Community, Making Friends, Middle East Conflict

Narrow circles

“Everyone you know okay?

I SMSed my friend in Netanya.

This was only after I got confirmation that my two good friends in Tel Aviv were safe, and heard the same from my coworker who has an IDF-aged son stationed close to where it happened.  My online Tel Aviv based “tweeps” had all reported in, as well.

They weren’t on the bus.

But names of injured have not yet been released.

So you never know.

Not yet.

Who was on the bus?

Was it a friend of a friend? The cousin of a neighbor?

Back when I lived in the States, especially when I worked for the Jewish newspaper, I always waited anxiously for the list.

You know which list, right?

The one with the names. The one with the ages. Sometimes, the one with pictures. Faces that would never change.

Back then, we would get the news feed by email and fax. The Jerusalem Post was the main English news source reporting from the region at the time, and the only one with an online presence.

Now, we get our news everywhere. Up-to-the-minute. Unconfirmed. Confirmed. BREAKING. Photos from the scene. Retweets from eye witnesses.

And, as a result of the very same phenomenon — social media — our circles have widened…and at the same time narrowed.

Take my circle, for example.

I live in Israel.

I have community in Israel.

My real-life community in Israel and my online community in Israel.

If I could maneuver Adobe Illustrator, I’d show you all the hands I’m holding online. They would extend to America, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, and even Gaza.

Now, not just because I live here, but because I have an extended community here, I know more people in Israel.

More potential victims.

And you know me.

Or you feel like you do because you read my blogs. You follow my twitter feed. You’re subscribed to my posts on Facebook.

We’re holding hands in that imaginary graphic.

And now …


You know someone who lives here.

Now, when you read the lists, you’ll scan for someone you know.

Knowing someone here makes the situation a lot more real.

Almost as real as it gets.

But still, not quite real.

Family, Letting Go, Love, Middle East Conflict, Parenting, Politics

Listen to the mothers

We’re in the middle of a war.

It’s not a real war, not yet, my vatikim co-workers and friends tell me.

But they don’t live in the South. They don’t live in Gaza. And they don’t live on Twitter.

A real war is taking place on Twitter.

Instead of fiery op-eds in the New York Times, social media has become the new PR battleground for the Middle East Conflict.

As it should be.

Because the mainstream media is doing a poor job of telling it like it is.

To be fair, however, “telling it like it is” on Twitter also is pretty subjective. Even when it’s told by those of us with a traditional journalism background.

So what to do for a girl who wants to get the real story?

I say, listen to the mothers.

We mothers in Israel are keeping it real.

We mothers in Israel are having heartfelt, honest conversations with our children. We are keeping them calm.

We mothers in Israel might make up stories when the real becomes too real, but we share them only at bedtime and whisper them into innocent ears.

True, we aren’t always clear-headed.  We aren’t always fair. And sometimes we growl because that’s what mama bears do when they get scared.

But, mostly we observe; we ponder; and then we tell it like it is from a heart-centered mother’s point of view.

At least, those of us on the front lines of the social media war do.

* * * *

Politicians or military professionals, if they bothered to listen to the mothers,  would laugh at us. Belittle us. Keep us far away from the battleground.

We can’t risk opening our hearts too wide, the combat professionals  would say. We can’t allow ourselves to be too vulnerable.

And yet, what any social media expert will tell you is that the true value of social media is connection.

Don’t bother using social media — not for any cause, not for any business — unless you are prepared to be vulnerable. To share of yourself. To engage.

And this is why the mothers in Israel are a most effective tool in this social media war.

You believe us.

Why? Because our stories feel … real.

They feel real because you know us.

Or, at least you feel like you do.

Because we dared to open our hearts to you.

Yet, there’s a side effect to listening to the mothers …

Be prepared.

You might become susceptible to love.

Susceptible to love not just for your own child, but for another woman’s child.

(Even for the child of your supposed enemy in this not-quite-yet-a-war.)

