Category Archives: Israel

I was unfriended by a (Jewish) American Journalist

A few days ago I discovered that I had been unfriended by a Facebook friend, who is also a journalist living in the US (of course I won’t mention names).

In the first week of the war, this person, who lives on the West Coast, posted a few articles that were slanted against Israel. I was surprised as I knew her from the days she lived here and she always struck me as a balanced person. The first article that made me pause was the article placing some of the blame for the killing of lone soldier Max Steinberg in the fighting in Gaza on the Birthright program. I was shocked by this awful bit of low blow journalism, but I didn’t comment.

When she posted an article that blasted Israel solely for the suffering of Gazans, and took not one line of space in her preamble to point to any wrongdoing on the part of Hamas, I decided to comment. I would cut and paste my comment but for reasons mentioned above, I no longer have to access to it, so I’ll just have to reconstruct as best I can. What I wrote, and not in a rant (but you’ll have to take my word for that), was that the parents of children in Israel who are running to the shelters with their kids every day, several times a day, are entitled to be defended, and that it’s easy when you’re in the safety and security of the West Coast of the USA to criticize Israel’s attempts to protect its innocent citizens.

A couple of weeks later, I remembered my comment and was surprised that there’d been no further comments popping up on my page in response. When I checked, I saw why – I was no longer her “friend”. The loss of this particular Facebook friend gave me no cause for a pity party. But what got my Middle Eastern goat was the fact that this person, who is an esteemed member of the press, and I would like to think supports the notion that different people have different opinions based on their particular life experience, found my personal point of view about innocent Israelis’ suffering so offensive that she couldn’t bear having me as a Facebook friend.

It’s one thing to read articles written by journalists I don’t know who are too blind, to biased or too scared to try to show both sides of the situation. But when I know the person, and know that they know what it’s like living in Israel, it turns my stomach to think that they worship at the altar of Jodi Rudoren and her ilk, hiding behind an outmoded concept of journalistic “objectivity” so they can conform to a new PC approach to Israel that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with reality.

Was she too chicken to challenge me on my opinion? Maybe it didn’t suit her to stoop down to the level of an average Israeli Joe and debate the issue with a pleb like me. Maybe she didn’t want to engage with a person who in fact supports a two-state solution and isn’t a right-winger she can so easily dismiss to herself.

Whatever the reason, this trivial action took my already shaky opinion of journalists in general (and I used to be one at one point, and I know some brilliant journalists who I will always respect) and tarnished it even further. Give me a blogger any day, who doesn’t cower behind a large organization and offers opinions that you can take or leave, but that you know are their own.

This journalist taught me one thing: Just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean that you are incapable of putting on blinkers and being as closed minded as the next guy. The media ivory tower is clearly a lot closer to the ground than we thought, and maybe that’s just where it should be so that people know that their news often comes from fallible people.

With Facebook friends like this….

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Looking Forward

Israeli-flagMurmurs in the media are talking of a real cease fire. As an optimistic person by nature, and somewhat of a pragmatist, my mind quickly turns to all the things I am looking forward to in the days “after”.

Not having to give my kids a long, neurotic lecture before they leave the house: “Do you know where there are shelters where you’re going?”; “You know not to be wandering around anywhere too far from a shelter”; “Make sure your phone is charged”; “Be careful, be careful, be careful.”

Not having to drive in a panic from my little rural town through what we know in Israel now as “open areas”, as those are the areas into which the Iron Dome allows missiles to fall because the risk is low of hitting anything. And not having to rethink my car journeys to make sure I don’t drive through open areas I can actually avoid, and rather take the longer routes through traffic.

Not jumping every time I hear a lawnmower start or a truck drive down the street, because they sound like sirens.

Not spending endless hours glued to the TV news, hanging on every word of every commentator, and hoping for some good news for a change, that doesn’t come. And not waking up in the morning and reaching for my phone to find out if anything has changed, before I’ve had my first cup of tea.

Not feeling compelled to read every Protective Edge-related article posted on Facebook, and getting irritated with the obnoxious, inflammatory comments posted by ignorant idiots from all over the world who know nothing from nothing. And not feeling mildly jealous when I see posts from friends on Facebook in other countries who get to complain about bad service, inclement weather and annoying neighbors. I also want to be able to complain about boring shit again on Facebook.

Not rationalizing that 43 missiles fired at Israel in one day is “better” than the 60 fired the previous day.

Not feeling deeply guilty that I live in a relatively quiet area of Israel while others live in virtual hell, rushing to shelters several times a day and night.

Not looking around for signs that point to shelters in every place I go to.

Not hearing airplanes flying over my house, which is under the current safe flight path from Ben Gurion Airport, and not experiencing the irrational fear of flying in our skies these days, on top of to my existing irrational fears of flying.

