Is it bizarre to prepare your child for annihilation?

Yesterday, the country prepared for war.

Not because one is imminent. And not because one is not.

But because preparedness is smart.

(Ironically, the exercise, according to The Times of Israel was “originally scheduled to take place three weeks ago, but it was postponed due to tension with Syria.”)

Israel, in my experience living here, is not a country that typically takes preparation very seriously.

It’s not unusual for my colleagues to request at the last minute a well-written document; it’s commonplace that a good idea will pop up one day and its execution due tomorrow.  Dahoof — the Hebrew for urgent — is so overused in my workplace it’s completely lost its meaning for me.

However, when it comes to complete annihilation, Israel sadly does need to take preparation seriously.

That’s why, in addition to fire drills, earthquake drills, and now, even “a crazy, deranged gunman is loose in our school!” drills, my kids have to learn what to do in case of a chemical weapons attack by Syria or rockets from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Some — Israel’s detractors, and people unfamiliar with the situation but with strong opinions and loud mouths — will say, “Well that’s what you get for living in a region led by occupiers/ultra-orthodox/fanatical/secular/gay-marriage friendly/Russian/ Holocaust surviving/ left-wing /militant /engineers!” (Choose your own responsible party).

But is that what you would say to someone living in Tornado Alley? “That’s what you get for living in Tornado Alley?” That’s what you get for voting in a government who doesn’t think it’s practical to make storm cellars mandatory in new homes?

I can’t imagine any compassionate human being would say such a thing.

And yet, such a question is one I could imagine many people saying to an Israeli:

“That’s what you get.”

It’s unthinkable.

But it’s completely and utterly imaginable.

The next time you find yourself having such a thought, imagine my 4 year old sitting in a circle in a dimly-lit bunker that’s 12 feet x 10 feet, listening to her teacher read her and 29 other children a story while sirens blare.

In that same moment, imagine saying to my daughter or her teacher, “that’s what you get. That’s what you get for growing up in Israel.”

It’s unthinkable.

Isn’t it?

Daily practice

The other day I discovered the blog of writer, investor and entrepreneur James Altucher. Someone at work forwarded me a tech-related post Altucher had written; and after exploring his blog a bit I realized that 1) he has a foul tongue (and I like it!) and 2) has much more to offer than subjective evaluations of the market and tips for entrepreneurs: He’s insightful and introspective.

In particular, his August 20 post, “How to be a human,” was chock full of topics of interest to me — the end of the world, the fate of humanity, and the fear and anger that leads a person to spew hatred at a stranger on a public forum.  Certainly, as I am not addressing on this blog a virtual audience the size of Altucher Confidential, I don’t come up against as much public defamation as he might. But in the 15 years that I’ve written for public audiences — in newspapers, magazines, and extremely opinionated blogs — I’ve certainly set myself up to be taken down. And it’s a lot less fun than when someone shares your blog post on their Facebook wall; or when a more celebrated blogger mentions you in their weekly newsletter.

Altucher claims not to care; not to be impacted by what others write to or about him. He instead acknowledges their anger as representative of and outlets for dealing with past trauma (ie. “Their fathers or mothers didn’t love them;” Other kids beat on them; “Girls or guys didn’t like them or called them names.”)

Altucher credits his humanity for providing him with the ability to rise above his own past traumas; to stop him, he writes, from lying, cheating, stealing, and even killing. In particular,  Altucher credits what he calls “The Daily Practice” as the force by which he remains sane and suitable for society.

His “daily practice,” Altucher claims, is “the only way I’ve ever been able to rise above animal and be human.”

I like this. I like this a lot.

I absolutely agree with Altucher that the world is full of angry, scared, depressed people that often act like animals, but moreso I like how he offers useful tips in a frank, yet accessible voice. Tips that might, just might, lead an Average Joe to be more contemplative, seek help, or better yet, take action.

(In fact, he reminds me of someone I know and love who strives to do the same.)

In questioning the nature and formality of my own daily practice, I realized there is one thing I have committed to each and every day since I moved Israel — Something that is often difficult, very frequently humiliating, and yet so nourishing for my soul.

Every day, I choose to have one uncomfortable conversation.

Typically, my uncomfortable conversation is in Hebrew, but sometimes not. Sometimes the uncomfortable conversation might be with my English speaking neighbor or boss, on a topic that makes me squirm, like money.  And sometimes it’s on a topic I’m emotionally invested in, and the uncomfortable conversation is with my in-laws and or my kid’s teacher.

The more uncomfortable the conversation, I’ve found, the more I learn about myself. The more uncomfortable the conversation, the more I grow.

Particularly for me, the uncomfortable Hebrew conversations have been humbling…which I think my soul really needs. Like Altucher, my daily practice has taught me how to be more human. In particular, to listen, to feel, and to do both with compassion.

But uncomfortable conversations, I think, could be a useful daily practice for almost anyone.

For my shy husband, for instance, the daily practice of having an uncomfortable conversation might be empowering. Or, for my son, offer the thrill of independence.

