These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Times Like These….

Posted on November 30, 2012 by Ma'ayan Dyer

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[Cross-Posted from my blog, Lost in Jerusalem]

Dear readers (all three of you), as you can see, it’s been almost four months since I’ve written for my blog. I could blame writer’s block or the typical day to day distractions as the reason behind my silence. For instance, I’ve been getting into Lost, because my parents have Netflix, and I’m a sucker for TV dramas. This is like Star Trek: Deep Space 9 all over again, when watching five episodes in one extremely late night became a common occurrence. That time, I believe my addiction nearly destroyed my Hebrew classes in college, because I lent the series to my professor; I managed to hook he and wife both, like a junkie looking for fellow junkies to connect with as we slip further in between the cracks of the productive parts of society, boldly spiraling to where no man has gone before (except for millions of other hopeless Trekkies). Talk about distractions. But the reason for my virtual silence is really quite simple; I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted, and thinking of my beloved Israel and Jerusalem is even more exhausting. I miss being there so much, that it drains me to think about it. I then get sad, and when I get sad, it looks very similar to anger, and my poor family has had to put up with my sad/angry shit for years. I’d rather not be sad and angry, if for nothing else, to save my family the headache of my bellyaching.

However, my exhaustion isn’t just from my perpetual state of longing for Israel; it also comes from what has been my job for the last couple of months. You see, I’m a candy packager. I get up at 4:00 in the morning to work from 5:00 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon. And yes, I work full time, standing on my feet for seemingly endless hours, placing truffles into boxes on an assembly line, putting lids onto boxes, tying bows onto boxes, folding boxes, labeling boxes, taking things out of boxes only to put them into new boxes, and taking the old boxes out to the recycling to make room for the new boxes. This job is the definition of monotony, the most concrete example of tedium that I can imagine, so much so, that I’ve fallen asleep on my feet while doing it (my hands never missing a beat as I nod off and jerk back awake, startled and disoriented), and I’ve cried in the women’s room in the middle of the day, hiding in a stall and talking myself down, while making a mental list of why I’m voluntarily doing this to myself (It’s all for my return to Israel! Israel, my cruel, tormenting mistress! I love you dangerously close to insanely)! I start a new job tomorrow where I’ll sit on my butt in a cubicle, dealing with customer complaints for our company’s products via the phone. Right now, I should be practicing my “I’m smiling widely and am so happy with you yelling at me, sir” voice, which I’ve cultivated from all my years in customer service positions, having reverted back to my naturally occurring Daria-style cadence of speech after spending months imprisoned in a candy factory, away from civilization. I know that I have a whole new level of monotony and tedium in store for me until January 10th, when I make my way back to the Holy Land, and resume this thing called “my life.” See? It’s exhausting to even type it all out.

“My life” in Israel is not as I left it, though. Last week, Israel’s IDF eliminated top Hamas operatives in Gaza in the interest of maintaining Israeli safety. This prompted Hamas to do what they apparently love to do more than anything, which is to shoot rockets into Isratelel, with not a care in the world for Israeli civilian life, or even Palestinian civilian life. Well, actually it was more rockets than usual, because Hamas has been tempting fate by doing what every country in the world would call and act of war, by firing into Israel as though it’s Hamas’ way of saying “hello.” Rockets reached Tel Aviv. They reached the outskirts of Jerusalem, a first in Hamas’ history of terror and violence. Apparently, Jerusalem isn’t as holy as declaring jihad on normal, every day civilians, whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim–just whoever happens to be in the line of indiscriminate fire. Sirens went off as the rockets were fired in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other Israeli cities. This is unusual for these cities, while places in the south, such as Ashkelon and Ashdod, are used to the sound of air raid sirens and rocket attacks from Gaza; this is how they have to live their lives. The sirens are not common in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem though, and my stomach churned each time I read the news. I know what those sirens sound like from drills and tests that occasionally took place in Jerusalem while I was there last year, just in case the unthinkable were to happen; those sirens are terrifying to hear. They wail like the end of the world is upon us, and we all need to act quickly, if we hope to save our lives. When I heard those sirens though, Hebrew class went on as normal, and we practiced grammar as they howled forebodingly throughout the city. This time though, when the sirens went off, my friends and loved ones were ducking into bomb shelters and stairwells, posting about their safety on Facebook, flooding my news feed with reassurances, calls for prayers for a ceasefire, and new headlines would pop up with the breaking news of where the rockets had landed. One of them landed in Gush Etzion, a settlement (as much as I hate to call it that, it is what the media has decided we need to know this community as) just outside of Jerusalem, where several teachers of mine live. I’ve spent time in Gush Etzion, had Shabbat dinners there, strolled through the peaceful streets of a quiet Modern Orthodox neighborhood in the summer, when little kids were running around outside, playing in the middle of the night, because it’s so peaceful and quiet there, it truly feels as though there’s no reason to be concerned about their safety. I imagined the rocket exploding there, my teachers, their children, their grandchildren, all scurrying for shelter, just as their Arab neighbors would be doing at the same time. And all last week I packaged candy, feeling like I live in another world.

