Reflections from Sderot

Visiting Sderot felt a bit too much like disaster tourism. I kept wondering how those who live there felt when we drove by in our bus. Are they used to it? Do they consider visitors flooding their town to be a second wave of disruption, preventing them from getting on with the normal lives that I’m sure they want to live? I would have liked to ask that question to someone in Sderot, but unfortunately the group wasn’t given this opportunity.

We did however, have a fascinating meeting with the mayor of Sderot, David Buskila. Buskila has the difficult role of trying to restore order to a town filled with constant disruption. He can quickly quote the number of rockets that fall in a given year, and describes vividly the 15 seconds between when an alert is issued and the rockets land. Of the statistics that was most difficult to hear, we learned that 25% of the residents of Sderot are afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder. But what was most surprising was what he said next:

The children in Gaza are also suffering. Do you think they are responsible for this violence either? How can their parents vote freely with guns to their heads? I know them, they worked with my father. They want peace.

Unfortunately I didn’t take down the words verbatim, but I think this summary accurately captures the gist. What it doesn’t capture is the tone, strong, sincere and hopeful. I was not expecting a man who is responsible for a place where even the bus stops double as shelters to have such a perspective.

Often, all that we hear is the rhetoric, sound bites created for media or twitter, their authors perhaps thinking that whichever side has a more catchy or more compelling slogan will be winning the battle of propaganda. At other moments of the trip I found myself wondering if those who utter such statements think them to be compelling arguments. How can you even have a proper argument, one where each side tries to engage with and learn from the other when everyone is just repeating sound bites?

All too often the discussions are about right vs. wrong; us vs. them; religious vs. secular; Jew and non Jew or Jew vs. Jew. But to truly engage with Israel we have to go beyond the catchphrases and tweets. We have to get to know the parties involved and to listen to one another. For a moment, after hearing Mayor Buskila speak, I was able to truly realize the complexity of what Israel is about.

Israel is a place where the mayor of a town who has lost citizens to rocket fire can be concerned about the children of the ones doing the firing. Israel is complicated and deserves more than sound bites.

Israel deserves our engagement.

Love- of what exactly?

I remember the first time I got off the plane in Tel Aviv. The excitement at every little thing. Falling in love with Israel, my country.
The foreign landscape
The ancient trees
The street signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English
CNN international
Speaking Hebrew to ‘real’ Israelis
The sense of history
Jerusalem stone

Between that visit and now, I’ve been in Israel a number of times.
Each visit less and less exotic.

This time, as I sat in the sherut from the airport to Yerusahalyim
with the sun setting golden over the Jerusalem mountains
and the moon, nearly full faintly on display,
It should be more romantic.
Instead I felt empty.

Perhaps it was not Israel that I loved
but traveling.

Since that first visit to Israel
I’ve seen more foreign landscapes
more ancient trees
street signs in many languages.
I’ve watched other tv channels
spoken in more languages
and seen more history
and more stones.

There are memories I relish more
and places where I have felt more free.
What is Israel to me?
Why do I feel so empty?

Being Invisible

This morning- I got to minyan early. I’m standing in the synagogue, reconnecting with someone I haven’t seen in years when three others walk into the room. One of them says, “great we have four people.”

To be honest I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember math. When does 2+3=4? When one has the xx character trait thereby making her ineligible to count in an Orthodox minyan and apparently rendering her invisible and not a person.

This experience has happened to me before- Unfortunately, I have been relegated to non-person status in cities all over the world, almost always by  men, who, I hope, don’t realize the pain that they have caused . What makes this time different is that I’m at the Siach conference- an environmental and social justice conversation. More info here.

It is certainly a great group of very talented people. Most of the conversations that I’ve had have been with fascinating people, presenting the challenge of not wanting to extract myself from intense and good discussions. I was having a great time until this moment, and I’m not sure what to do with it. Perhaps I was tired because this morning I just stood there in silence (usually i have use some snarky reply to the effect of “no you need one more man, i’m a person too”). I expected that I might not count in the minyan. But I didn’t expect to be rendered invisible.

How can we talk about social justice when we can’t even acknowledge the personhood of those standing right in front of us?

Clearly we have work to do.