Friday, November 4, 2011

From Abraham Down To Asher

We're going to Be'er Sheva for Shabbat. Known as the "Capital of the Negev" (the Negev is the desert in the southern half of Israel), Be'er Sheva was one of the first modern cities established in the Negev, as well as the biggest. We have several extremely close friends there so we try to visit whenever we can, and we always have a wonderful time. This Shabbat will be extra special because one of the families with whom we are close is celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of their oldest son, and we will be joining in the celebration.

While we always look forward to our time in Be'er Sheva, this time I'm also a little bit wary. Over the past week or so, Israel was (once again) on the receiving end of a lot of missiles lobbed at our cities in the south, including Be'er Sheva.

I honestly don't know how much this has been reported in the States and Europe. Maybe I'm being cynical, but it seems that in order to get the international media to report attacks on Israel, we need to first respond to the attacks and have the Palestinian leadership cry out to the world for help because they are being bullied. Then the world takes notice that something is going on, they call for "restraint" by all parties, and complain to Israel for a "disproportional response" to the attacks (what exactly IS a proportional response to unprovoked attacks on our cities and the civilians who live in them? The world has yet to share that tidbit with us).

Of course, nobody accused Israel of a "disproportional response" when we recently agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian terrorists – many of whom with Israeli blood on their hands – in exchange for one Israeli soldier. You can argue (and most Israelis still are) whether or not this was a "good" deal, but it's pretty clear that this was definitely a "disproportional response."

Anyway - back to Be'er Sheva: for the first half of this week, schools throughout the south were closed – children and their parents stayed as close to home as possible while still trying to maintain some sense of "normalcy" in their daily lives while making sure that they and their loved ones were at all times close to a bomb shelter.

For the last couple of days, things seem to have quieted down a bit. Much to their chagrin (but to the delighted relief of their parents) children went back to school on Wednesday, and for now life is continuing in the south.

And we're willingly spending Shabbat there.

For a very brief moment earlier this week, the thought entered my mind that maybe it would be smarter for us to stay home this weekend. I mean – who willingly puts themselves in the landing range of missiles being sent over by enemies with no regard for human life? Well, I guess anyone who spends any time in Israel does – that's who.

During Israel's Second Lebanon War in July 2006, I was working in Incoming Tourism, and the drop in groups and families coming to Israel was so severe that after spending about a month cancelling reservations with hotels, guides and suppliers, my office back to 80% time, and we all worked four days/week for about 5 months until tourism picked up again.

Even this wasn't as bad a hit to tourism as what happened with the Second Intifada, which broke out in September 2000. Many Israeli tour companies went out of business due to the tremendous drop in tourism for the following several years. Others were forced to lay off very large portions of their staff.

During both of those wars, many Israelis were very upset by the fact that so many tourists – particularly Jews, stopped coming out of fear. Don't get me wrong – those were some scary times, and I can't really blame anyone who doesn't live here for not wanting to put themselves into the middle of it. But it still felt as though we were be "abandoned" to our fate. It was almost as though our brothers and sisters around the world were telling us "It's great that you live there – Up with fulfilling the Zionist Dream! And as soon as it's safe, we'll be back to show our love. In the meantime – you guys keep that flame burning for us!"

It felt a little bit like we were designated to live the brave and daring lives for them.

But as tenuous as the relationship between Jews in Israel and abroad can be regarding the dangers of being here, it gets even more complicated when we talk about just those of us within Israel.
Our friends are celebrating their son's Bar Mitzvah. This is a huge deal. It is one of the most special and memorable moments in the life of a young Jew as he transitions into adulthood. How could I possibly say to them that I can't travel the one hour and 15 minutes to them because of what might happen to me there, but that I hope they have a great Bar Mitzvah while facing the risks and dangers?

More significantly is that while the missiles being fired from Gaza have a limited range to the south, I would be naïve at best and downright stupid at worst were I to assume that not going to Be'er Sheva, that I'm "safe" from terrorism. The number of attacks throughout Israel since before I was living here have made it very clear that anything could happen at any given time, and the only way for me to ensure that my family and I could never become victims of terror would be to move to a remote mountaintop far away from the Middle East.

That might keep us safe, but we certainly wouldn't be living our lives – where we want to be, with whom we wish to be and doing what we want to do.

Barring that extreme, the only real option is for us to continue living our lives, as we see fit, in the Land that we love and with the friends and the people that we love.

This is not a matter of courageously facing the dangers inherent in living in Israel. Rather, it is a matter of being as realistic and pragmatic as possible, and of teaching our children that life is for living, not for cowering.

Even putting aside the potential attacks from extremists in Gaza, just getting around is scary as hell. Sharon and the girls drove down to Be'er Sheva last night, and as anyone who has ever seen many of the drivers here in action can attest, that was risky in and of itself. I'll be taking a bus into Tel Aviv early this afternoon, and then another bus from Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva. Again – the way too many people here drive, that's a bigger risk to life and limb than spending Shabbat in Be'er Sheva could ever be. The number of fatalities on Israeli roads every year is absolutely mind-boggling (314 deaths on Israeli roads in 2009 and 352 in 2010. To date in 2011, nearly 300 people have been killed on the roads here).

So what should we do? Never go out of town for fear that we might join those statistics?

Should we have our groceries delivered, and home school the children in order to decrease the amount of time they spend outside where real dangers await them?

Don't get me wrong – I am even remotely suggesting that we throw caution to the wind – not for ourselves, and especially not for our children. But I am saying that sometimes we have to accept that there are fears and potential dangers out there – some of them, like the terror attacks would make international headlines, and others, like the traffic accidents would warrant – at best – a short blurb towards the back of the local newspaper.

And we have to be aware of these dangers – both from within and from without, but we continue to embrace life and to live it to the fullest.

This Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion tells us of Abraham (still referred to as Abram in this earlier stage of his life). According to Genesis Chapter 12, he is instructed by God to pick up, leave his homeland and the house of his father and to set off to "the land which I (the Lord) will show you". Despite the inherent dangers and hardships of this undertaking, Abraham understood that in order to his life to its fullest, and in order to reach the heights which God was setting for him, he had to take certain risks, and face certain unknowns.

Yet, even with God's promise that Abraham would become a great nation, Abraham was still cautious to take steps to ensure his own safety and well-being when he and his wife Sarah went to Egypt to escape the famine which was in the Land of Israel (how he went about doing this is an interesting discussion for another time – there are many scholars both modern and ancient who take exception to Abraham's actions upon entering Egypt with Sarah).

The point is that Abraham was forced to find the proper balance between his faith that he would be protected and using his own resources to take his life into his own hands.

To live in Israel today, I think means finding specifically that balance. We cannot be stupid and unmindful of the very real dangers that we face both as individuals and as a nation. Yet we also cannot let the fear of those dangers prevent us from being and becoming all that we are meant to be and to become. The moment we allow that to happen, we've allowed the terrorists to defeat us.

In the meantime, I'll join our friends in celebrating the wonderful milestone in the life of their son. Because that's also what living life is really about.