As I chatted and emailed with friends, some of them in the IDF themselves, some of them students, some of them long time Israeli citizens, some of them new Israeli citizens, I was, quite understandably, asked over and over again; well, now what am I going to do? Am I really going to go back there with all the rocket fire? What if, even if things quieted down, it all started up again while I’m there? Would I come back to the States? Would I stay? Considering how easily the conflict can explode, how suddenly things can escalate, am I sure I want to go back? Aren’t I scared? Worried? Anxious?

The truth is, it didn’t even occur to me to not go back. It didn’t occur to me to cancel my plans for five months of my life between January and June, to cancel my aliyah application with Nefesh b’Nefesh, to rethink my plans to study creative writing at Bar-Ilan University, to find a new place to call “home” after falling in love with Jerusalem. These considerations did not come to me, even as I watched the rockets above Tel Aviv’s skyline on the news–I still love swimming those beaches and walking those busy streets, marveling at the modern, secular, cosmopolitan buildings, billboards and people, just a 45 minute bus ride from the ancient, religious, cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. I love Tel Aviv so much, I’ll put up with her disgusting humidity in the summer, because she’s worth it to me. These considerations did not come to me when my chats with Jerusalem friends were interrupted because a siren went off, and they needed to get to shelter, just in case. These considerations did not come to me even when a city bus exploded in Tel Aviv, a city that I’ve bussed around in numerous times. These considerations didn’t come to me when the terror suspect for the bus bomb was apprehended in Ramat Gan, where Bar-Ilan University is, where I want to hone my writing skills, and obtain my Master’s degree. These considerations didn’t come to me because I’ve been sitting here fuming over the fact that I’m not there right now.

Sounds crazy, right? I want to be in the middle of a war zone. But I can’t help it. I love Israel and feel that Jerusalem is my home. If your home was under attack, wouldn’t you want to get back home right away? Wouldn’t you want to see the people you care about with your own eyes, and have the comfort of having them at your side? Wouldn’t you rather huddle into a bomb shelter with them and get through it together, rather than feeling that you live across the universe now, passing your days by putting truffles into boxes and counting down the minutes of your unbelievably long shifts until you can run to a computer and get the latest news on what’s happening at home? Call me crazy (it’s probably partly true, anyway), but I want to be there. I wouldn’t abandon something that means so much to me, something that I love when things are at their worst. I’d stand by it, and what’s more, I truly believe that I could live like an Israeli, cautious and concerned, but still able to sip coffee in a cafe after the sirens stop and we get out of the shelters, still going to the shuk to shop for Shabbat dinner, still heading to the Kotel to pray for a ceasefire, and hopefully, a long lasting peace for all of us, Israeli, Arab, immigrant, sabra, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, whatever. I think I could live my life, even without the reassurance that most of us have in the States, that we’re mostly safe from rockets, from bombs, from terrorism, from suicide attacks, from hatred, and a blindness that has turned conflict into a propaganda-ridden political issue, with such misinformed blowhards screaming ridiculous solutions to a problem that they don’t understand, one would think that exploding from frustration is just as likely as dying in an explosion on a bus or from a rocket. Sure, anything could happen anywhere. But there’s a difference between calling Israel your home and calling the United States your home; one is constantly under threat, the other is peripherally under threat. And while the U.S. will always be my home, it will be my home from my childhood, so to speak. Israel is the home you find when you grow up and have to leave the nest.

So what does one do in times like these? Certainly, Hamas will not succeed in changing my life by scaring me off with rockets and saber rattling. The ceasefire has quieted things down, which means of course, that things are back to the status quo: Israel ceases, and Hamas still fires, although they’ve gone  back to their usual, sporadic rocket fire, and not their constant barrage of rocket fire. I suppose I’ll just start my new job tomorrow, earn my paycheck and put it away for my life in Israel, which is rapidly coming upon me. It’s what an Israeli would do. What else can you do with your life except live it?