When I listen to the mothers, my heart opens to other mothers.

Not just to the mothers of 19-year-old Israeli soldiers. Mothers who must be very conflicted: Protect my son? Or protect my country?

But also to the mother in Gaza, who might have a blog post ready to burst out from her heart, but no outlet through which to express it.

When I listen to the mothers, my heart opens

My heart…


And it hurts. Like it should.

War should hurt.

War should hurt.

When war hurts, we are one step closer to being desperate enough to let go enough to end it.

Middle East Conflict, Politics

A monster is hiding in the closet

You know that feeling you get — that rush of breath-stopping adrenaline — when you watch a scary movie and you helplessly watch the main character walk across the screen straight into the death trap of pure evil?

And her hand reaches for the door knob…and…


Someone behind you — someone in real life — slams a door.

And you scream! You didn’t realize how tense you were. You didn’t realize just how edgy you were until you screamed.

That’s me right now.

I live in Israel.

But not the part of Israel that’s being bombarded by rockets or being forced into bomb shelters every few minutes in response to the Code Red sirens sounding.

I live in Northern Israel. The Lower Galilee.

In accordance with non-specific requests by the IDF, I am not going to tell you where I live or where rockets may or may not have landed.

But I will say a hearty thank goodness we chose Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Go North program. Tel Aviv? Trust me: over-rated. Especially when rockets are flying overhead.

Had we lived in this very house six years ago during the 2006 war with Lebanon, however, I’d be singing a different tune. A tune from inside my bomb shelter, where the acoustics are questionable and the air quality not so fresh. Six years ago, neighborhoods in our region  and especially in the region where I work in the Western Galilee received the brunt of katyusha rockets targeted at Israeli civilian populations during that war.

Lucky for me, in the almost two years that we’ve lived here, I’ve only needed to visit my shelter to add another can of corn to my End of Days store.

A portion of our 2-week disaster supply

Unlike most Israelis, I keep my MAMAD clean and reasonably stocked. I’m just that kinda girl. But as prepared for disaster as I try to be, I know there is no way to emotionally prepare for disaster.

Try as I might with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior and endless rows of canned corn, there is no way to prepare for war. For cloudy with a chance of rockets.

* * * *

Supposedly, we’re just out of range for the rockets being fired by Hamas terrorists from Gaza. Does that help me sleep easier at night?

A little. But just like chicken pox spreads from one tight knit community to another, so does fear and dread. And with Hamas promising “big surprises,” I asked my husband, who was on his way out to a meeting, to close the outer protective shutters on the shatterproof windows to our bomb shelter.

We normally keep the heavy metal shutters open to avoid mold buildup in the airless room. (As if bombs weren’t bad enough…)

I was sitting on the couch trying to keep up with the latest tweets on the situation when I heard a very loud and extended wail from outside.

I jumped.

My heart almost leaped out of my chest.

When my mind started working. I realized the sound was just the creaking of the metal shutters.

Nothing to worry about.

“Yet,” I added out loud.

I’m more concerned for our safety than I thought I was. And more in denial than I thought I was.

It’s true that the Lower Galilee isn’t #israelunderfire in this moment. But what separates me from the families in real, true live danger right now is a highway shorter than the length of New Jersey Turnpike.

What separates me from them is a stronger rocket booster.

What separates me from them is a whim of a dictator to our North and a whim of a dictator to our East.

The whims of monsters who hate me simply because I’m Jewish and because I live on a particular piece of land.

Hamas would be sending rockets to my backyard if they could.

I tweet and I blog for Southern Israel because I know this is true.

I know I am only out of harm’s way this time.

My conscious mind is in denial, but my unconscious mind is screaming at the screen to “Watch out.”

Middle East Conflict, Politics

I’m sensitive to war

In case you haven’t heard, Israel has launched an operation against the terrorists in Gaza who have been firing rockets on Southern Israel. Rockets that keep children from going to school. Rockets that force families to sleep in bomb shelters … if they can sleep at all with the alarms going off all night. Rockets that kill.

