On the Footsteps of an Elusive Peace
My journey around Israel’s borders and into the West Bank
ISRAEL — Saturday. 6 August 2022.
My elementary school career underwent a series of Jewish day schools, and as for my childhood, a stew of programs steaming with diverse flavors of Jews from around the world. From modern-Orthodox to reform, conservative to secular, Israeli, Mexican, and American to South African, there was a commonality among them: “Israel is a small, but very strong country,” teachers, Rabbis, or counselors would say, “Be proud to be Jewish, embrace your roots, your culture, and love your heritage.”
Of course, there was nuance in the language of this message, but it was clear at its core. Jewish holidays and Israeli festivals were celebrated like weddings, vows of unconditional love to the land that gave our families safety and opportunity, celebrations of our culture with high spirits. And I got the message— I’ve lived it, I practice it. No hatred involved: As with marriages, criticisms are merited but denial, slander, and violence shall never be.
My father, too, has relayed this message to me with profound passion as we embarked on our annual family trips to Israel growing up. “Israel is my paradise, no matter what happens here or how small it is,” he announces at the breakfast table crunching on chunks of ruby-red watermelon snowed upon by crumbles of feta. I roll my eyes, forking up sunny side-up eggs whose sun-bright yoke gushes as I take a bite. He senses my mockery: “You’ll come around, maybe not now, but later. Trust me, I was like you— I felt nothing as a kid. You’ll understand when you’re older.”
The little girl who grew up in a Jewish-Israeli home with family in Israel whom she visits every year, a student who attended Jewish day schools and programs, a girl who celebrates holidays like weddings, a child who was made a woman at Jerusalem’s Kotel— she felt only pride. She relished in her heritage, but never felt anything close to her father’s connected sentiments.
Touring around the country and studying the Holocaust in-depth at her dawn of womanhood, her Bat Mitzvah, did impart emotion and emphasize the importance of a Jewish State, however, that was surface layer. It took almost a decade for her to understand, a decade for new senses to emerge, a decade for a deeper love to grow. Now, at the age of near-twenty, this little girl is not so little and she proves her dad right. As with studying the Holocaust, it took total immersion into the choppy waters of yet another tragedy to foster such feelings. Not a shocker if you know this girl.
My stomping grounds here in Israel over the past three days have vitalized this land that I have blood-ties to— a stark exposure of conflict. These are people I know and events I know of, I have read about, written about, and spoken about, but of which I never thought to find myself a primary source witness and future testament. My cousins in the army; my aunts, uncles, and grandparents who have bomb shelters installed in their homes; friends who saw rockets land just two years ago with their own eyes. And me, when rockets fell just miles away from my apartment here in Israel just yesterday.