Ceasefire

In between war and peace, there is a space where words like ceasefire float around as though they mean something more than pause.

For me, a ceasefire is like a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. You know it’s something you’re going to have to deal with. You just don’t know how long you have to brace yourself for whatever this ultimately means.

I remember the pit in my stomach that formed when we knew my sister was full of colon cancer. For 22 months, it sat and grew thorns that jabbed at me incessantly. When she died, the mass inside me emptied so fast that I was left with a gaping hole I didn’t know how to live with. It took me a long time to replace it with things that brought me pleasure and comfort.

I’ve been here through intifadas and wars. I’ve seen the cycle enough to know what it means to be given a ceasefire. And the pit is growing again. This time, I feel the entire country twisting around with me in discomfort. I don’t know the answer. I wonder if there even is one. But I know that we cannot go on much longer like this.

This is what Ceasefire means to me.

* * *

I have been here before.

So many times before.

Words depicting bloodshed and war shot from the only weapon I’ve ever held comfortably in my hands exploded in empty fields of papers no one will ever read.

I wrote of pain and suffering and heartache and confusion and the humanity inside me that is ripped apart by my need for safety and my need for peace.

I am flesh and bone, so I duck and cover, but I am heart and soul, so I rise and resist.

I don’t understand any of it.

I don’t know why I am chained to my history and my people any more than I understand why I am sympathetic to mothers on the other side of the wall I hate but hide behind as I teach my children tolerance and love and how to communicate effectively to end conflict.

This region at the center of turmoil and battles in the name of gods who don’t have the decency to show up and put a stop to this endless loop of hatred and fear eats me alive and sustains me at once.

Sinatra croons in my head as I watch my country flirt with war.

“Bang bang, she shot me down

Bang bang, I hit the ground

Bang bang, that awful sound

Bang bang, my baby shot me down”

Bang bang.

Ceasefire.

Bury the dead. Bandage the wounds. Build another wall and burn another bridge.

Ceasefire.

Regroup, reload, relaunch.

Cease.

Cease to what? Hate? Exist? Believe?

This land has hooked me, reined me in and entangled me in her torment. I cannot pry myself away from her now.

Ceasefire.

Simmering in the quiet air, raging deep beneath broken trust, our fire holds still another day.

Ceasefire.

Hanging for a moment in time, it is too heavy to remain suspended between hope and reality and will come crashing to the broken ground.

And I…

I am here, planted in a land that was buried alive in a shallow grave. She is slowly decomposing, her stench cannot be masked. I can’t describe how her wretchedness roils my insides yet fills me with a yearning hunger never satiated. This is not prose – it can’t be written from imaginative thoughts. It is a vivid description of the land I feel beneath my feet. It is more real than I will ever be.

This land cannot cease to fire; it is the only way she knows how to breathe.

Originally published on The Times of Israel

I Know How You Feel

Sometimes I say ‘I know’ and I don’t.  Not really.

I don’t always know how everything feels.

I like to think I can relate…but no one ever really can.

Sure, I’m sympathetic, it’s easy to be.

But rarely do I KNOW, with my heart.

This time, I KNOW.

I know what you’re feeling right now.

I know that some of you are in denial.  I know that some of you are brushing this all off as nothing too serious.  I know that some of you are ready to get up and fight.  I know that some of you are feeling super protective of your families right now.  I know that some of you are hesitating to leave your house.  Not because you are terrified…you don’t ever get terrified because you won’t give in to it…but because you are a little scared.  I know that some of you are in shock.  You don’t understand how things like this can happen in your own backyard.  I know how some of you are trying to figure it out.  I know how some of you might spend a lot of time going back and forth in your head and sometimes out loud…feeling unnerved by the conversation itself.  I mean, how is it that we are even talking about this?  It’s 2016 – this is a safe place – a tolerant place…what happened?  And I know some of you are looking at your teenagers and wondering how they seem to function on a different plane.  How is it that they can shrug it off and go about their business?  How can they still be posting selfies?  Why are they not heeding your advice and taking precautions?  I know some of you are feeling brave and some of you are feeling scared and some of you aren’t sure how you should be feeling when things blow up in New York and New Jersey and people start saying the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘attack’ in a manner that sends a shiver down your spine.