I heard about the Operation on Facebook and Twitter because this is how I get most of my news, but especially my news from Israel.

And as much I relish feeling part of a strong, supportive, active community here in Israel, it’s days like this that I feel torn about social media.

On the one hand, like any bad news, it’s better to hear it from friends than from a stiff news reporter. On the other hand, I feel like war brings out the worst in people. People I normally like.  And on social media, people let their emotions rip. They don’t just type in 140 characters. They shout.

Today, during what’s been named Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, I can smell through the computer screen the adrenaline, hatred, rage.

It makes me very uncomfortable.

This is not to say I don’t firmly and strongly believe Israel has a right to defend herself. I do.

This is not to say if I were living in a city in which rockets were raining down, I wouldn’t want my government to act. I would.

This is to say:

I guess I’m a pacifist.

Which sounds weird. It’s not how I picture myself at all. In fact, I normally tag myself as an “accidental activist.” I fight for what I believe in. I don’t stand idly by when I can educate or inform or make positive change.

But activism takes many forms. Blog-ins, rallies, strikes, marches: These are actions I have a strong stomach for.

But not for war. Not for violence. Not for rockets raining down on my neighbors in the south and not for missiles being sent down on Gaza.

On the one hand, I’m thankful I am not in the position to make a decision whether or not to shoot; whether or not to fire; whether or not to initiate or retaliate.

I’m just not built for war. I wouldn’t be able to make such a quick decision. I’d hesitate. I’d think of men as babies in their mothers arms. I’d think of children wailing.

Perhaps I’m not angry enough to make such a decision. Not broken enough.

But, on the other hand, I think: Who is? Who is built for war?

Who is born built for war? What man or woman meets her mate in bed with the express desire to bring a new solider into this world? A new terrorist?

What child is raised for war? What 4 year old, as he learns his letters and starts becoming more aware of himself and his surroundings, thinks to himself, “One day I will defend this beautiful blade of green grass with my life?”

Are any of us built for war?

What would war look like if the broken ones weren’t running the show?

* * * *

I’m a pacifist.

I can still see the good, the innocent in almost anyone.

Is this a gift? Or a hazard?

I don’t know.

But what I can tell you this morning as I sit both behind my screen and behind my country is that I support Israel’s right to defend herself. But I can’t comfortably nod my head at blithe tweets about people (terrorists or soldiers or civilians) being marked for death.

I can’t feel excited or grateful or proud.

War hurts my heart.

In my heart — one that some would call naive, but I see as loving and compassionate — there is still a flicker of light. It’s that flicker of light I often hear my observant Jewish friends talk about.

That flicker of light in all of us.

The flicker of light in my own heart tells me conflicts can be solved with the right people seated around the right table.

And so I can’t enter “operations” with firm resolve or unwavering decisive support.

All I can muster as a sigh.

A disappointed and very sad sigh.

Culture, Education

Vote me

If you’re going to blog on Election Day, you better blog about the election, right?

It’s what’s trending. It’s what people are talking about. It’s what’s relevant.

No one wants to read blogs about somebody’s else’s kid on Election Day.

But just in case you’re someone who, like I am, is still in denial about the fact that today Americans vote to re-elect or elect a new president, here is a light and fluffy election-related, but unrelated post from your favorite (or second favorite) Israeli immigrant blogger.

A few weeks ago, my 9 year old immigrant son did something extraordinary. He ran for class representative in the 4th grade.

This would have been only somewhat extraordinary when we lived in the U.S. — my oldest has always been a friendly and confident kid, but nonetheless, I would have been impressed with any one of my children placing their names on a ballot, the results of which would label him a winner or a loser (at least among his peers).

Who does that? Who sets themselves up for that?

But, even more extraordinary is that my kid, the nine year old who has been in this country and part of this school communuity not quite two years, decided to run.

