Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Winning a Popularity Contest

The winter of 2000-01 was a grim time in Israel.  It was the time when turning on the news was an emotional experience. Waiting to hear the headlines, my stomach would tense and it was only after hearing the weather forecast and knowing there had been no terror attack would I be able to relax. It was the time when my ten-year-old would start his day with the same question on his lips. “Did anything happen last night?”  It was the time that we would be traumatized over and over again with murders and injuries to fellow Jews. Those attacks would be carried out by faceless, Arab murderers and we would know they could easily happen to any of us.
That was also the winter after my mother had died. Six months after her death my father was beginning to get anxious about the unveiling. I understood the importance of attending the ceremony but, at the same time, could not bear the thought of leaving Israel. What if something would happen while I was gone? What if my children would need me?

My father also needed me so I left home accompanied by a heavy heart for a long journey. When the plane finally landed in Chicago I was eager to call my family I had left behind.  For over sixteen hours I had been out of touch with the world.  My first question on the overseas wire was “Were there any terror attacks?”
My anxiety was a sharp contrast to the carefree attitude of the other travelers. This was before 9-11 and security checks were at a minimum and air travel was still a pleasure. As I stood in line to board my flight to Wichita there was relaxed bantering between the passengers. Suddenly I noticed the man standing behind me in line. He was wearing a black, velvet skullcap and prayer fringes. Obviously a religious Jew, he looked out of place with the other passengers. Surely he was in the wrong line. Although I really did not want to speak to a strange man I knew I had to say something.
“Excuse me, do you know that this flight is going to Wichita?”
He smiled and nodded.
“Do you,” I swallowed in amazement, “live in Wichita?”
“Oh, no,” he shook his head, still smiling, “I’m going there for business.”
I nodded, relieved that he did, indeed, know what he was doing. I felt rather foolish and then he questioned me.
“Do YOU live in Wichita?”
With my long sleeves and covered hair I guess I looked as out of place as he did. I shook my head and also smiled. “I’m on my way to visit my father.”
Usually the flights to Wichita are not crowded and this one was no exception. Still, as I found my aisle seat I saw I would have a neighbor. A woman in her forties, probably a few years younger than me, had the window seat. As I settled my carry-on bags around me the Jewish man wished me a good flight.
“You know,” he told me. “I never knew there were Jews living in Wichita.”
“Of course there are Jews living in Wichita,” the woman in the aisle seat exclaimed. “I’m going to my cousin’s son’s Bar Mitzvah.”
“Oh, you’re related to the Levs*!”
“How did you know?” she asked me as the man moved on to his place.
“My father told me about the Bar Mitzvah. I grew up with your cousin.”
We smiled at each other. I felt the most relaxed I had been since leaving home. Here were two Jews on the flight with me, two Jews who could sympathize with all the traumas I had been through the past six months.
Only that is not what happened. The man had moved on to his place and as for the woman, well, her attitude was not exactly what I had expected. It all started out pleasantly enough. She told me that she lived in a small New England town and I told her I lived in Shilo, a small village in Israel. She knew that Shilo was where Chana had come to pray for a son and I was impressed that she had paid attention to the Rosh HaShanah Haftorah reading. She also knew that Shilo had been the Biblical capital of Israel for 369 years but, she admitted, she knew nothing about modern day Israel.  In fact, she told me, her attitude to Israel had changed 180 degrees to how she had felt growing up.
“What do you mean?” I asked reluctantly.
“I’m really embarrassed by the way Israel treats the Palestinians.”
Woo! My face flushed and my heart began beating rapidly as I tried to decide how to respond to this woman.
“Do you have any idea what it is like to get on a bus to go to work and not know if it will be shot at or not? A friend was on her way home from teaching, sitting innocently in a car, not hurting anyone and she was gunned down, murdered.

Sara Leisha hy"d
What would you like Israel to do to prevent all the terror?"

