Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Summer in Israel’s Matzav

This article was published in the September/October 2014 issue 
of the Tikvat Israel bulletin along with another congregant's 
reflections as part of a feature called: Our Summer Experiences in Israel

Despite this summer’s situation in Israel, for the most part, I had quite a good summer. However, usually each time I leave Israel I ache with a longing to stay. This time was different in that although I was ready to come home, I still ached. 

I ached with grief over the “matzav” – the situation  – in Israel. I ached for all the inhabitants of the land, Jew and Palestinian alike, for being caught in the impossible grip of injury, death and destruction.

I also ached from a sense of guilt for exercising my privilege of leaving a country at war and going home to safety. I felt guilt over no longer being able to show in person that I wanted to help in whatever way I could, though in truth I really didn’t know how to help except by providing the emotional support to those who ask or need and the economic support of being a tourist.

I spent the majority of my summer in Jerusalem where it was almost possible to forget at times there was a war going on … almost. Although we didn’t experience any of the day-to-day fighting, there was a sense of tension, heaviness and hyperawareness that seemed to be communally experienced. There were also pro-and anti-war rallies and riots popping up daily. I only experienced a few red alert sirens in Jerusalem and two others over a Shabbat in Tel Aviv. One quickly learned where the nearest miklat, or bomb shelter, was located relative to one’s apartment and on neighborhood streets.

Most days I spent teaching and learning at the Conservative Yeshiva. Located in the center of Jerusalem, it’s a wonderful place to study traditional text in an egalitarian setting with people from all over the world. I taught a learner’s minyan for those students (of all ages) who were uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the traditional daily shacharit service or with prayer in general. My goal, as I taught about keva (obligatory prayer) and kavanna (intentional or spontaneous prayer), was to facilitate each person’s development of their own personal prayer practice and relationship with tradition. 

While I rarely discussed the matzav in my class, I hoped that by developing an intentional prayer practice or at least a better understanding of traditional prayer, each person would be acquiring “practical spiritual skills” with which to deal with the ever-present stress.

I actually thought I was dealing with the stress fairly well. I’d lived in Israel for a year during the first war with Lebanon and had spent extended periods there during other stressful times. But, of course, the emotional and psychological toll of the matzav got to me as it did to anyone else.  Strangely enough, it wasn’t the rocket attacks that unnerved me. Rather, it took a phone conversation with my daughter to do that.

My daughter decided to spend Shabbat in Tel Aviv the first week after the war began. I wasn’t thrilled, as Tel Aviv was rapidly becoming a favorite Hamas target, but what was I to do? As we spoke during our Shabbat Shalom conversation on Friday, I found myself reviewing the procedures of what to do if she got caught away from a miklat/bomb shelter during a rocket attack – out of doors or in a car. It turns out she knew what to do and I just had to be satisfied with that. At the end of our conversation, I blessed her for Shabbat, told her that I loved her and hung up.

Shortly thereafter I found myself trembling. I had just reviewed rocket attack safety procedures with my child. I’m an American. I never expected to have to do that. But I’m also a Jew. A Jew who spends a lot of time in Israel. So why was I so surprised and unnerved? Nevertheless, I was. And to some degree, I still am after returning to Rockville.

I received many e-mails over the summer asking if I was going to come home early or if the sender, who was thinking of coming to Israel, should actually come. I never did consider coming home early and while I wanted to say to everyone, “Yes, of course, come!” I couldn’t (and didn’t) do that. One person’s sense of safety and belonging isn’t the same as the next person’s. Each must make their own choices and those choices will be the right ones for them.

There is so much we can learn by integrating our tradition with the multi-cultural complex world we live in. When Jennie and I were chevruta partners at the yeshiva in a course that traced the civilizational development of the phrase “V’Ahavta L’reacha Ka’mocha,” (love your neighbor as yourself), we applied that knowledge to current-day relationships.

Finally, it was borne out when I spoke to people -- Jews, Christians, Muslims and tourists -- about country, family, heritage and the pain and sense of helplessness that this situation was bringing to all of them.  May peace come soon and in our time.

Note: Since this article was written, a permanent cease fire has gone into effect. Let us pray that it holds. AMB

Me in front of Robinson’s Arch, the
egalitarian section of the Western Wall 
in Jerusalem. Had just finished davenning 
Shacharit (morning prayer) with the Conservative Yeshiva.