Part of the requirements included a speech in front of the class on why they should elect him.

In Hebrew.

I am so amazed by my children sometimes.

Truly a-mazed.

The kid didn’t even tell us he gave a speech until after the fact. He worked the speech up himself and gave it — off the cuff.

(I think he promised them a really fun year… and maybe some candy.)

People often ask me about the impacts of aliyah on my children. I know much of our happiness here has to do with how happy our kids are, so I often feel very grateful when I tell them our kids are doing beautifully.

They’ve learned the language. They’ve made friends. They even dare to throw their hats into rings.

My son — who ran against 7 other kids — did not win one of the two representative seats from his class.

He was disappointed. And, honestly, so were we.

My immediate thoughts were panic and guilt — “Wait! He was so popular when we lived in America. Did we drastically hurt his popularity by dragging him to Israel? Did we screw him up forever?!?”

Then I realized, “That’s not the point.”

The biggest accomplishment would not have been in winning. We already know this kid makes friends easily.

The accomplishment was that he ran at all.

And, for the first time ever, I felt the truth in the classic, yet typically ineffective cliche, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.”

Culture, Religion

Religious puzzle

Is it possible to move to the Jewish State and feel less Jewish?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Even when you’re acting a lot more Jewish than you did when you lived in the Non-Jewish Jewish state. (Not, no the Vatican. New Jersey.)

Even though I moved to Israel and live in a community that is considered (by secular and pluralistic Jews here, at least) to be religious, I still often feel as goyish as a ham sandwich on white.

Take my Halloween post on the Times of Israel yesterday, for instance.

Of course, I knew I might ruffle a feather or two. Religious Jews don’t celebrate Halloween, not even in America. And I knew the Times of Israel attracts readers that tend to be a little on the, let’s just say, fervent side.

But I didn’t expect the commenters to go all Esmerelda on me.

(c) Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Edward Scissorhands

On the one hand, I’m curious about it. In the same way I might be curious about a colorful school of clownfish swimming in a tank at the pet store.

I knew that observant Jews in America didn’t let their kids participate in Halloween festivities, though I never really understood why. Not the historical reason why; but the “why is it still relevant today” kinda why.

Halloween in America today is far, far away from idol worshipping. Unless, of course, you consider Smarties to be idolic. Why be so vigilant about keeping your kids off the streets and out of costume on October 31?

But of course, I fall into the camp that thinks kashrut as a means of humane slaughter is also outdated…especially when you take into consideration inhumane mass slaughterhouses like agriprocessor. Tells you what kind of Jew I am, and also shows you very clearly my stand on taking a more modern approach to tradition.

So, naturally, I wasn’t really prepared for the harsh admonishment on the first run of commenting on my post.

Yikes! I just wanted my kids to enjoy some cake and candy. I just wanted them to be amused and impressed by my polished witch cackle.

Heck, I just wanted a reason to be able to work my polished witch cackle into a sentence.

Is that so wrong?

Look: Halloween has nothing to do with my “traditions or values or way of life.”

Kids get dressed up and go beg for candy. When they get older, they throw eggs at my house.

Who would claim that this “holiday” has anything to do with their “traditions or values or way of life?”

Not even satan worshippers or pagans, I imagine.

And yet, somehow in her tone, this commenter implies that by recognizing a secularized American tradition I am somehow passing on bad values to my Jewish children. My Jewish children who go to Beit Knesset every Friday night for kabbalat Shabbat; my children who go to a Tali school and learn Tanakh; my children who — during play amongst themselves — will sometimes sit on the couch and daven with their dolls.

I’m not kidding.

I have video to prove it.

Maybe, the commenter is right. Maybe someday my kids will grow up to be idol worshipping pagans who dance naked in the moonlight at Stonehenge.

Personally, I think Halloween is more likely to turn kids into toothless fat old people than pagans.

And dancing naked in the moonlight at Stonehenge? Sounds fun.

But then again, I’m that kinda Jew.