Not having my thoughts unduly occupied by the Hamas, the UN, the anti-Semites worldwide, Qatar, Kerry, and the moronic celebrities who for some reason think they’re as smart as they look.

But most importantly, I truly, and from the depths of my heart, look forward to not feeling the constant dread that more of our precious soldiers are losing their lives and that more families in Israel are joining the ranks of the bereaved; and to not be holding my breath for all my friends and family whose loved ones are serving our country and risking their lives to make Israel a safer place to live in.

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From Terror to Complacency in Five Short Days

Smoke from a downed missle

Smoke from the downed missile

Some more thoughts from our war zone…

It amazes me how Israelis, especially the youngest ones, adapt so quickly to situations and normalize them so fast. Once again, while we were on the baseball field somewhere in central Israel, at 16:30 today the sirens went off. Because we are in an open area, the sound of the siren isn’t very loud. I heard it and immediately ordered the kids near me (10-11-year-olds) to move into the safe rooms near the field. None of them looked very concerned. One quickly said: “But it sounds so far away. Why do we have to go?” My response was short and to the point (to say the least), and they all got up and hustled over the bases, past the dug outs, into the safe room.

Some claimed to have heard the booms, signifying that a missile  has been intercepted by the Iron Dome (may it be blessed). Just a couple of minutes into being the the safe room, the kiddies were restless and ready to leave. These situations create a short learning curve – within hours of the first missiles being fired last week, we understood that the danger comes in the minutes after the Iron Dome intercepts the missile, because that’s when the hot metal fragments come plummeting down to earth. So once again I had to exert my motherly authority and use my “strict” voice to keep them from scuttling back to the field prematurely. The players from the older team (14-15-year-olds) rolled their eyes at me. But I stood firm.

Glad I did. When we emerged, I noticed that not too far away, there was a significant display of billowing white smoke. Then the emergency services sirens started blaring from all directions. A brother of one of the players showed up with news – a missile had in fact been shot down and its fiery remains lay smoldering in a field not too far from us.

On the way home, with my 15-year-old son and two of his team mates in the car, I got a little jumpy when I heard a song that had siren-like sounds in the background. I quickly turned off the radio to check if the sound was coming from outside the car. And more eye rolling – this time from my son. “Mom, you’re being paranoid,” he said in his droll teenage monotone, without lifting his eyes from the What’s App screen on his phone. I confess that I am a little envious of this state of youthful complacency in the face of all this terror we are enduring. Oh to be 15 again!

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From Quiet Canada to Israel Under Fire

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

When the first missiles were fired into central Israel on Tuesday, my family and I were coming to the end of a short trip to Toronto for a family wedding. News from home, which first came in via What’s App messages to my daughter telling her that in our small town there had been an unprecedented air raid, was gut wrenching. We had just short of 24 hours to digest the awful news that no area of the country was immune to the rockets being launched from Gaza. The thought of flying into Israel, particularly into a Tel Aviv that was being targeted rather effectively for the first time, made me more than a little nervous. An online message from a friend slightly eased my fears – “You know the news is always darker from far”.

So true. In fact, the closer I got, ironically the less I feared what we were returning to. At the El Al check in counter at Toronto airport, I asked the attendant if there were a lot of cancellations. Her answer, in a heavy Russian accent: “No-one has cancelled. Very brave people.” That already made me feel better. Then I spotted a family of 6 who were clearly making aliyah, given away by a massive pile of baggage, punctuated by a large Mac computer box (no-one goes on vacation with such a piece of hardware). All I could think was this is the best and the worst time to make aliyah – the worst, well that’s obvious… missiles aren’t the greatest first impression; the best…things can only get better.

The mood on the plane did little to bring me down again. One tourist, about to spend three weeks in Israel, smiled broadly when he told a fellow passenger that the situation didn’t deter him because he likes a little action in his life. All around me, Canadian tourists were looking forward to spending time in Israel, undeterred by the less than sympathetic welcome they were surely going to get in Tel Aviv. Canadians, ey?

We landed, and Ben Gurion Airport was decorated with signs pointing the way to the air raid shelters. This was the only clue that something was amiss. Everything else was plain old normal – just the way we like to keep things as best as we can when the going gets tough. The nasty traffic on the way home was caused by our “normal” traffic accidents – five of them in total. And while the news stream was confirming many of my fears, and detailing the truly horrendous situations facing almost all residents of the South, life all around was going ahead as usual.

This morning, when the sirens went off while my son’s baseball team (that I manage) was in the middle of a pre-tournament practice game, we all quickly obeyed Homeland Security instructions and trooped off the field into the shelters. The experience of being in a small stuffy room with a team of very sweaty baseball players was far more unpalatable than the thought of missiles (no offense guys). We waited for the required 10 minutes, by which I mean an abbreviated 2 minutes, and returned to the field under the clear blue summer sky. The only hint of chaos was three tiny white puffy clouds in the distance – the last vestiges of the three missiles that had been intercepted by the Iron Dome minutes before.