The uncomfortable conversation can break down walls and stereotypes. It can open doors…and close them. The uncomfortable conversation is often less scary than you think. Instead, it’s often surprising and enlightening. It’s a daily opportunity to practice self-restraint, love, and compassion.

Based on the progress I’ve made since I started taking on the uncomfortable conversation as a daily practice, I daresay, it might be the key to Middle East peace. It might be the answer for world hunger and all that ails the world.

The key for progress and improvement lies somewhere within the uncomfortable conversation, I am sure of it. More specifically in the courage and compassion required to conduct the uncomfortable conversation (as opposed to the uncomfortable screaming match or the uncomfortable revolution or the uncomfortable war).

The uncomfortable conversation, by the way, doesn’t require two consenting participants. It only requires you: Committed, compassionate, humbled and empowered you.

You, as part of your daily practice, trying to be more human.

Blind focus

Just as I implied recently in my response to the online debate between Village Voice editor Allison Benedikt and columnist for The Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg: Activists often wear blinders.

I include myself in that statement. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise. But I don’t think most activists acknowledge their own tunnel vision. They’re too busy protesting.

I’ve been casually following the reports of the atrocities taking place in our neighboring country of Syria. I’m disgusted, and frightened, but not surprised. It’s not news that Bashar Al-Assad is yucky, to say the least.

But what drives me absolutely bananas is that the human rights activists who are ever focused on Israel (in particular those whom live abroad) have much less to say about Syria committing daily acts of terror against their civilian residents than they do about Israel.

Do these activists understand what is happening on a daily basis in Syria these last few months? Have they read not only about the children being killed over the last four months, but the ones tortured?

None of us have the full picture considering Syria has stopped allowing members of the media or human rights organizations into their country. The reports comig “out of Syria” are coming from those who escaped into Lebanon or Turkey where reporters and aid organizations are standing by.

Contrary to Israel who has been navigating a diplomatic and public relations nightmare over the past weeks in regards to the “Gaza Flotilla Activists” and who this week is preparing for the influx of hundreds of protestors staging a “fly-in” to Ben Gurion Airport on Friday, Syria is giving the big F-U to everyone.

Activists can comment on the situation in Israel because there are various reports coming out of this country about events and activities, from various political viewpoints. News and opinions are ever-flowing out of Israel.  Debate is considered healthy here and encouraged. Not so Syria.

I think this is something left-wing political activists protesting against Israel tend to conveniently forget.

It’s true that Israel is making efforts to keep these protestors out of the country. (And she’s been ripped a new one by the international media for doing so.) But, unlike Syria, Israel is not closing her doors to all who disagree with her policies. Syria, on the other hand, is and I do not need to be a paying member of Amnesty International to know this.

Going back to the Benedkit/Goldberg debate (because it will relate, I assure you): In his last words on Allison Benedikt, Goldberg shared some comments from his readers on the topic. One comment in particular was particularly powerful for me, and I’d like to share it here because it sums up a bit what I’d like to, if given the opportunity, sometimes yell back at left-wing activists who blast Israel. Particularly the ones who fail to shout just as loudly or write just as passionately about the atrocities commited by Israel’s neighbors.

After all, we do not in this region exist in a bubble. (As much as even I often pretend that we do.) We exist as one piece of a volatile puzzle. And if human rights activists really care about human beings, they would turn their heads slightly to the east and start shouting, too, about Syria.

Goldberg quotes his reader as writing:

From a reader who argues that Benedikt, and like-minded writers, mistake Israel for a fascist state, when in fact it is the most liberal country in its neighborhood:

 Allison Benedikt portrays support for Israel as an illogical aberration among otherwise right-thinking liberals. How could someone who is ostensibly progressive support this oppressive vestige of the colonial era? But this couldn’t be more wrong.  Here’s a list of liberal touchstones.

1)  You support the rights of gay and lesbian men and women.  Check.

Therefore you must support Israel, one of the few countries in the region where homosexuals aren’t persecuted and even murdered, by state sanction.

2)  You support the rights of women.  Check.

Therefore you must support Israel, one of the few countries in region where women enjoy all the rights men do, and aren’t required to drape every part of their body in the anonymity of the burqa or veil, and are allowed to drive, and may serve on the hight court, and are even the top general in the military.

3)  You support the rights of minorities.  Check.

Therefore you must support Israel, where a substantial number of cabinet members are Arab, where the quality of life for Israeli Arabs is higher than in neighboring states, where there is no tradition of legalized slavery as there was in the Arab states until the 1960s, when it was abolished under European pressure, but still continues in a form of servitude for migrant workers from abroad.

4)  You support democratic government.  Check.

Therefore you must support Israel, a fact that really speaks for itself, in these times in particular, where tyrants around Israel are slaughtering their citizens in droves as they hold on desperately to power, and where the people have always been disenfranchised.

5)  You support a free press.  Check.

Therefore you must support Israel, where an opposition thrives in the media.  Has she read Haaretz?

You could go on and on and on, ad nauseum, but the truth is supporting Israel is consistent with liberalism.  Not support Israel is consistent with totalitarianism.

