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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Nurit

On Tuesday I posted a shorter version of this story on Facebook. In addition to the many satisfying responses I have received, I was urged to turn the piece into a blog, because “this is blog material.”

A day earlier I called an unfamiliar Israeli number from where someone tried to reach me twice during the weekend. To my surprise, the person on the other end was a 75-year-old woman name Nurit, whose first husband fell in an Israeli military action in 1964. She read my new book and called the publisher for my telephone number. She had to talk to me she said, because suddenly, after all those years, someone wrote her story. She too was a 23-year-old military widow. Unlike me, she wasn’t taken to see her husband, though she wanted to. She was better off, I told her. It’s bad enough to be told that your husband is dead. It’s much worse to see his destroyed face and body and hear his last choking breaths; to scream from the bottom of your lungs that the person you were looking at and couldn’t recognize was not your husband; to be haunted by that horrible sight for the rest of your life.

Like me, she has built a new life for herself. She is blessed with a loving husband, four children and eight grand children. She had borrowed the book from the library and then ran to buy it as a gift to her husband, so he'll understand what she could never put in words. And he did.

In spite of the painful subject matter, it was an elating long conversation. It reminded me of the many phone calls I received in 1968 from Israeli war widows of all ages, when I fought the government's decision at the time to end monthly death compensations to childless war widows. None of the women was interested in joining the fight. Instead they sought my emotional support after they had read in a woman’s magazine an article about my fight. Nurit was not one of the women who called me. Emotionally spent she did what the government suggested childless war widows do: She moved back with her parents and siblings. 

Our conversation reminded me too of the heartrending stories I heard in 1995-6, when I interviewed 33 Israeli woman bereaved by war and terrorism. As my post doctorate project, unfortunately, it was published only as an article and a book chapter, so their evocative tales were not yet heard. I hope they find voice in mine. And I hope that like Nurit, they too call. I'm still listening.


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

On Tel Aviv's Promenade this Passover


It’s Thursday morning and I’m taking my brisk walk on Tel Aviv’s promenade, internalizing my journey to Israel with my family – my husband, daughter, son-in-law and my two grandchildren, who had flown back home to New York early this morning. Aside from the trips to Jerusalem - the new and the ancient, the Dead Sea and Masada, two personal events characterized this trip. The first was the launching of my book No Laughter in Winter, which I just published here in Hebrew; the second was celebrating Passover with my large extended family. Both were awesome.

More than sixty guests attended the book launching in a small hall in a beautiful historic building near Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. They were childhood friends and friends from latter periods of my life, and lots of family. There was a moderator, three speakers, and much love and warmth in the room. But for me, the highlight of the evening was when my seven year old grandson, who had been seating quietly in the audience, suddenly asked if I could mention his name. Not speaking Hebrew, the language that dominated the evening, he recognized his mother’s and sister’s names, and wanted to be mentioned too. When I invited him and his sister to the stage I felt utterly fulfilled. Both by my side, it was a rare moment for me in the city of my birth, me talking about a book that describes not just my life, but the life of an ordinary Israeli family that tell the story of the country.

Then came the Passover Seder at my cousin’s house. We were close to forty people, like we had been at my grandparents home. Though my last time at a Passover Seder with my family in Israel was almost thirty years ago, it felt as if time stood still, except for the younger faces: the third, fourth and fifth generations of my elders. And it felt warm and natural to be there, like in years past. And like in years past, my daughter asked me how I could leave all that love and warmth and move to another country. And like years past I told her that sometimes life takes us to places we had not planned to be, and force upon us decisions we never thought we would have to make.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Paris

Today could be a historic day if world leaders and civil society will continue to stand united against religious extremism in general and radical political Islam in particular, the branch of Islam that has been responsible for many terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States.

That the French have finally awakened to the curse of global terrorism because their values have been attacked may raise cynicism, perhaps rightfully so. So does the overrated participation of both the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in the Paris rally: The first was surely motivated by the brutal terrorist attacks in Paris, particularly the murder of fellow Jews in a Kosher market, as likely as he was by the upcoming elections in Israel; the latter needs international support for his attempt to create the Palestinian state through unilateral means.