One player commented that this was probably the first baseball inning ever to be ended by a missile attack. But I’m sure there were other moments in history that involved baseball and missiles. Either way, this was one moment that made me realize that hearing about an air raid from across the ocean is far more terrifying than being in one. In the midst of the chaos, I felt so much calmer. It really is less dark here than there. Still, I’ll be very happy when it’s all over and the only booms we hear at baseball are the sound of the ball cracking on the bat.

 

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‎25 years of Israel – the inexplicable and the great

January 23, 1989 - Day 1 of my ulpan at Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael. Me on the left with my friend Lara

January 23, 1989 – Day 1 of ulpan at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. Me on the left with my friend Lara

Today 25 years ago I arrived in Israel. It’s a lifetime ago. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I was going to stay, but the fact that I’m sitting here a quarter of a century (eek!) later tells the story.

To say that Israel is a quirky little country is probably the understatement of the quarter century. After so many years, it amazes me that there are still things that I cannot get used to (and it’s official – I probably never will), but some I wouldn’t give up for anything. So at this auspicious time in my immigrant history, it’s time for a “brief” list of some of the inexplicable as well as the “won’t give up for anything” quirks (and sometimes the intersection of the two) that make living here a unique experience.

The inexplicable

  • The list has to start with driving habits– 25 years later, and some of the scenes on the roads here still amaze and horrify me – red lights optional; parking in the middle of the road; driving down the wrong side of the road, etc., etc., etc., etc…. The upside: When you drive in Italy, you have no idea why people say Italians are the worst drivers. Compared to our roads, theirs are a pleasure.
  • I have yet to meet an Israeli who isn’t disgusted by the combination of chocolate and mint! Adding copious clumps of mint leaves to sweet tea is a national passion, but that same flavor with anything chocolate is met with total revulsion.

    Bamba

    Bamba

  • Bamba as one of the four main food groups for children! ‘Nuff said.
  • Israel has evolved into a sophisticated country, with Tel Aviv known as one of the most cosmopolitan hot spots in the world, overflowing with happening clubs, bars, restaurants, high culture, innovation…and yet we still love that high priest of musical kitsch, the Eurovision Song Contest. How? Why? Oy!
  • Hebrew spelling… after all these years I still make mistakes. The upside: It amuses my Israeli friends and colleagues, but nope, that doesn’t make me feel better.
  • The phenomenon of the Israeli line/queue… a cultural icon and the cause of much public strife. I’ve never understood why people would rather argue about their place in the line for 10 minutes instead of just waiting patiently; why they have to insist that “they had been there and just went to do who knows what” and are claiming their rightful place; why they cannot help themselves from peering over your shoulder as you punch in your ATM code… Confession: When I’m abroad, I have been known to employ local tactics to get ahead in lines of very polite and patient locals. Why wait? I’m an Israeli.

Won’t give up for anything

  • Living in Israel means being surrounded by technology, and being connected all the time (even if it does mean that 9 out of 10 people constantly have their heads in a phone). As a nation, our lack of patience with each other is only surpassed by our lack of patience with slow connections!I feel this most when I’m in another country and there’s minimal wi-fi, the connections are painfully slow and mobile phone reception is spotty, and I get to say how spoiled I am back home because we’re so advanced – score 1 for Israel.
  • The salad country

    The salad country

    Salad! No country in the world offers main course salads like Israel does. Our national obsession with fresh vegetables is a great habit we should be proud of. For years now I’ve never understood why you can’t get fresh vegetables for breakfast abroad or a big main course salad. Learn something from us, people!

  • Instant conversations: Everyone’s up for a chat, whether you’re standing in line at the meat counter, or buying shoes or in a taxi (less fun). You’re never alone and you’re never going to have to wonder what someone’s REAL opinions are (also sometimes not too much fun). On the downside – be prepared to reveal what you’ve paid for everything you own.
  • Our weather…we have a lot of tzurres here in our corner of the Middle East, that’s for sure, but one thing we can boast about is our weather. Years ago, a fellow oleh from the UK told me that he made not Zionist, but meteorological Aliyah – makes sense. Yes, it’s rather hot in the summer, but let’s face it, when our friends and family in the US are being battered by hurricanes, tornadoes, and snow storms, we can be a little smug about our reliable 8 months of sunshine and our relatively calm winters that every 10 years or so give rise to a conversation-worthy storm.
  • Applause on landing is one of those corny yet irresistible Israeli quirks. After 25 years of flying to and from Israel, it still makes me smile.