I invite the activists out there, the ones on the flotilla and the ones boarding planes this week and the ones with blogs and the ones writing columns in newspapers, i invite you to diversify your interests, so to speak. Consider all the victims and violators in the region.

Ask yourself a really hard question: Why is it that I am so focused on Israel?

Opinion

I have a big personality flaw.

I do not like the heat, but I can’t stay out of the kitchen.

Meaning, I have a strong opinion. And I like to share that opinion with others. But then I get all bent out of shape when I have to defend my self-publicized opinion. My brand of bent out of shape usually looks like me whining to my husband (“That’s it! I am done with blogging!”) or, if involved in an in-person debate,  looks like me blubbering.

I’m one those people who cannot argue without crying.

It’s genetic.

Since moving to Israel, I’ve intentionally steered clear of political conversations. Especially since I’m such a cry-baby and, come on, I’m trying to make friends, here!

The very few heated conversations I’ve accidentally found myself a part of have reminded me that I’m a little unpracticed in debate. Moreso, I’m not as schooled as I used to be in “the situation” here. I’m trying to recall data I learned in 1995 and quoting OpEd columnists now dead or retired.

Once upon a time, I was a recent college graduate with a degree in International Politics, and a concentration in Judaic Studies and the Middle East Conflict. I sported impressive internships and jobs on my resume. I read and wrote articles all the time related to American Jewry, as well as Israeli politics. Back in those days — before I had to worry about things like education, vaccination, and summer vacation  — I  could easily hold my own in a conversation about the region.

But I took a ten year hiatus from Israel…until I moved here. And now, I find myself gravitating back towards the articles I stopped reading when I traded politics for parenting.

Except, now I don’t read those articles as an academic or as a reporter or even as a student of the situation. I am full aware that I am reading these articles as an Israeli. As an American Jew living abroad. I know full well my response to these articles now is at least 75% subjective and is more emotionally-driven than intellectually.

Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I think I am among a small group of writers on the topic of Israel who will actually admit that.

I mean, REALLY, how much of what is written about Israel is truly based on “fact?” On “truth?” On “history?”

Is it true because it’s in The Atlantic? Or written by a Village Voice editor? Is it truth when it’s in The New York Times International section? Or Newsweek? What about The Jerusalem Post? Al-Jazeera?

Is it the truth when it’s been photographed? Or featured in a documentary?

What about when it comes out of the mouth of a Jewish professor? Or an anti-semitic one?

Is it true because you think so? Or your parents told you so? Or you learned it in school or in camp?

There has been much conversation in the blogosphere over the past fews days stemming from Allison Benedikt’s first person essay, in which recalls the Zionist indoctrination of her youth and compares it to what she considers her enlightenment on the topic of Israel today.

Possibly surprising, I strongly related to Benedikt’s article, and could totally related to her experiences as a Jewish girl growing up in the suburbs, going to camp and Hebrew school, and participating in a Jewish youth group. And, where some were offended and put off by her tone, I was not. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my very first post on this blog, “Too Jewish.” Many of her critics are calling Benedikt naive; many think it took her too long to realize that the “situation” in the Middle East is a multi-faceted, complex one. But I think Benedikt knew a lot more than she claims to in her piece. I think she has to be brighter than she gives herself credit for.

In fact, I think Benedikt may be a lot like me, like a lot of American Jews. Her opinions on Israel are “in flux.” Influenced by the world around her. By the books and newspapers she reads. By how much taxes are taken out of her paycheck. By how old she is. By who she has to care for at home. By the tragedies she’s witnessed…or hasn’t. By the people she loves and spends her time with.

When she was a girl, in a Zionist home and at Zionist camp, these were people who wholeheartedly and unabashedly loved and supported Israel and her policies. Perhaps blindly, and perhaps not.

Now, not so much so.

But were her parents and Zionist camp counselors really more or less blind than her anti-Israel husband?

Are her  and her husband’s opinions about Israel now really based more on fact than her opinions were as an active Jewish youth?

Or were they all…always…based mostly on emotion and experience (or lack thereof)?

I have an opinion about Israel. I think it would be impossible to live here and not have an opinion about Israel.  But I am well aware that my opinion is not based on truth.

It’s not based on fantasy either.

It’s based on some education, some experience, some past dialogue and debate. It’s based on living for a time as a lone Jew in a non-Jewish community and  Jew among Jews in a very Jewish community. It’s based on Hebrew school and Jewish day camp. It’s based on Thomas Friedman and Amos Oz and USY and two Congregation Beth Els and The Arizona Jewish Post and JCC Maccabi Xperience Summer 2000 and marrying an American Israeli/Israeli American and a host of other reading materials, dialogues, professional and personal experiences.

But, undeniably my opinions on Israel are 1) emotional and 2) ever-changing.

I think this fact is the main reason I don’t share them very often.

I don’t want to come off as one of the many people who I read and hear spouting off opinion as if its fact. Something members of both camps — pro and anti Israel — seem to be really good at these days.