I was supposed to go grape picking this morning. A couple from my ulpan invited me to go with them. They frequently visit during the summer months to help farmers harvest their crops. The grapes at the vineyard in Psagot were ready, and so was I.
Then, last night, I browsed the internet for an article Iâ€™d written, but before I could get there, the dayâ€™s lead headline blazed: â€œFour killed as terrorists open fire near Kiryat Arba.â€ Less than an hour from Jerusalem, on the same road Iâ€™d be travelling in the morning, two men and two women were killed, one of them pregnant. Zâ€L. The terrorists first laid fire from afar, then approached the car and shot the travelers at point-blank range.
The attack was a response to the peace-talks between Netanyahu, Abbas and Obama in Washington.
The Israeli Defense Forces expected more attacks in the coming days and put the country on high alert.
Clearly, I shouldnâ€™t go. The vineyard lies off Route 60, the same highway where the Israelis were murdered.
Psagot is a small, religious community in Samaria, outside Ramallah. Ramallah is one of those towns so dangerous people shudder at the mere mentionâ€¦like they do Hebron, outside of which is Kiryat Arba. Why tempt fate? The country was on high alert. Go next week. I would support the families living there another time, I told myself. â€œYou donâ€™t have to prove anything,â€ my mom added. But I hated stopping my life due to fear.
I rarely write about these heavier topics. There is so much good to talk about! Israel is so full of life, beauty, resilience, wisdom and perseverance that the world, for whatever reason, ignores; theyâ€™d rather stonewall our home and peg our people as perpetrators, oppressors and bullies â€“ an upside-down appraisal that makes me feel I am Alice through the Looking Glass, where what should be up is down, and what should be down is up.
So, until now I didnâ€™t write about the shop in the Old Cityâ€™s Arab shuk where hateful t-shirts lined the walls. My friend took me to the store because sheâ€™d previously found beautiful and cheap Shabbat skirts there. But upon entering, I was assaulted by horrifying messages. One t-shirt depicted a masked man holding a machine gun in front of the Palestinian flag, underlined by the black, capital letters â€œFree Palestine.â€ Another t-shirt showed a choking head, eyes popping out, and tape over the mouth that said â€œFree Palestine.â€ Wristbands bearing the flags of America and Israel donned the strangling hands. Another shirt showed the Palestinian flag covering a map of the State of Israel while the Israeli flag sunk in the ocean.
I left immediately, unable to spend a shekel or even another moment in that place that espoused and profited from hatred and destruction. Based on my friendâ€™s facial expression, she disapproved of my response.
My friend, though a fellow Jew, has been raised on a strict diet of liberal media. It was her first trip to Israel. Two weeks since landing, she hadnâ€™t yet been to the Holocaust museum but she had been to Hebron and Bethlehem to witness the Palestinian â€˜plight.â€™ I asked her if she planned to visit Sderot and the surrounding towns. No surprise. She hadnâ€™t. I emphatically requested that she do her â€œdue diligenceâ€ on both sides of the complicated issue, before thoughtlessly accepting the stories of our neighboring propaganda artists. Though, deep down, I had little confidence in her ability to be open minded.
Heading back through the Arab shuk, I noticed the vendorsâ€™ friendly faces all too eager to accept my American dollars to finance G-d knows what. I decided: Iâ€™ll spend an extra 30 shekels, thank you very much, support the family and know my thrifty purchase of a skirt or menorah didnâ€™t finance a fellow Jewâ€™s death.
I also never wrote about the time my roommate sat in our living room crying, recounting the incidents in Bat Ayin, a hippie community where her brother lives. A toddler had been taken and killed by Arabs, chopped to pieces with an ax. Another man had gone into the forest for hitbodedut (speaking to G-d in your own words) and never came back. They were murdered, stam (just like that.) I didnâ€™t know what to say, as she sat there attempting to somehow reconcile her belief that surely all people deep down want peace with the reality that there are (and I donâ€™t find it an exaggeration to say) evil people mired in hatred who target and murder innocent civilians. Four or five year-old babies, no less.
'False sense of security?'
I left out the time I ran into a group of backpackers on my way out of the Old City at midnight around a party. The backpackers were speaking to a very suspicious-looking character. The shared glances between my friends and I spoke our shared conclusion that this was not a good situation. My friend gestured for the students to come over to us. One did.
â€œWhatâ€™s up?â€ my friend asked.
â€œWe need a place to stay tonight. Weâ€™re looking for a hostel, but this guy wants us to go with him. He says heâ€™ll take us to a cheap place. Could be okay, but heâ€™s being really pushy about it,â€ the backpacker said.
â€œThereâ€™s a hostel in the Jewish quarter thatâ€™s still open now. Itâ€™s really close,â€ my friend said. We began directing the young guy, providing the hostel and street names.
â€œWhat are you doing?!â€ the dubious man suddenly shouted at us, clearly annoyed.
â€œWeâ€™re just talking to the guy. Whatâ€™s the problem?â€ I replied, trying to make it sound like no big deal.
Then he suddenly and intensely screamed at us, â€œJew! Go home!â€
The backpackers looked shocked, as did we.
I was dumbfounded, but my friend yelled back, â€œWe ARE home!â€
The backpackers headed toward the Jewish Quarter, and we continued on our way, everyone slightly rattled.
Those are examples of hatred Israelis have to cope with personally. But there are also the experiences we cope with together, like, in the case of Gilad Shalit. A constant inner battle wages within me and others because we all want him home. There is no mistaking that. In Israel, we are one family. Thatâ€™s why someone might offer you unsolicited advice while walking down the street, or escort you to your destination if youâ€™re lost; youâ€™re not a stranger. We care and we value each personâ€™s life. Lâ€™Chaim (to life), we say at weddings, bar-mitzvahs, and before taking a sip of our wine or beer. People wear â€œChaiâ€ necklaces around their necks. Chai means â€˜life.â€™ Life, life, life. Our focus is on this life â€“ making this life holy, making this momentâ€¦and this momentâ€¦and this moment count. Life. It is the foundation of our moral code.