But that Muslim leaders gathered with Christians, Jews and followers of other religions to reject radical Islam is encouraging – as a first step in the war against global terrorism – if this is in fact what we are seeing in Paris today.

The images emerging today from TV screens are indeed powerful. They bring hope that perhaps the world, or at least parts of it, has finally got it. That it suddenly understands the scourge of extremism, providing that the hype from Paris will not subside tomorrow or the day after, and that the root causes of terrorism will also be addressed.

Lost in the hype is a piece of news in today’s papers of a 10 year old girl who was used by Nigerian insurgents as a suicide bomber, killing herself alongside 20 others, and wounding many more.  

The use of children as potential suicide bomber is not new. Hamas hat tried that before. And there are other means by which terrorist groups use children: Most of the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who had been abducted last year by Boko Haram are still in the hand of their kidnappers. That too has been missing from the voices in Paris, not to mention last week’s possible killing of 2,000 Nigerians by the group. But the rally is not over yet at the time of this writing, and may be these atrocities will be mentioned too.    

The phrase “not in my name” uttered by many Muslims, whether ordinary citizens or leaders from Arab and non-Arab Muslim societies, sounds good. But unless it becomes a movement, it will remain an empty slogan. The movement needs to include not only civilian and military leaders, but also, most importantly, Imams from the Middle East, Africa and the West.


Till that happens, today’s rally in Paris, impressive and moving as it is, will be a fleeting episode in the “fight” against the latest wave of fascism the world is facing.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

9/11 memorial and Museum

Earlier today  (Wednesday) I visited for the first time the 9/11 Memorial and the Memorial Museum. Its awesomeness overwhelmed me.
     I went there with my cousin and his friend who are visiting from Israel, where the culture of memorializing the Holocaust, fallen soldiers and terror victims, is prevalent. Though used to this ethos they too were overawed.
     As we stood by the South Pool of the memorial the friend was visibly upset about the ease with which visitors can lean on the black marble that contains the names of the 9/11 victims. He thought that doing so was tantamount to desecrating the victims.
    “Don’t you feel that way?” he wanted to know.
I didn’t. On the contrary. I felt that whenever a visitor touches the marble, whenever he or she rubs an engraved name however randomly, they create an instant connection to that name. Touching those engraved letters that forms the name of a person whose life was lost so abruptly in that terrorist attack affects one emotionally in an instant.
      “What do you feel when you look at the pool?” he wanted to know.
    “Continuity, triumph” I said. The movement and sound of the circulating water made me feel that way. Life goes on.  The human spirit cannot be defeated in spite of the enormity of the tragedy.
    “Interesting though,” he said. “I don’t feel that way. I feel hopelessness.” The smaller inner pool in the center of the larger body of water reminded him of people jumping to their death. Plunging to an abyss from where there is no way out.
            Either way, the memorial’s architects accomplishment was immense.
     Inside the museum my cousin was disturbed by its enormous size. He felt it was too impersonal. What moved him most was a small item on display: the wristwatch of one of the victims. Or the photo of the people walking downs the survivors’ staircase. I explained that the size of the museum was equivalent to the area where the building stood. It was built over their foundations. He understood but he wasn’t convinced. He needed a small quiet corner to reflect on what happened that day. To meditate. To feel the heartbreak in a more intimate setting.
     That was before he saw the heart of the exhibit. The artifacts. After two hours in the museum I had to leave without visiting that section where he went and to where I’ll return. I haven’t spoken with my cousin yet to hear his impression of that part. I’m sure we’ll both find it hard to sleep tonight.


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The General Assembly and Rosh Hashannah

My neighborhood is tumultuous these days. Streets are closed and sirens are shrieking ceaselessly as heads of states and foreign diplomats are arriving in New York City for the 69th UN General Assembly.

