Explaining the Unexplainable. Or Not.
I awakened to the sounds of supply planes, sirens and piercing whistles of the Iron Dome defense system ramming into an errant Hezbollah missile.
As I hunkered under the blankets, it took a moment for me to realize that I wasn’t in Jerusalem but instead, 8,500 kilometers away in South Africa. Still addled by sleep, what I’d believed were the sights and sounds of war were merely summer storms accompanied by lightning, thunder and typically endless Johannesburg traffic.
The plan to visit Africa came well after the war broke out and, to be candid, I had been torn. “Torn” is an apt description for so many of us with relatives overseas who leave the Holy Land for myriad reasons in our lifetimes. There is no one-size-fits all descriptor for us Israeli-Anglos and while I have many friends and acquaintances who enthusiastically await their next visits to Target and Trader Joe’s, for me these visits are difficult.
Leaving Israel for a day is hard and if not for my elderly mother in Maryland and child and grandchildren in South Africa, I would be hard-pressed to leave Israeli soil. Ever.
It is particularly agonizing to leave Israel with a son on the front lines. I know too much and I don’t know anything. He spoon-feeds accounts of certain missions and this oxygen keeps our home-fires burning with patriotism and ahavat Yisroel—love for our fellow Jews.
Since the 8th of October, Ariel has been on active duty and what he shares has shifted the conflict’s narrative from newsprint into a living, breathing entity. If I didn’t recognize his mannerisms, speech patterns and favorite foods, I wouldn’t recognize this man who joins us for an occasional weeknight supper or Shabbat morning Kiddush during his rare military leaves.
His language is peppered with terms that bespeak battle and defense, strategy and costs-versus-benefits. I am glued to the stories, despite not being a fan of war-films.
This isn’t Netflix and I can’t turn the channel. That’s fine. I don’t want to.
Visiting with my daughter’s friends who have become, over time, my friends, it is apparent that my presence now makes them uncomfortable. They don’t know what to ask and war etiquette isn’t covered in the South African school system. With the exception of my daughter, there are no Israeli’s—or Jews—in her social circle.
Amara is polite and asks “How is life in Israel these days?” and I make a mistake. Because when I become passionate with accounts of volunteerism, morality of mission, resilience of our citizens, etc., I notice her pasted-on smile, awkward with embarrassment. I’ve done that TMI thing, again.
Enveloped with sadness, again I am struck by our global isolation in the midst of the brutality and explosion of Jew-hatred that has erupted. It is ours alone.
Undoubtedly, a more convenient storyline might be that we are anxious to shake hands, make nice and stop with all of this fighting silliness. This war makes me a sloppy guest, less pristine and certainly not-attractive. I would be remiss to omit that a few of the non-Jewish friends, like Chris, are informed and unwavering in their support, praying that Israel does the job of freeing herself from an odious enemy.
Consequently, I prefer to remain indoors when not in Israel, reading books to small people and counting the days until my return because, when I am not in Israel, I am not anywhere. I don’t know who I am when separated from our G-d-given homeland.
After 3,000 years, rootlessness is not an option.
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.