by Eve Marko
My momâ€™s sleeping. She never realized that I was supposed to have been gone by now. She lies in bed and a small noise wakes her up: â€śDid you eat something?â€ť she asks and shuts her eyes again. I can hear Saint Swapna gurgling softly on the phone to her family in India. Theyâ€™re anxious about her here, sheâ€™s anxious about them there.
And me? Iâ€™m trying to get home. Canceled. Canceled. Canceled. Iâ€™ll be rebooking once again soon because my latest flight, due to leave on Sunday night, is canceled. This time Iâ€™ll try for the European airlines, see if I can go home through there. If you think getting a covid test prior to a flight is hard, try to get a covid test before a flight thatâ€™s canceled, rebook and get a second covid test, and when thatâ€™s canceled rebook and get another covid test.
â€śTill thereâ€™s a ceasefire nobody will fly,â€ť my brother tells me reassuringly. And there isnâ€™t going to be a ceasefire anytime soon.
My niece is the heroic one, with four little children, pregnant with a fifth, and a husband who came home from an elite unit thatâ€™s working â€śsomewhere out there,.â€ť as they say here Heâ€™s home for the weekend, scheduled to leave on Sunday, unless heâ€™s alerted to come earlier. â€śCome for dinner,â€ť she instructed my sister and me, guests number 13 and 14. â€śOnly place that you have to watch out for is before the tunnel on Mt. Scopus; theyâ€™ve been throwing rocks on cars.â€ť
Sheâ€™s not the only one speaking with semi-nonchalance about The Matzav, the situation. Still, she didnâ€™t wish to drive herself with her kids through that. Years ago, when she was a young girl and suicide bombers were blowing up buses, her parents cautioned their children to take basic precautions, but they didnâ€™t prohibit them from taking buses. The Matzav was the Matzav, it was what it meant to live in Israel. But now she has children and insists on keeping her children a lot safer.
Israelis pride themselves on their stoicism. Two-thirds of the schools closed, but not the other third. People whoâ€™re not in the South and Center go to work, though the streets at night are quite deserted.
Still, after last Mondayâ€™s rockets to Jerusalem, which were fairly symbolic in nature, we are safe here. Hamas has no wish to inflict casualties on the large Palestinian population here, never mind a catastrophic hit on the Al-Aksa Mosque. So, Molly the dog gets walked, my sister goes shopping, I go to visit my mom, and weâ€™ll visit my niece for Shabbat dinner this evening, tensing up a little before the tunnel, but not much. Normal life. Normal activity.
â€śLook at that beautiful university across the street,â€ť says my mother yesterday.
â€śMom, I think itâ€™s a luxurious private home thatâ€™s still under completion,â€ť I tell her.
â€śDonâ€™t be silly,â€ť she says, â€śthey already asked me to teach there.â€ť
â€śTeach what, mom?â€ť
â€śWith my life, you donâ€™t think I have something to teach?â€ť she says indignantly.
At this point in my life, I feel like Iâ€™m the opposite of her. I donâ€™t have a clue what to teach; I donâ€™t have a clue what to say.
Itâ€™s so easy to get into stories and principles. I had my principles from Day 1 here. I loathed the occupation, was sure it was wrong. I thought the efforts to undermine a 2-state solution were wrong. I watched Israeli settlers speeding through checkpoints while Palestinians waited in a line a mile long, late to work, late to school, and said: â€śThatâ€™s wrong!â€ť â€śSo many checkpoints,â€ť Sami Awad used to say, â€śyou canâ€™t get into 3rd gear or above anywhere around Bethlehem.â€ť
I felt that the way Israel treated Hamas and the Palestinians under its rule was wrong.
Right, wrong, apartheid, discrimination, oppressor, oppressed. Wisdom, enlightenment. One concept follows another follows another.
When youâ€™re in the middle of these thingsâ€”and Iâ€™m not in the middleâ€”principles fail you. Suffering is suffering. People go down to shelters, sleep there with their families night after night, rockets explode all night and people are afraid for their children.
We watch TV a lot. Over and over again, the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces tries to reassure the skeptical journalists: â€śWeâ€™re the strong ones. You see what they did to us? We counter that with 10 times more force. We took down their senior commanders, headquarters, internet infrastructure, buildingsâ€“we brought that down, so donâ€™t worry. You can trust the IDF, itâ€™s doing its thing, it takes care of us.â€ť
Those declarations fall on deaf ears. Yes, deep inside, Israelis have terrific trust in their army; they know itâ€™s among the best in the world. They and their children have all served in it. At the same time, you canâ€™t get past the existential dread thatâ€™s here: here it is, happening again, bombs and rockets and sirens and children crying and people dying.
Long ago I met the Israeli writer David Grossman, who said that Jews in Israel see Auschwitz everywhere. â€śI donâ€™t know how long it will take.â€ť
This time itâ€™s even worse because of the unrest inside Israel itself, Arabs and Jews facing off each other, stoning, burning, cursing, and even lynching. There is no Hebrew word for lynching, they use the English. A Jewish man was killed on his way to synagogue in Lod? He was lynched. An Arab driver was taken out of his car and beaten to an ounce of his life? He was lynched. An interesting legacy of our own, thank you very much.
They knowâ€”I donâ€™t have to remind themâ€”that the scale in Gaza is overwhelming, that what happens on that side is way worse than what happens here. My pregnant niece is bound to wonder what itâ€™s like for a pregnant woman to be unable to get to a hospital to give birth, what it is not to be able to provide safety for your children. People arenâ€™t animals, theyâ€™re fully aware that on that small strip of land by the Mediterranean, the densest place in the world, there is horror and destruction.
But thereâ€™s also a sense of deep hopelessness and fear: We donâ€™t know what to do. We know those are human beings, but we donâ€™t trust Hamas and thereâ€™s nothing more we can do.
Zen truisms come up for me, especially that Zen is about giving no fear. And if and when I manage to get home, a safe distance away, Iâ€™ll be tempted to come up with spiritual solutions, with axioms and stories from the past.
But right now, the principles just slip off me. I see how small the story of right and wrong is, how it doesnâ€™t capture the neighbor yelling into the phone about terrorists, the tiredness of hearing explosions in the distance even if theyâ€™re not coming straight at you, hearing a siren and wondering if itâ€™s a local ambulance or the warning about incoming rockets, giving you one minute to get to a shelter.
Itâ€™s nothing like Gaza, but suffering is suffering. It doesnâ€™t lend itself to comparison (Ours is more than yours!); youâ€™re in the middle of misery. You do what you can, usually itâ€™s closer to home. You walk your sisterâ€™s dog, she takes great care of you because you have a coldâ€”what would I do without her?
And though Iâ€™d like to get home, I know in my gut that home for me is wherever there is suffering. And for that, I donâ€™t have to rush back to Massachusetts.
I havenâ€™t asked for money for undocumented families in a long time. if you can help, please do so. Thank you.
You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.
May 07, 2021
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