In Israel, six degrees of separation is going way overboard. One or two usually suffices.
I'm relieved that -- for now -- my family and I have remained one or two degrees of separation from unending worry and shocking tragedy. But within two degrees of separation, there are far too many examples. Here are a few:
One co-worker, H, had just returned from a family holiday in Eilat over Chanukah, only to hear that the first missile to reach a house beyond Sderot crashed into her sister-in-law's apartment, injuring their teenage daughter. A week afterwards the girl was out of the ICU and -- thank G-d -- on her way to physical recovery. Her emotional recovery will take much longer. Two weeks later, H receives word that another relative, a nephew, has been injured and evacuated. One of her own children is serving, and she knows what could be. She tries not to think about it.
A classmate leans over toward my computer last week in the middle of class. She has left her kids with their regular "babysitters," their grandparents -- her own parents -- in Be'er Sheva. They watched the missile fall into the kindergarten across the street, felt the BOOM rock their apartment. Now they're afraid to leave the house, but this evening they've decided to spend a few minutes in the mall down the street, just for some air and a change of surroundings. Now my classmate has her mobile phone in hand; she insists on checking the internet news every few minutes. Just in case.
My cousin sends an email explaining that while her son, recently drafted, is still in training and therefore will not be going into Gaza, he is often sent to the border to provide security and support to the soldiers. One of his closest friends lies in the ICU, critically injured after fighting in Gaza. His friends are filled with worry and guilt that they cannot be by his side.
My friend and neighbor S. commutes to Be'er Sheva every morning. She relates the time when she was mentally preparing herself; She rolls down her car window and turns up the radio, should there be a warning siren during her drive. No sooner is the window open and
She stops the car, lies down alongside it, hands over her head and neck. She explains to me that the missile shrapnel flies up to a height of 30 cm, so lying down flat is pretty good protection. She notes that our bomb shelter room ("Mamad," ממ"ד), like theirs, is on the North side of the house, so it will provide pretty good protection should the missiles start raining down on us. Meanwhile, she watches missiles falling over Be'er Sheva from her tenth-story office window, keeps her purse accessible under her chair, and cuts off telephone calls to run to the shelter when the siren wails. I express amazement that she is still willing to come to work every day. It's not the same as living there, she reminds me. I come home to quiet every night. It's not like my kids are sleeping all together with us in the shelter and we're waking up several times a night to throw them down onto the rug.*
Another coworker, N, is safe (for now). Her family is not. She lives in Jerusalem. Her brothers and sister and their children live in Gaza, along the coast. Her phone is on all the time. Her family has no electricity. No heat. They don't go out, to work or school. Their only source of information is a small, battery-powered radio, which tells them whether the most recent bombings and incursions are anywhere near their home. Every time N talks to her brother, she tells me, she makes sure to say a real good-bye. She is afraid it will be the last time.
A senior staff member is as close to beside herself as I've ever seen her. Her son is being drafted tomorrow. He will not be in Gaza, but her thoughts are there. She doesn't spend too much time watching all those films showing soldiers and bombings and house raids, but she cannot stop thinking about it. We can only imagine what's going on there, she tell me, emotion filling her voice. Our army has killed 600 of them. Six hundred. I can't get my mind around it. Women, children. Families. Here I am, safe in my home, enjoying my every day activities, while over there... Nothing good ever comes when we fight. Their next generation will only learn more hate.
* * * * *
A friend's husband, a security expert, is in the reserves along the Gazan border and comes home every night at two in the morning. A psychologist colleague has been called up to counsel traumatized soldiers. An oncology patient from Gaza in the hospital for treatments, worried about his father and siblings while facing a completely different threat to his own life. Countless colleagues have children in the army. They jump whenever their phones ring, half-apologizing for their edginess. We give them knowing looks and continue our day.
* * * * *
This war -- like all wars here -- has been full of the kind of wrenching decisions, moral dilemmas, and wide-scale destruction that hurt to contemplate. Eight years of missiles onto our compatriots in Sderot? Too much. The killing of children forced to be human shields? Disgusting. Our soldiers running from house to mosque, flying overhead, facing split-second, life-threatening decisions? Painful. I want it to stop, want a modicum of quiet, and safety, and security, and reason, to reign. But it doesn't.
For now I have avoided the more graphic media, the photos and films. I read some Hebrew-language articles, and tune in to some of the American media. Knowing what is going on, on both sides, is terrible. Often I find it hard enough walking through those hospital doors every day, and I'm not looking for more questions no one can answer. I understand why we had to go in there and try to put an end to it. But I worry, because I know that all that violence and destruction will not stop the hate, and hate keeps Hamas going, and going.
I go to bed every night to the slightly-faint echo of bombs, and wake up in the morning, in the dark, again to the sound of bombs. I try to fit my mind around the simultaneous feelings of relief and sorrow that follow those sounds.
I think Shoilem Aleichem (via Joseph Stein's screenplay) put it best in our favorite classic, Fiddler on the Roof:
Townsperson: Why should I break my head about the outside world? Let the outside world break its own head....Tevye: He is right...Perchik: Nonsense. You can't close your eyes to what's happening in the world.Tevye: He's right.Rabbi's pupil: He's right, and he's right. They can't both be right!Tevye: (Pause). You know, you are also right.
Only, this is no outside world. Not even close to six degrees' worth. This is here, and this is us.
Keep the balance, and keep safe.