I didn’t dare

We had a sick baby last weekend. So when Sara and her husband Rami knocked our door on Shabbat evening last Friday, I was still busy trying to soothe a feverish child.

When my husband came to get me I gave in to the sleep fighting sickly toddler. I decided to take our daughter to the living room, where Sara’s expression shouted “mixed emotions”.

“I didn’t dare to come over”. She said. “But it was your birthday, right? So I made you a cake.”

She pointed proudly at the glorious chocolate cake on the table. Decorated with a heart. We both raised our hands to our hearts.

Sara and I love each other through all the storms. It is a bond I can’t explain. We hugged tightly, our youngest ones on our hips.

Did you hear about what happened in the synagogue last Tuesday? Her eyes shimmering with fear. I didn’t dare to come over, she repeated. Because, you know, there are Arabs living here.

Sara and I live maybe a 150 meters apart from each other. She, in a bubble of Orthodox Jews, piled on top of one another in small shabby semi modern apartments. Large families who all follow the same Rabbi Eliezer Berland.

We live in an equally shabby but ancient Arab building that has been housing Jews for at least fifty years now. I haven’t seen any Arabs living close to us. But since we live close to East Jerusalem, Arabs tend to walk through our street. Or are hired by neighbors for repair jobs.

It was enough to scare Sara away. It is also enough to cause a close neighbor to run after his four year old screaming as soon as he goes out the door by himself.

Sara was hushed by her husband: it was Shabbat and there could be no mentioning nasty subjects. This was a joyful day. So Sara hushed and we continued patting each other’s knees, having her husband translate words for us without me looking him in the eye. Our usual lingo.

We switched topics: Rami had just returned from the Netherlands to visit his Rabbi. Eliezer Berland has recently taken refuge there after accusations of sexual abuse of young women.

Not that we talked about those accusations, mind you. It was Shabbat!  And he didn’t do anything anyway.

Without Rami mentioning it, it became all too clear we might just be a sign. A sign from God that Sara and Rami’s true life destination is to be found in the Netherlands.

The Rabbi had urged Rami to start praying for a job in the Netherlands as a kosher butcher. So that is what he does now. Every. Single. Day. Almost as feverishly as the child attached to my hip that night.

And as much as I would enjoy taking my best friend here home with me, I feel sorry for them if they would succeed. I can not believe them being happy when taken out of their bubble, to be placed in the cold Netherlands.

Where family is far away. Where like minded religious people are hard to find. And perhaps in these times the most important part of all:

Where there’s no constant need to be afraid of Arabs.

 

Adam and Eve spoke Dutch

We spent a wonderful therapeutical fortnight in our own holy land: Holland. Also known as The Netherlands. It was lush, it was green, it was a tiny bit rainy for the time of year. In fact, I don’t think we had one dry day. But who cares. We were in heaven.

According to a 16th century Humanist that went by the name Goropius, Adam and Eve actually spoke Dutch. The garden of Eden is not to be found in Israel but rather in the South of Holland. And after these two weeks, I think the man was right.

It’s not just the wonderful scenery. Of course, there’s the hypnotic effect of staring at the flat land, broad horizons, endless lakes and canals. The peacefully grazing cattle on the green grass makes one lower one’s pace and rebreathe. 

All those things help to clear the mind and relax the senses. But with a heavy conscious and a sad heart, all of the above would not help that much. What really makes the Netherlands the garden of Eden is the mystery of, let’s call it, innocence.

Before I left for Israel I had tried many times to understand what was really going on here. But one way or another, I never really got what happened. Who did what to who? What war was started when by who? And who won, anyway? What parts of the country belonged to which party and who colonized, excuse me, occupied, excuse me, disputed about what part where?

I asked people who knew about it, but without failing, I always drifted off halfway their story. What shall I make for dinner or oh my word I still have to send that birthday card…

I am not that poorly educated, either. I tend to get things quite swiftly. But this, it just never stuck. And it didn’t bother me at all that I didn’t know that much about it. Actually, I even thought I understood. Ah, innocence…

Then we got here. I do not want to claim I understand now. But I do see what is happening. And it makes no sense at all. Let me try something on you:

So there’s two people living on the same stretch of land. Or actually, one people lives on one side and the other on the other side. Sort of. Let’s call one people the Olives and the other the Figs. So the Olives live on one side. But they get to decide if they want to take a piece of the Fig side. The Olives are the only ones who can have a police force on most pieces of the Fig side. Figs can not show their flag on most of their side, but Olives can. Figs can not build permanent houses on most of their side, but Olives can. Hello, people? Are you still with me?

