What the world needs now

I spent the morning with my father-in-law in a cafe in Kfar Tavor.

He was generous enough to be an interview subject for me in regards to a creative writing project I’m preparing for a class called “Art, Atrocity, and Truth.”

My father-in-law is a child of the Holocaust. He is, in a way, art born of atrocity. His story is fascinating, as are the stories of so many whose parents survived the Holocaust, either in camps or in hiding or in brave revolt in the woods of Poland.

But his story is not my story today. My story is brief and bubbled up for me this morning on the drive home from the cafe.

My story is in response to the despair I often feel in this world; and the despair I feel specifically right now in this region.

I woke up this morning with a headache, and with a swelling I get in the hollow of my neck where sadness lurks. The news, the last thing I read before falling asleep last night, still lingered there.

But two hours later, after a spinach quiche and cafe hafooch at Cafederaztia, after taking 8 pages of notes, after probing my father-in-law for details about the small Polish village, about the time in Lublin, and the after time in Germany, and the time after that in Lod and in Petach Tikva, and eventually Newark, NJ …

I felt alive again.

The headache is still there a bit, but the hollow less congested. And if I had to say why, I’d say it was the listening. It was the act of being a vessel — even temporarily — of someone else’s story. Someone else’s past; someone else’s meaning. I bet if you asked my father-in-law immediately after our conversation, he would probably say he felt lifted up too. For having been actively and intentionally listened to.

It’s not the first time I’ve listened. It’s something I enjoy. It’s something of myself I want to give to others, if that makes sense.

I sense they need it. And I sense I do, too.

I know this is a luxury — drinking coffee, listening. I know it’s a luxury of living here in the Lower Galilee where, for the time being, war is more a headline than a reality. I know this is not a luxury for those in shelters in Southern Israel or others whose life stories are characterized more by war than by living.

I am not naive, though this is an accusation sometimes leveled on people who still suggest conflict may be resolved by talking and listening.

But I repeat, I am not naive.

I am just open. A vessel.

And there are more like me. A lot more.

We could band together. Form our own little revolution of listening. Create art not out of, but instead of atrocity.

 

 

 

 

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If it was a place

fortitude

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be here, Israel.

Where in one swift shift
I move from embarrassment
(I forgot about swimming

lessons) to fear of
war. Shame I forgot about
it; murder and them

(those who can’t forget
except in dreams which aren’t real)
and yelled at my son

for telling me he
was bored on the second day
after school ended.

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be here, Israel.

Where over coffee
I compose long to-do lists
grateful in a way

to be a mother
with room in my heart for lists.
For tomorrow’s plans.

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be here, Israel.

Where over bacon
(made from turkey) I slowly
savor the almost flavor

of America,
and imagine I lived there
again. Would the world

be less dissonant?
More in tune with my inner
rhythms? harmony?

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be now, this, we.

It would be — it is —
the surreal surrender in
waking, in spite of.

 

What’s worse? Jet lag or war?

As if jet lag, back-to-school prep, protecting my kids from a polio outbreak and returning to work after a 2 1/2 week long digital detox wasn’t stressful enough, now I have to worry about a Syrian attack before Thursday.

Wait.

TOMORROW is Thursday?

Holy crap.

HOLY CRAP.

I should have bought more Tums while I was in the States.

Or I should have taken a longer vacation.

Either way, I am in deep doo doo because my stomach just can’t handle the stress.

Last night was the first full night sleep I have gotten in three days. THREE DAYS.

And tonight I have to attend a women’s birth circle on Hannaton. (Don’t ask.)

I have no time to clean out the MAMAD!

No time!

No time before Thursday!

Do you hear that John Kerry! No time!!!!!

Okay, I’m breathing.

And eating Tums.

And hoping all of this goes down the way of the Japanese dinosaur prank.

It’s scary for a few minutes until you realize the dinosaur is wearing jeans.

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?