Some people are going to post silly things on social media, letting the American people know how we go through this every day in our little land smack in the center of the Middle East.  Some people are going to chastise you for finally ‘waking up’.  I’m sorry for that.  I wish I could prevent it.  Because all of us here should just be letting you know…that we know.  We really do.

And we feel for you.

Because yes, we do feel all these things all the time.

But we never, ever wanted you to be able to relate.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know…that I know how you feel right now.

I really do.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I am too tired…too tired of writing about the pain…every damn year…

I am too tired of defending this land…speaking up for her…

But I can’t remain silent…

Because my heart still beats…

And other hearts still are silenced…

By hatred…by fear…

By those who would like to see my drowning arms flail in a sea of my brothers’ blood.

But I am still tired…

So I will just repeat myself.

Over

and 

Over

Again.

Until maybe one day, I will be heard.

********

April 25, 2012

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a                                       

Chalom shechalamti balayila bamitah

(My God – I wanted you to know, the dream I dreamt at night in bed)

She sings her favorite song on the swings…in the sand…on the bus…and softly as she lays in bed…

Ubachalom, raiti mal’ach

Mishamayim ba elai v’amar li kach:

(In my dream I saw an angel from heaven, and this is what he said to me)

She has an old soul…a deep soul…a soul that understands more than what her heart can contain…

Bati mishamayim, avarti nedudim,

laset birkat shalom lechol hayeladim,

laset birkat shalom lechol hayeladim.

(I came on a long wandering from the heavens to bring a blessing of peace to all the children)

She has a vivid imagination…colorful…layered and vast…

Ukshe itorarti nizkarti bachalom

V’yatzati lechapes me’at shalom

(When I awoke, I remembered the dream and I went out to look for a bit of peace)

She expresses her thoughts…feelings and questions…boldly…without hesitation…

V’lo haya mal’ach, v’lo haya shalom

Hu mizman halach, v’ani im hachalom.

(and there was no angel…and no peace…he was long gone and I…am here…with my dream)

The siren wails.

We are silent.

She is thinking.

Why is there a siren?

To remind us of the soldiers…of the chayalim.

What, they died?

Well…yes.

Why?

Because they were protecting us.

Chayalim are good?

Of course.

But some chayalim want to kill us.

Our army is good.  Our chayalim are good.

Like the Mishtara?

Yes.  The police and soldiers are good.

The siren is for the chayalim that are dead?

Yes sweetie.  And for all the chayalim…to always remember all the chayalim.

Why do we have chayalim?

To keep us safe.

Yes, but Imma, why do we need to be saved?

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a

She’hachalom haze nishar li k’chida

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a

Al hachalom sheli, ratziti sheted’a

Elohim sheli, rak ratziti sheted’a…

(My God, I wanted You to know…that the dream remains a riddle to me…my God, I wanted You to know…about my dream…I wanted You to know…my God, I just…wanted You to know…)

Our Dying World

The world is bleeding.

She is heaving her last breath…convulsing in pain…as she tries to heal wounds she doesn’t know how to lick.

She has been beheaded…stabbed…shot…

She had been blown to bits…burned alive…ravaged…

She has been raped…sold…defiled…

She has been trampled on…spit on…stoned…

She has been through every imaginable torture…and even more unimaginable deceits…

Yet she still struggles to survive…even now as she slips away…

Because she only knows how to love…how to give…how to believe…

She will not understand that to stop the pain she will have to open her core and swallow humanity alive so that she can continue to exist.

She will never do that.

She will die.

And we will die with her.

I Am Israel

They want me to live in fear as great as their hate

To cower as I walk

To tremble every day.