The more I tried to wrap my head around what was happening here, the more it upset me. A country that didn’t just have one snake trying to get me to bite in that apple, but a deep pit full of them. And then, all uptight and fed up, we went on our summer break to Eden. 

I looked at the green. I watched the cows. I had wonderful long nights with the awesomest people of the world, flushing all my anger and my fear out of my system. Each time I spoke about it, stress and anxiety left my system with every word I said.

And Whoosh, the Dutch Miracle happened. By the end of these two and a half weeks I was clean. Back to innocence. I had no idea why I had been so upset lately. It all felt like a faint, distant memory. I still tried to explain to people how things had been for us, failing miserably. By the end of our break, everyone I met and I were on the same page: smiling idiots that knew there were things going on in the world that were unfair. But hey. Isn’t it weird it’s so cold and rainy in August? 

And it was good. It was incredibly comfortable. The mystery of innocence is a gift. It unwinds, settles down, protects. It was just so darned temporary.

We’ve been back for a little over 24 hours. Back in Israel. The kids have been sad, angry and obnoxiously misbehaving all day. I don’t blame them. It’s not so much fun. Yet, for them, the gun shots in the neighborhood are still fireworks. They don’t even know Israel has decided last week to build a new settlement the size of 800 soccer fields. Claimed another 1000 acres of land that used to be Fig territory. Something that in innocence wouldn’t even have reached me. And now, it makes me sick. Makes me want to pick everything but the cockroaches up and leave. 

In innocence I might not win the parent of the year award. And luckily the competition is less strong here, but I am not even a runner up when I have lost my innocence. That, above all makes me even sadder. I want the kids to remember this odd year as awesome, different, leisurely.

Different, it is. But we also feel like exiles and outcasts from our heavenly home in Eden. And slowly I am starting to contemplate on returning before the year is over. Sure enough, moving back with just the little ones while my husband is still here is far from perfect. In the Netherlands we will have to move soon, too. Moving house twice in two months with five small children and my husband far away does not equal Paradise. 

I can’t help but wonder, what happened to the snake in the end, anyway?

Rocket alarm in the Netherlands

We needed a break. And even though a cease fire had just been declared and wonderfully maintained, the kids and I really wanted to just leave Israel for a bit.

So we booked a flight to the Netherlands to rebreathe for a couple of weeks. To remember how it is to not be afraid. Not alert. Not cautious.

The Netherlands is a funny country. When you open the tap, you can actually drink the water that comes out. The largest insect in the house would be an ant. Or, okay, a tiny silverfish. Kids play in the playground all day long because the jungle gym never gets too hot to handle. When we see a dead fish floating in the canal, we call the municipality to complain. And they will show up shortly after. And believe it or not, people throw their trash in trash cans. Weird, I know.

The first couple of days we were like sponges. We sucked up everything we saw, wordlessly. Seeing my husband enjoy his country silently proved me right. If I hadn’t joined him to Israel six months ago, I would never have understood his need for home. I would never have understood his thrill seeing cows and inhaling the cold morning air.

No helicopters circling above our house. No shots fired in the not so far distance. I found it impossible to believe how easy life felt. For the first couple of days. Then, it felt as if we had never left. And we started complaining about the weather again. About politics in the Netherlands. About taxes. 

Until I was at the GP’s office this morning. My hair had been falling out the last couple of weeks. My muscles ached, I was tired, I had headaches and nausea. To rule out anything more serious than stress, I figured some blood work might be a good idea. A television broadcasted the news in a corner. I couldn’t see the images. But I heard an item on Israel come up and tried to listen in.

The sirens cut through the waiting room. Rocket alarm. From Jerusalem delivered straight to my GP’s office in the Netherlands. I cringed and knew: I do not have to seek shelter. 

But inside, I did. I tried to hide.

Almost three thousand miles away I hid for a rocket that would never reach me. Or hurt me. And I am pretty sure none of the rockets from Gaza will hurt me after going back to Jerusalem, either. There hasn’t been even one rocket found coming from Gaza that has a war head on it. There is not a lot to be afraid of.

But still, I am. 

Is that a gun in your pocket?

The Netherlands prides itself in being a country where free will is practically the main religion. The Dutch want people to think things through. Thoroughly. If you have, who can keep you from doing what you really want to do?

Abortion, Prostitution, Euthanasia, Cannabis, just to name the most well known. If you follow the rules, if you are an adult and are not bothering others, the Netherlands is the place to be.

