempting to be funny in a place with a VERY DIFFERENT sense of humor.  Remember... this was the Jerusalem show I attended.  Every audience member was Jewish.  Most were religious Jews.

At the end of the show the comedians came back on stage for a brief question and answer period.  What's the first question a Jewish woman would ask these 3 guys?...  "Do you boys need a place for dinner?"  The answer, "I didn't know there were 'cougars' in Israel!"  This is HILARIOUS for a number of reasons.  Most pointedly was the fact that the comedians didn't understand that this Jewish mother was honestly trying to offer a meal to these guys.  Secondly was the fact that instead it was assumed she was a "cougar".  (I don't think half the audience knew what a "cougar" was.)

I feel that this first question and answer is a clear reflection of what is going on in the world around us.  We, as Israelis, are saying one thing and the world hears another.

I know you've been traveling so I'll be considerate and offer you a home cooked meal doesn't mean, "hey young man wanna come over later for sex?"

We want to build houses in our country, our land, our capital... Doesn't mean that we don't want peace.  We've always wanted peace, love, understanding.  To understand means that we must also be understood.  It means that we also have a culture, history, nationality, and language that is specific to us.  Not every place in the world is the same.  Our nation crawled out of the ghettos in Europe and claimed a tiny sliver of, what was then, swamp land and turned it into a thriving nation.  We have every right to exist.  We have every right to defend ourselves.

We want peace, meanwhile Arabs nations around us don't even want us to exist.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

War and Peace

Now that Hamas and Israel have agreed to a ceasefire, things are supposed to get back to "normal.” The thing is, I'm not really sure what "normal" is. Or how to be "normal" afterwards. It's hard to describe what it's like living on the fence of war and peace. Of course, I'm happy that we're not being fired on, or that we didn't have to launch a ground invasion of Gaza. I was so relieved to see one of my good friends come back from his reservist duty earlier this week. I'm happy each and every time I see a friend come back home ... safe. I thank God for the peace, no matter how temporary it might be.

That being said, I now have war in the back of my mind. It's tapping away at the back of my subconscious. Last Friday night, as I lit my Shabbat candles, I kept thinking to myself, "What if another siren goes off like last week?" Today, as I was working in the preschool and the kids were sleeping, I kept thinking about my current biggest fear: to be in the preschool with sleeping kids and an air raid siren goes off. As I walk down the street I am vastly more aware of my surroundings and where the closest place to take cover could be. When I travel to Jerusalem I find myself scanning the roadside for Arab kids with rocks just waiting for an Israeli car to drive by. That being said, I'm really trying to not live my life in fear and terror. If I stop doing what I need to do and lock myself in my bedroom (which happens to be my apartment's shelter), they win.

My Israeli friends have been trying to instill courage in me. Most "sabre" Israelis (born and raised here) have crazy stories about war that we, as Americans, can't even begin to imagine. People in my age group have lived through Intifadas and the Gulf War. Add a few years to that and we're talking also about another Gaza War, the Yom Kippur War, and even the 1967 Six-Day War. I have friends that grew up taking their backpack, lunch and gas mask to school. You know, in case of chemical warfare. My friends and family have stories about hiding in their bathroom (since there weren't really shelters back then), putting duct tape around the door frame, wearing their gas masks, and hearing gun fire and rockets so close that it felt like it was coming into their homes. This is how Israelis reassure me that things are fine and I shouldn't worry. They tell me stories about the last Gaza War and the time their car got firebombed or stoned on the road. They tell me stories about how they used to be friends with many Arabs until (enter whichever war or terrorist attack you want here) happened. 

They tell me that they're sorry they didn't even think about calling to check in on me, well because, (shoulder shrug) that's how life is.  That's how life is? How is that possible? A nation of men and women grow up knowing and seeing war. Apparently I'm now "really Israeli" because I had to run into a shelter a few times recently. It makes my heart break a little bit with each story I hear. I think about the last time I was with my friends in America. We never spoke about war, international, national, or even local politics. All I can think about now is that Hamas in Gaza in currently rebuilding the same tunnels that were used for smuggling rockets from Iran. Iran is trying to broker a deal with Jordan, our neighbor to the east, by offering them 30 years of free oil. Also, Iran is loading ships with rockets for delivery to Gaza. Syria, to the northeast, is in the midst of a civil war. Lebanon, to the northwest, is backed by Hezbulla. Egypt, to the west, can't afford to break its peace agreement with Israel because of the billions of dollars in aid it’s receiving from America. Will that stop Egypt? Its president is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is backed by Hamas.

I've lived in pretty rough neighborhoods before, but nothing compares to the one Israel lives in. I've seen pretty crazy things, including a hijacked mini-bus hostage situation outside my Los Angeles apartment, but it doesn't compare to seeing rocket trails outside my bedroom window followed by a boom that shook me to my core.

