Wishing for Peace
I think you’d have to be living under a rock to not know what is happening in Israel. Last week, before the ceasefire, the news reported a steady stream of violence: plumes of smoke rising above bombed-out buildings, teargas released on mobs of angry protestors, journalists hastily reporting the news before ducking for cover, all accompanied by sounds of gunfire, shouting, and wailing. I have never been to Israel myself, and at times like these, I wonder if I ever will.
The fact that this occurred during Jewish American Heritage Month (a celebration the media has failed to acknowledge, in my opinion) is not lost on me. It is hard not to feel slightly resentful that Jewish voices are not being heard right now. I have always had this underlying feeling that we are overlooked as a minority because we “blend in” . . . until we don’t. And in times like these, when conflict and violence and general anti-Semitism are on the rise, it is easy to worry. Protesters within this country and around the world carrying signs that read "Hitler was right" and "Jews are terrorists" turn my stomach.
Recently, when I picked my daughter up from school, she asked, "Mom, what is a Zionist?"
"A Zionist is a person who supports the right of Israel to exist,” I explained. “Why?" As a teenager, she is glued to Instagram and TikTok like most of her generation. And it is from these sources that she gets most of her information. She was the one who first made me aware of what was happening. And most of her reports have been about the terrible losses and violence towards the Palestinians.
"I was just curious. It's a word I've seen thrown around a lot," she said.
"Was the word being used in a good way or bad way?"
She just shrugged.
My own feelings toward Israel are at best supportive as a fellow Jew, and at worst, apathetic. As an American Jew, I often feel removed from what is happening on the other side of the world. When I admit this to myself, I feel somehow disloyal. Many of my friends traveled to Israel in high school and college on "birthright" trips. I have often wondered at this expression, that Israel and the land it sits on is part of my birthright because I am Jewish. Yet I have always felt disconnected from this land, perhaps because I have never been there.
The stories I've heard from those who have visited Israel paint a different picture from what I see on the news. It was in Israel that my grandmother found peace after my grandfather passed away. She spent time with cousins she had grown up with in Poland and who had lived through the Holocaust as well. She loved the beaches of Netanya so much that she ended up spending half the year there when I was growing up. My parents have traveled to Israel many times and tell me how beautiful the land is, . . . how the history, architecture, food, culture, people, and landscape must be experienced at least once.
MY PARENTS' TRIP TO ISRAEL, 1972
My friends told me that, in Israel, there is a sense of belonging unlike anywhere else in the world. I will always remember one friend telling how shocking it was returning to America over the winter holidays. The moment she entered the airport, she was surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christmas, whereas in Israel, she spent time visiting kibbutzim and ancient synagogues, hiking Masada, shopping in the markets of Jerusalem, praying at the Wailing Wall, floating on the Dead Sea, and celebrating Shabbat every week with singing and dancing. It is stories like these that make me feel like I'm missing out.
Perhaps my greatest reason for supporting Israel is because of my own family history during the Holocaust. Israel became a refuge, a haven, to so many survivors. With the creation of the state of Israel, the Jewish people had a land they could call their own, where their right to be Jewish would never be taken from them.
And they have the right to defend that land.
But when I hear about the killing of everyday citizens, both Palestinians and Israelis, how can I say one side is right and one side is wrong? How can I say one side is entirely to blame and one side is entirely blameless? This recent violence is the next chapter in a feud that has been raging for decades, tracing its roots back to biblical times.
I feel the violence and killing on both sides is wrong. And I wonder, . . . will it ever end?
When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a girl named Linda. We met in elementary school and instantly formed a strong bond. I spent many afternoons in her home. We celebrated birthdays together, went trick-or-treating on Halloween together, and had sleepovers where we stayed up talking all night long. We loved the same ‘80s pop stars, movies, and TV shows. Her home was always filled with family and laughter. Her kitchen smelled of spices and something was always cooking on the stove. It was Linda's family who first introduced me to foods like stuffed grape leaves and baba ghanoush. We played Charlie’s Angels in her backyard, speaking on walkie talkies as we hid from her brothers and cousins who were the “spies” we had to capture. Whenever my mother picked me up, Linda’s mother was outside waiting to invite her in. They sat at the kitchen table drinking tea while Linda and I enjoyed a few extra moments together.
Linda's family was Palestinian, mine was Jewish, and we were the best of friends.
We drifted apart in high school but reconnected again in college when I transferred universities. She was the only one I knew at my new school, and when I reached out to her, she instantly took me under her wing. She introduced me to everyone she knew and invited me to parties and gatherings. We began working out together, and one afternoon at the gym, we talked about going to Israel/Palestine together. We knew the country by two different names, but we both were connected to the same land. We dreamed of visiting together and spending time with each other's families while there. When I told my mom of our plans, she smiled, but I saw a knowing sadness in her eyes.
The trip never materialized. Years later, when I mentioned it again to my mother, she said, “I felt bad for you both because I don’t think you would have been welcomed where her family lives, and she may not have been welcomed where our family is.”
This statement left a lasting impression on me.
Now, Linda lives in California. We stay connected through Facebook. I ask after her family and she asks after mine. I remember with warmth the welcoming grace her family always showed mine. And I wonder, perhaps naively, why this can’t be the case in Israel. I know the obstacles that stand in the way of peace and don’t pretend to have any answers. People far more educated than I and in positions of power haven’t been able to find a solution. I worry about the rise in anti-Semitism in America and across the world. I know that being Jewish and still feeling for the plight of the Palestinians in Israel does not have to be mutually exclusive. I know that I pray for peace, and hope that perhaps one day this fighting will be a thing of the past, and two childhood friends will be welcomed equally in a country they both call home.
One can dream.