On Tuesday I walked on Second Avenue, not far from the UN. The streets swarmed with Federal agents, NYPD cops, many UN personnel and visitors wearing their ID tags, and delegates, some of whom were interviewed by TV reporters. Nearby a group of South Koreans was demonstrating against President Park, Falun Gong members demonstrated against the Chinese government, and across the street a group of Iranian shouted slogans against the regime in Teheran. Drowned in the commotion was a lone, elegantly dressed woman in her 50s, who was carrying a big sign against Hamas, Muslim terror and Iranian nuclear arms. Not far from her stood a man holding a sign saying that the Jews control the world. Another of the many reincarnations of the infamous 1903 The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I thought.

The next day, as I was preparing to welcome the Jewish New Year, in his inaugurating speech, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned the world that its “fasten seat belt” lights is illuminated. The official agenda of the world meeting concentrates around the issues of the threat and barbarism of ISIL, events in the Ukraine, the spread of Ebola and climate change. But the Secretary General elaborated on additional and related threats to peace and security, including: the plight of refugees and displaced people, the spread of extremism not only in the Middle East, but also in Africa, the depletion of human rights, and more.

The fourth address that morning was President’s Obama’s “right makes might” speech. The President, too, emphasized the dangers of ISIL and spoke about the US’s leadership role in eradicating that scourge.

For the Jewish New Year we wish each other a year of health, prosperity and peace. This year, in the aftermath of the war in Gaza, and the Middle East facing the savagery of ISIL, peace is on the mind of most Jews. But the blessing we recite on the eve of the holiday that our enemies, haters, and those who wish evil upon us shall be eliminated, resonates particularly relevant to all of humanity.


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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gaza

I haven’t written for a while. Away in Israel during the month of June, and busy for the past two months with the last editing sequence of the Hebrew version of my memoir, I was too busy to write. That, in spite of the events that precipitated the current cycle of violence that is raging between Israel and Hamas. Then the war broke out and I was reluctant to write about it. Not only because much has been already written and spoken about the war, but also because I find it too hard emotionally. It brings me back to the day I was widowed during the 1967 war. As if time hasn’t passed. As if I haven’t successfully rebuilt a fulfilling life for myself.

But I can’t remain silent. Not after the odd ceasefire proposal that Secretary of State John Kerry submitted to the parties on Friday. 

To be sure, there have been enough reasons to speak up, from the moment three innocent Jewish Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank on June 12, by two Palestinian terrorists disguised as religious Jews, and the Israeli government’s response to the kidnapping. I was in Israel then, affected by the grace of the missing children’s parents.

Two weeks after their abduction their  slaughtered bodies were found. That followed by the horrific murder of a Palestinian boy by a few misguided avenging extremist Israeli Jews, and all hell broke loose.

Israeli cities have been bombarded by Hamas with thousands of rockets and missiles to which Israel had no choice but to respond. Additionally, Israel discovered over thirty underground tunnels Hamas had built in order to penetrate Israeli towns, for the purpose of abducting and killing Israelis. That discovery has suddenly posed a strategic challenge for Israel it hasn’t known before.

Israel is facing a cruel, stubborn, sardonic enemy that is gaining from the suffering of its own people. That is how terrorist organizations operate. They rely on political gains resulting from widespread sympathy after massive retaliation that is expected from the party they had harmed in the first place. You can read about such tactics in any introductory textbook on the subject of terrorism.

Still, no human being can be oblivious to the horrifying pictures that come out of Gaza. They are not helpful to American interests, nor to Israel’s. But American cities are not bombarded and hundreds, if not thousands of terrorists that could infiltrate US borders through underground tunnels do not threaten its citizens. Witness the outcry in Congress over the infiltration of undocumented youth through American borders. Can you imagine what the US would do if the infiltrators would be terrorists that openly call for your country’s destruction rather than undocumented immigrants?

That is why Israelis are so upset with Secretary Kerry’s ceasefire proposal. It took into account all of Hamas’s demands, neglecting Israel’s legitimate concerns, and it designated Qatar and Turkey, two countries that are extremely hostile to Israel, as emissaries.
You do not have to be a right wing Israeli to be shocked by such a proposal. No one who knows me can accuse me of being one.


The suffering needs to stop. The pictures of Israeli mothers and fathers burying their sons, and those of pregnant widows, like I was so many years ago, break my heart. So do the images that are coming out of Gaza. In spite of that there is no moral equivalency here.


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