Yet we are still here. Yet I am still here. We will continue to be here. I will continue to be here.

I can't really describe how or why, I just know that despite my fears and anxieties I will continue to live in Israel. I will most likely continue to have fear and anxiety, but I'm hopeful that with time it will fade. All I can do is face the fear, look it dead in the eyes, and then continue on with my day — however that works. I have to trust that our mighty Israel Defense Forces are strong and well equipped. I have to stay strong and savvy and aware of what's going on around me. I have to talk to people about religion and politics (things too politically incorrect to speak about in other places) and stay informed.

As I'm sitting here in the computer lab at the elementary school where I teach, I can't help but think about the fact that just a few years ago I was living my simple little life in Bakersfield, serving coffee at a local Starbucks, blissfully unaware of anything that didn't directly affect my immediate life. Would I go back? No. How could I?

This week, the week following the ceasefire, our elementary school had a "special program" for the kids. The program was all about tolerance. Talk about courage. Where I've begun to feel hate in my heart over the pain and terror of the last week, this school has decided to take a huge chunk of time and teach the kids all about tolerance. What a beautiful thing to do. Teaching this to the children has resoftened my calluses. I think that hate is one of the most dangerous words in the English language, as well as a dangerous emotion. 

It's one that I try to stay as far away from as I can. I'm thankful that in the midst of one of the most challenging times in my life, so far, we have taken time out to learn something good and positive. Something that will hopefully be ingrained in these children’s hearts as much as it is in mine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from Israel

Shalom Aleichem,

I had a strange realization as I was talking to my Dad on skype yesterday afternoon. I had NO IDEA that today is Thanksgiving in America. Isn’t that strange? I mean, I knew it was coming up. I just didn’t know it was TODAY. Have I been here so long that I don’t remember when American holidays are coming up? Last Thanksgiving I was in a weekend workshop/seminar in the north, but I remember thinking the whole weekend that I couldn’t believe that this was how I was spending my holiday. The year before I was in America. Bakersfield, California to be exact. I was visiting and getting ready to make alliyah. My roommate and neighbor are having a bonfire tomorrow night, so I guess I’ll call that Thanksgiving. =)
In the midst of everything that is going on around me I do have things to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my Israeli friends for giving me courage. Israelis are really courageous people. What we have to deal with as Jews, as Israelis, as Zionists… is unbearable. Where I feel weak, an Israeli gives me strength. Every mother at home every night while her husband is poised outside of Gaza and her children sleep in the other room is a hero to me. Every civilian raising money to send warm clothes and food to our soldiers is a hero to me. Every adult who grew up knowing the sounds of air raid sirens and what it is like to carry a gas mask to school.. every child now who watches their father suddenly board a bus and leave for some base somewhere… *sigh* You get my point. I’m thankful for Israelis. I’m thankful for my American Israeli friends who empathize with my pain and anxiety of hearing “CODE RED” over loud speakers. Their compassion is unmatched. We check on each other. We talk to each other. They are my support. I’m thankful for my American friends for showing me love. I can’t express how overwhelmed and grateful I am at the outpouring of love I’ve received from America. I’ve heard from people all over America expressing their solidarity with Israel, their prayers, their thoughts, their worry. I’m so grateful to feel that love in my life.
After much confusion, panic, courage, and determination I decided that I can’t put myself in lock down Tekoa so I went to Jerusalem. The scary part for me was the 12 minute ride in the car from Tekoa to Jerusalem. Once I was in town I could walk or take a bus or catch a ride with my Mom. The ride to Jerusalem was fast and quiet. Jerusalem felt quiet when I arrived as well. I took one bus and then walked the rest of the way to my appointment. I’m also thankful that I had an appointment with my therapist. I was finally able to get out some of the fears and anxieties that I’ve been feeling since the first siren went off on Friday. I had a very good cry and am feeling in MUCH better spirits. It also helped that directly afterwards my Mom and I went to see some friends who are visiting Israel from my hometown of Bakersfield, California. It’s refreshing to see people that I haven’t seen in years. It’s a connection between my life in America and my life in Israel. It’s such a drastic change that it’s sometimes hard for me to make the 2 worlds mesh together.
I’m still exhausted from many nights of restless sleep, but in case you’re wondering… there was a bus bombed in Tel Aviv this afternoon with no casualties. There is supposed to be a cease fire happening, but to my knowledge within the first hour we were fired on 12 times from Gaza. I’ve also heard of rockets in the north from Lebanon, but I don’t know if they made it over the border and what transpired from there.
As always… I’m thankful for those of you who could please continue to pray for Israel and our mighty IDF. Pray that we’re able to come to a quick resolution and peace… real peace.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Sarah Neal
Tekoa- Gush Etzion, West Bank, Israel