Tonight, I should be preparing for my daughter’s bat mitzvah, only one week away.
Tonight, I should be shuffling a seating chart sent into disarray with last minute RSVPs and tying silky peach ribbons on welcome swag bags filled with Israeli treats. I should be lamenting the sweet and crunchy fried fish I ate at the shuk today when I have a dress to fit into or writing the speech I will share with my daughter next week.
Instead, tonight I’m on Facebook and I can’t breathe when there is a terrorist attack so close to home, this close to the beautiful winery I had dinner at last night, right near the supermarket where I went to shop two nights ago and where I stole a kiss with my husband in the couscous aisle because I didn’t let terrorism keep me away from my life that night.
Instead, I’m on WhatsApp as my cousin in Sharon, Massachusetts learns that her friends’ son, just 18, was murdered in the attack, and then I learn he was the nephew of an old friend.
Instead, I hug a stranger at a youth group ceremony when I see her tears because we both know and both have to put on brave faces while our children dance at the event.
I knew when I moved here more than a year ago that my family and I would be tethered to the fate of Israel and that terrorism could impact our lives in a much deeper way. But what I couldn’t know, couldn’t truly understand until I moved here, is how my heart would expand and how my hair would silver because your everything is here — each neighbor, each classmate and parent and teacher, the grocery checkout girl with the nose-ring and shy smile, the barber who was wrapping tefillin with a rabbi when you walked into his shop yesterday — they all own a little piece of your heart now, so when you hear there has been an “incident,” a “suspicious object,” a pigua, your heart splinters from so many people to worry about.
How do we go on with our lives, our ceremonies and celebrations, soccer games and kisses in the couscous isle in the face of terrorism?
A couple of weeks ago I made my first visit to Sderot, the Gaza-adjacent town where the people have lived under rocket fire for well over a decade. I was on a family pilgrimage to visit a couple of schools supported by AMIT, the organization dedicated to helping underprivileged children in Israel, to see a classroom dedicated in memory of my late grandparents.
I knew I had arrived when I saw parks crusted with rainbow colored bomb shelters.
There, I met with a religious elementary school principal in a school that is one giant shelter and he explained that an “emergency schedule” is a regular schedule for them because rockets are part of the routine. He showed us a recently minted video of his students having a yom kef, a day of fun, with over a hundred little school girls they invited to Sderot from Jerusalem’s Old City, so that their little guests in candy-pink school shirts could have a respite from the tension that the spate of stabbings had wrought. These girls shared laughs and breakfast, held hands and jumped on moonbounces while they would question each other:
“How do you feel when you hear there is a stabbing in your city?”
And then, “How do you feel when rockets fall on your town?”
I also visited a secular high school where student-created murals of Jerusalem adorned the walls, where the homeroom teacher told me not to despair because of the stabbings near my home and that knives and rocks and bullets shouldn’t scare us out of our homes as rockets haven’t scared them out of theirs, that we are one nation.
I was chased down by an 11th grader who hugged me tightly, who told me if terrorism gets bad where I live my family and I could stay with her and her family in Sderot.
I saw the grit gleaming in the students’ eyes, the determination to succeed despite their socio-economic backgrounds and to excel in their bogrut exams because they feel that if they fail their exams because of rockets, Hamas will have snatched a piece of their souls.
As I was leaving, I was embraced warmly by teachers and administrators and it was secular hugging religious, Gaza-adjacent hugging the Gush, and I was told not to fear, that going about our “normal” lives was how we not only survive, but thrive. It’s how we win.
Advice given from the land of rockets to the land of rocks and rammings, blades and bullets, with love.
So through the tears this week, I’ll tie ribbons and number place cards and hug visiting family and friends. And a week from now, you can bet I plan to celebrate.