“How can you prevent any terror?” she asked philosophically. “How do you stop those crazies who shoot up a classroom or McDonald’s?”
I did not like her comparison. Those “crazies” were exactly that, people with mental problems. Our Arab terrorists were in complete control. In the classrooms and McDonald’s there were random victims. In out terror attacks the victims were always murdered for one reason, because they were Jews. 
“You know,” I struggled to keep my voice steady. “There is a lot of unfair reporting in the media.”
“You know that picture of the young Arab boy and his father that was splashed all over the front pages at the beginning of the Oslo War?”
“That boy that was murdered because he was caught in the crossfire?”
“Right, after an investigation they are almost certain that he was killed by Arab fire**, not Israeli, but that was never on any front page.”
“No,” she shook her head and I wondered if she believed me.
“And when a school bus was bombed and teachers murdered and children maimed how many headlines were there about them?”

   One of the many terror attacks on a civilian bus
“I don’t remember hearing about that.”
“Of course not.” I tried to minimize my sarcasm. “They were Israelis! Sometimes outright Arab lies are in the news, but most often it is distorted truth.”
“Like?” She was obviously skeptical.
“Like when they report the Israeli army chopped down Arab owned orchards but they don’t tell you the reason the army leveled the trees was that they were used as cover for snipers.”
The woman shook her head. “It’s such a mess but I’m sure there are some people who want peace.”
“Of course there are.” I was happy to be able to agree with her about something. “But not their leaders. Barak was willing to give almost everything away but Arafat preferred war. The world says the settlements are the problem but that doesn’t make sense. The PLO began in 1964, the Six-Day War was in 1967, and the first settlement started only in 1968. What were the PLO’s goals except to destroy Israel?”
“I don’t know. What do you think the solution is?”
I was not sure if talking about G-d would be politically correct so I used an example.
“When I was growing up one of the big subjects was Soviet Jewry. I wrote letters and signed petitions as I’m sure you did.”
She nodded.
“I don’t know about you, but I really thought it was a waste of time. Nothing would change. And then, suddenly, ten years ago everything did change. Thousands of Russian Jews were able to come to Israel! No one predicted it. No one could have imagined it. It was a miracle and someday, we will have a miracle in Israel, too.”
“I hope you’re right.”
At that point the stewardess began passing out snacks. This was back when meals were still served on domestic flights. It was a welcome interlude. The conversation was very intense for two strangers. We spoke of light, mundane subjects until the plane landed.
“I hope I didn’t offend you,” the woman spoke sincerely as she gathered her belongings.
How could I answer that? It pained me to know that other Jews were so quick to condemn Israel. I took a deep breath.
“I hope I gave you some food for thought.”
That happened over a dozen years ago and off and on I have wondered about that woman. I wonder if her feelings toward Israel changed after the peace motion of expelling thousands of Jews from their homes and giving Gush Katif to the Arabs. Did she approve when Israel dismantled numbers of security checks or imposed building freezes as goodwill gesture? Now that Israel has agreed to release one hundred and four murderers from jail for the privilege of sitting at a negotiating table has her attitude changed maybe ninety degrees?
I am not interested in winning a popularity contest with the world. I am interested in surviving.  I do not believe that we will have peace by painful concessions or building freezes. Peace will come only from G-d and only when we deserve it. Let’s forget suicidal goodwill gestures and start being better people.  We have a month until Rosh HaShana. Let this be the year that HaShem will decree true peace.
*not the real name
** There is some evidence that the whole story was a hoax. See Doctor: Here’s Why Mohammed al-Dura Really Died at http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/169402   


Ruti Mizrachi said...

Thank you for this post. I am sure many of us have experienced this nearly-tragic disconnect with fellow Jews -- and you described the feelings so well, I could feel my own breath shortening, my own heart beating more rapidly. The only difference is that I tend to get tongue-tied under pressure, and you did us proud. :-)

Ester said...

Thank you, Ruti. Most of the time I also get toungue-tied but then my emotions were so strong that HaShem let me keep my cool.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on having kept your cool, Ester. I very much fear I would have lost my temper.

Ester said...

Shimona, thank you for commenting.