When it comes to weapons, the Dutch are not so soft, though. Sure, if you love to shoot, you can sign up and become a member of a shooting range. After a year, you may apply for a license to purchase a gun. But even then you may only carry it on the way back and forth from the shooting range to your house. Even toy guns that look a bit too realistic are illegal.

There is no wide spread hunting tradition. Basically, except among gangsters and criminals, guns are not considered cool. People found at shooting ranges and hunting societies were rarely the most popular in school.

Actually, I had always been a little afraid of people that love guns. Like one can be afraid of the unknown. I just hadn’t seen that many. I thought, as most Dutch do, guns belonged in the righteous hands of law enforcement and the army. And that’s it.

Until a rifle stroked my leg when I was walking the streets of Jerusalem. It dangled off a long strap over the shoulder of what looked to me like a civilian. I had gotten used to all the uniformed people in the streets carrying guns. But this was new.

It turned out I just hadn’t paid attention well enough. Because guns are everywhere. Tucked in the back of people’s pants. Happily swimming in a lady’s handbag. And dangling off young father’s shoulders. Even looking differently at people now, I am sure I am only seeing a fraction of the amount of weapons being carried around by people.

I learned the question of the guard at one of Jerusalem’s largest shopping malls, Malcha Mall, wasn’t that weird after all. Even before I could enter the parking lot, he made me open my window to ask me if I was carrying a gun. At first I didn’t even understand the question. He wanted to repeat himself, and stopped short when he saw the bunch of blond kids sitting in the car with me. I still don’t know whether it was the kids or the fact my Hebrew is still very crabby that made him decide to stop his interrogation.

When we went to the playground today, a young couple was sitting on a bench, obviously very much in love. They were fondling, not even kissing or heavily making out. Still, they were the talk of the town among my Haredim girl friends. It enraged them. These could only be Arabs. How could they do this, in front of the children?

One of the ultra orthodox women got up and went to the couple. She told them to leave, or else.

In a country so full of guns, one can not help but wonder “what else”? What could have happened if the couple hadn’t been wise enough to leave the playground. If they would have replied in an unwelcome way. If things hat gotten nasty.

Or is carrying a heavy weapon around in the scorching heat of summer, just something that people need to do in order to feel safe?

I’d rather meet people that are glad to see me. That’s for sure.

 

The Situation

I live in a situation. We live in a situation. The situation is almost over, we hope. But then again… We are currently in a situation.

lt’s weird to live in a situation. Whenever something was cancelled, or rescheduled, or warned about, it was called “due to the situation”. Sometimes it was the “Political situation”, most of the time it was just the situation.

The first time people didn’t show up when they had to and I had to reschedule things because of the situation, I got mad. WTF, situation? Call it war, call it a conflict, call it what it is, but do not call it… you catch my drift.

It’s like talking about cancer and calling it “C”. Or telling your kids about “the birds and the bees”.

Why would you want to sugar coat something we all live under, day after day? Last Sunday we were at the beach during what I firmly believe was the last rocket attack of this 2014 war. Sorry, situation. The rocket alarm went off and people were told to flee to the shelter in the toilets. We calculated the risk. Staying where we are against fleeing to a filthy toilet with our five little ones. We decided against the so happily announced “sherotim” and stayed at the beach.

Our oldest son could not have been happier. He still talks about how he almost saw the rocket explode in the air. Would have seen it if his parents hadn’t forced him to take at least a little shelter. A situation that happened quite right above our heads. Pure bliss for a ten year old. Five minutes later all the beach people returned to their towels and things were as if nothing had happened. No more situation? Or is the cloud in the air where the iron dome missile hit the rocket still considered a situation?

The weirdest thing about this whole situation? It is not just the war in Gaza. The situation applies to a everything that happens now. Because everyone is under stress, everything is considered linked to the war. So when a bulldozer hit a bus today, and runs over a pedestrian along the way, it is called a terrorist attack. It leads to hours of sirens and helicopters and stress.

Might have been an attack, sure. I believed it was, too. Until I heard the bus had been empty. Quite the terrorist. This situation possibly had nothing to do with terrorism. But people are so on edge, everything seems to need a cause.

So maybe situation is a good word for what is going on, after all. As long as it does not refer to the war, the bombing and rocketing, the gunfire in Gaza and the muscle talk of Hamas against Israel and vice versa.

The Situation is in people’s heads and hearts. it is the stress of the last four weeks, and for many, the stress of a lifetime. There’s no end to that situation.

Even if that rocket we saw from the beach in Tel Aviv was the last one fired by Hamas and the last one intercepted by the Iron Dome.

Even then.