The shriek of loud sirens woke me up with a startle.
I stood up in my crib instantly, arms raised waiting for my mother to appear. Within seconds she arrived and briskly lifted me out of the crib. Together with my father, brother and the rest of the building residents, we made our way down to the bomb shelter.
I didn’t cry. Words were not exchanged.
This was routine, and I knew better than to make a fuss. I was two.
The year was 1990 and the Gulf War saw to it that the little sleep Israeli’s do get, was disrupted. Because I was too small to wear a gas mask, I passed the time in a breathable crib made out of plastic. These measures were to shield us from chemical harm should Saddam Hussein resort to biological warfare. As far as the destruction brought about by “regular” bombs… For that we had the shelters location underground, and well, our prayers.
I have many vivid memories of growing up in Israel. Drinking chocolate milk out of a bag, Watermelon dripping through my fingers at the beach and being yelled at for spacing out in the bus line. The view from my plastic crib during those sleepless nights in the bomb shelter is just one more to add to the list.
Like any parent placed in a such a situation, mine did their best to keep fear at bay and the air ordinary. Everyday talk amongst neighbors and even the occasional laugh, are the soundtrack to that memory. Whilst it was certainly a change in routine, I’d say we adjusted a day or so in.
Many years later when I was in seminary and a similar situation befell, my reaction and that of the American’s I was with, was quite different.
Our bomb shelter talk was not “Who do you think will win the soccer” and “when is your mother coming to visit.” It was more along the lines of, “we might actually die” and, “I need to call my family to let them know how much I love them.”
Living in Israel can desensitize you to a life under fire.
But living in the diaspora desensitizes you to the fact that we are, indeed, under fire.
The gulf war ended and by the grace of G-d, civilian casualties amounted to no more than 2. In fact, when the Rebbe was consulted about whether to stay or flee, his response was that the “Holy Land was the safest place in the world.”
But this war, as I’m sure you know, is an ongoing one. Sirens are still ringing whilst Israeli babies are being carried from their cribs in the middle of the night in order to stay alive.
From an early age I was well aware that our existence bothered people. The talk of terrorism was a constant topic at our dinner table. Even the mention of Israel was enough to spur the most heated discussions, regardless of who the company was. Perhaps this is the case in many Jewish homes. Frightening details weren’t spared, reality was not sugar coated.
I would listen painfully.
At some point I conceded that all this suffering could not possibly in vain.
Many times, when I was trying to convince myself out of the whole “being religious” thing, I kept coming back to this point. What about all the lives that were lost? Was it all for nothing? How could a single nation suffer so much? Were we different?
I’m not going to go into the details about how anti-Semitism defies logic.
Or how our very survival serves as proof that there’s a G-d, as Mark Twain put it. Or how this hatred exists purely to push us to do more good.
Or how atrocities such as the holocaust, were not a battle of ideologies but rather a much deeper hatred towards a purpose too deep to allow to function unhindered.
I realize I only have your attention for a few moments before the next barrage of WhatsApp group texts mounts up, or the baby wakes up from their nap.
And whilst that’s problematic, it’s also the only way to go forward.
We can all share at least one experience where our Judaism put us an in uncomfortable situation.
Perhaps your life was never threatened by missiles exploding outside your window. Ones that shook the building, and ensured resisting another piece of chocolate wasn't the day's greatest challenge.
Maybe it was just a crude remark, or an unfair call. Maybe it happened to someone you know, or an ancestor from a previous generation. Whatever the case, these experiences wake us up, shake us to the core, thrust us into action, force us to dig deep into the essence of our being and who we are. And then over time, they wear off as we get back into the grind that is life.
Which is probably a good thing, because to be honest I don’t think I could live with that kind of intensity daily.
Which is also probably why its productive to have times of mourning ingrained into our culture. Otherwise, I doubt the past would ever get the recognition it deserves.
Not because we’re insensitive or don’t care. Because that’s just what happens when we have kids to take care of, mortgages to pay, and blogs to write.
The three weeks of mourning we currently find ourselves in, and specifically the nine days that start tonight, marks a period of history stained with the suffering of our people.
I’ve often found the stringencies surrounding this time a huge inconvenience.
Especially when I realize a day too late one of the kids outgrew their water shoes or I’m charged with the task of finding good acapella music for a party. I’m sure there are ways around many of these restrictions.
But when a few moments are taken to contemplate why they’re there to begin with, suddenly messy hair, terrible music and the latest Mimu Maxi, all seem a little less urgent, and the final redemption a bit more pressing.