    That mushy feeling of coming home

    That mushy feeling of coming home

  • And then… coming home… no matter where I go, landing in Israel IS coming home, and there’s no place like this one.

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Not taking taking the kids to school for granted

I dropped my kids off at school this morning and the thought foremost in my mind was how lucky I am to be doing this today, on a day when thousands of school kids in Israel, who should be in their classrooms and at their desks, are at home instead. The Home Front Command closed the schools in all towns within 40km Gaza as rockets continue to bombard Southern and Central Israel. This gives me pangs of what I can only compare to survivor guilt. I live just north of the center, not near any area that is attractive to the Hamas as a target, and our schools are open. I can work while my kids study at school. When they come home, they can go to their after school activities and walk around freely. Not so elsewhere.

Kids in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi running for shelter as the siren goes off. (Picture: Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas is holding half of Israel hostage. The barrage of rockets that has intensified over the past days is merely a continuation of the constant bombings that began in 2005. Since then terrorists have fired more than 8,000 rockets into Israel, mainly into the south. So many of us in Israel have tried to express this to the rest of the world. Imagine your neighboring country launching 8,000 rockets into your territory for no reason other than the fact that you live there. It’s hard to believe.

What’s even harder to believe is the indifference of the Western world. Let’s take a look at The New York Times today. On the front page there’s a picture of IDF reserves in their tanks, waiting on the border, not yet engaged. On the inside page, a large picture of an Gazan woman and her daughter taking cover during Israeli Air Force bombings of Hamas targets. Here’s the message from the NYT – Israel – big and strong with lots of tanks and soldiers; Gaza – weak and frail with terrified women and children. No pictures of Israeli children in shelters, no pictures of heavily armed Hamas fighters or their rocket launchers, no pictures of blood-stained floors of Israeli apartments where innocent civilians were killed and maimed by Hamas rockets. Israel is expected to take the rocket fire lying down, literally. The world is OK with seeing innocent civilians lying face down in the streets of Ashdod or Sderot when they don’t have enough time to reach shelter within the minuscule 15-second window between siren and impact.

I don’t wish this situation on anyone, but sometimes I do imagine what would happen if citizens of the US or the UK for example, had to live with seeing their children face down on the sidewalks as rockets fly overhead at a nearby apartment block or having them cooped up at home weeks on end because it’s not safe for schools to be open. I don’t take it for granted that my children are safe and at school. What about you?

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A siren call

“Mom, is something happening there?” It was my 16-year-old son calling me at home from inside a bomb shelter at the Tel Aviv University earlier this evening. I had no idea at the time that sirens had just sounded all over Tel Aviv, sending more than 400,000 people running for shelters.

“Why?” I answered as my stomach churned, because from the sound of his voice and the fact that at that time of the day he should have been in a math tutorial and not on the phone to me, I knew immediately what was going on. The threat of “the gates of hell” had crept north and touched our central plain and its biggest city.

“The sirens went off,” he said. All I could think of was that this was a nightmare scenario come true – my son was far away from me during a time of real fear. I had no control and neither did he. Except that I am the mom, and I should be able to protect him, but I couldn’t.
“Are you in the shelter?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “So just stay there. Do as you are told. Don’t leave unless someone who knows what they are talking about tells you to. Call me in five minutes.” I really didn’t know what to tell him. I just mimicked what I had been hearing on the radio all day – follow the instructions of the Home Front Command. But they weren’t there, and I could only pray that there were enough responsible adults to guide my 16-year-old to safety, knowing that university isn’t school and everyone has to take care of themselves.

“Where’s Aba? I can’t get hold of him,” he asked. I realized immediately that my husband was probably in a shelter in his office in one of Tel Aviv’s tallest buildings, one that makes a very attractive target. I couldn’t get through to him either. Later I found out that my son had heard rumors that the rocket had landed right near that building, which had only added to his stress.

Hearing me having this conversation with my eldest, my two other children were mortified and worried. “Don’t worry,” I reassured them. “It will be fine.” It was. Tel Aviv was soon given the all clear and my son went back to class. Eventually my husband called to say they were all OK as well.

This was one incident. It made me shake for hours and will remain with me for many years to come. Down in the south this is the routine. I have never taken their hardship for granted or ignored their suffering. It mortifies me to think that parents in the southern towns send their children to school (when they are open), not knowing what the day will bring and whether their children will reach safety in the mere 15 or 30 seconds they have before rockets crash down around them.

There are no words to adequately describe the feelings parents have when they are incapable of creating the safe havens that they would like to provide for their children.

My son arrived home with my husband hours later. All I want to do is lock the front door and not let them out again. I know I can’t but  I confess that I’d like to. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to live like this for not only days, but years. What I do know is that I never want to receive another phone call from any of my children who are alone in a bomb shelter, far from home and don’t know what’s going to happen next.

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