Finding myself in the Middle East

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ancestral Memory

I can't watch the video of the car bearing Ahmed Jabari being blown to smithereens. I feel the heat, the terror, the blood, the moans, the death. I try to remember his large frame manhandling the emaciated and shocky Gilad Shalit, but I still can't. I can't. The fear. The moans. The blood. The death.

Outdoorsman says that buses and trains are off limits for now. He always gets a little fussy when Hamas says things like, "now it is all out war!"

I always feel like they are just shouting in the dark, scowling like a scolded 2 year-old and saying, "Now I'm REALLY angry!" Because I never thought that they needed an excuse for terror, just the resources.

Still, you never know.

I will avoid buses.

A couple of years ago, I spoke to a Rabbi about a few things that were bothering me about living in Israel. I said how I couldn't stand the way that my kids were talking about "goyim." I hated the word "goyim,"too.

"In America, we have respect for everyone!" I said hotly.

The Rabbi smiled indulgently. "Listen," he said. "In America, the goyim are not trying to kill us. For now. Here, they are. So, we don't really like that. So we don't invite them to our Kumbaya sing-a-long."

(I might have made up that last line.)

It was like someone had thrown water into my naive face.

Because they are trying to kill us. There have been an insane amount of rockets this week alone. Thousands of people--families, kids, old blue-haired women--while I was curled up in my bed, spent last night in their shelters, waiting for the all-clear.

When I was in Neve, a girl in my apartment was shot while waiting for the bus. I missed the Cafe Rimon bomb by fifteen minutes, though I heard all about it from the girl in the room next door to mine. She threw up in the toilet and cried on the floor of the bathroom for hours.

It is so hard to wrap my mind around it. I see them in my park. One man puts his daughter on the swing and smiles at her as she squeals. A woman rocks her baby to sleep. My neighbor says, "You have to glare at them when they come! They have to know that they are not welcome here!"

Instead, I watch them, father and daughter, swinging past the green trees in the clear blue sky. And I think, no. It can't be. Look at him, smiling at her.

Outdoorsman makes a face when we are in the old city and a nun walks by in heavy black fabric. I say, they are our friends. Outdoorsman says that for a Jew, I have a very very short memory.

Today, while I was bringing Turtle to gan, a man passed by. He walked slowly, hunched up around himself, and wore a child's backpack. Short hair, short beard. Arab.

I wrapped my arms around Turtle and walked faster. I scolded myself for leaving my cell phone at home.

Vagabond? Or terrorist?

I wasn't sure. But from my heart, straight into my mind, shot one single word.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paying in Forward

I was so afraid that I wouldn't know what to say to her. I sent up a quick tefila before I even opened my mouth.

Put the right words into my mouth. I am doing this for Your sake.

"Hi," she said to me on the phone. She felt a little silly, I could tell, vulnerable and intimidated. Intimidated by whom?

By me?

"I don't really know where to start," she said.

"Just talk in any order. I'll jump in when you stop for breath," I said.

She laughed. And went on to tell me that her pregnant belly, with its stretch marks, is making her cry. It's all she can think about; it's hugeness, and how her skin is getting ruined. "I feel so stupid. I mean, I have everything. Really! Great family, great husband, no money worries. I know that I'm carrying perfectly; little belly, and the rest of me is still skinny. I'm pretty.I have everything. And then there's this, always, hanging over me. Why can't I stop thinking about it? Why can't I get past it? I try to imagine how incredibly happy I would be if I didn't care so much."

We spoke for over an hour. I told her stuff. I told her about happiness, how it is within, not without, about challenges, how if we didn't have internal struggles we might as well be dead. About accepting your feelings and not using the phrase "I shouldn't be feeling this way!" About aging and true beauty and lines on the skin which, if they went away, will always be replaced with something else to focus the obsession on.

I told her that it is hard, and we live in a material world and we are material girls (I told her that I made that up by myself; she was impressed) and it's always a fight.

And I sounded wise and knowing and I felt wise and knowing because I know from whence I speak. Because as different as we are and always were--my life was always very far from "perfect"--I remember being so lost and so sad and so confused. I remember thinking, but this is not how my life was supposed to be. I was not supposed to be spending it calculating my calories so that I would know how many stomach crunches to do tonight and tomorrow morning. 

And how I remember the people who put out their hands to grasp my flailing one as I search blindly for dry land.

And then after she thanked me profusely and I told her to call back when she wants to, I sat down and thought to myself, this feels so nice.

And I thanked Hashem for all of the opportunities that I have in my life to pay it forward.


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