But I will not.

For I am stronger than they can ever understand

Taller than I seem

Fearless as I’ll ever be.

I represent love

Beauty

Peace.

I am filled with purpose

I am resilient

I am powerful.

I am Israel.

And no matter how many wounds I lick

No matter how many bodies I bury

No matter how much blood seeps into my core

I WILL NOT DIE.

Skin Deep

“Imma,” she says in her ‘I’m going to tell you something incredibly insightful now so you better stop what you’re doing and focus and make sure your phone is on hand to record this’ voice, so naturally, I turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this, so I’m telling you now you have to trust me that it’s true.”

I nod and put the phone down.  I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of those ‘let me tell you what happened on the way home from school’ stories, maybe a bit Mulberry Street-isque, but nothing I can’t breeze through on this typical, absolutely ordinary day.

“My friend told me white people are better than black people.”

Woah.

Stop.

I know she’s looking at me, expecting some sort of response…and I know she thinks this an important conversation based on how she prefaced it…but I am stuck with her words swarming through my mind because for some reason…I AM NOT PREPARED.

*

My first clear understanding of how white people who aren’t racist can sometimes get stuck staring down the barrel of racism came from an incident involving my little sister, my mother and the neighbor one lovely afternoon on our front stoop.

The neighborly conversation was interrupted by my sister’s investigative reporting on the color of skin.

“Mommy,” she said in all her innocent glory as she scrutinized the neighbor, “Why is her skin brown?”

My mother froze.

There was only a slight pause before the neighbor very gently squeezed my mother’s hand and took over.

She said something or other about the color of blood and how it’s all the same on the inside.

I don’t really remember that.

But I can still feel that pause.

And here I am in that same damn pause.

*

I must have gasped because she’s assuring me that she knows…but like, really knows, that this girl is wrong.

She knows that people are people and we are all part of the human race.

She knows that what makes you better are your actions and what makes you above are your reactions.

She was really asking me why people are racists…more importantly, why a fellow second grader who is her friend, is a racist, and I have so many answers and all of them are sort of my fault because I have not done enough to fight it.

I am not a racist, yet I hear racist conversation in the park and don’t respond loudly enough.

I am not a racist, yet I live in a community where the ethnic diversity is mind-boggling nonexistent.

I am not a racist, yet my city segregates residents and calls it ‘absorption’.

I am not a racist, yet I say nothing when my son’s ganennet mixes up the names of the children of Ethiopian descent and laughs it off because she “can’t tell them apart”.

Oh, I cringe.

I cringe when I hear complaints that “Ethiopians” are hanging out in the park and breaking ‘our’ public benches.

I cringe when my son asks if the street cleaner who greets us every morning lives where all the brown people live.

I cringe when my daughter and her friends refer to children born in Israeli hospitals to immigrant parents, (just as she was), as Ethiopians.

And I cringe when I find myself pausing that long, uncomfortable pause.

I don’t want to cringe.

I want to shout.

For some reason, I haven’t had the urgent need to shout because I somehow thought this was not my problem because I am not a racist.

I have the ‘right’ color skin so I never really felt racism.

I never had to fight for the right to be treated as just another human being.

I need to start fighting and it needs to start with that pause.

Because what I remember most about that day when my neighbor stood up for herself was that it felt like she was defending something.

The color of skin is not something we need to defend.

The answer to a little girl’s question should not have so much weighing on it.

And I will start right now.

For Baltimore.

For Tel-Aviv.

For the world we all share.

Intifada: Take Three

Today, I was on a bus.  And I had my headphones on because I like to listen to music on the bus.

But the driver…

He was in a bad mood…and I couldn’t tell why.

I didn’t know if it was because he had a fight with his wife…forgot his lunch at home…had to go through a checkpoint to get to work…was pissed off because I am a Jew…was frustrated that no matter what he does he is judged terribly…or because he is a radical Islamist who wants to kill Jews so he can be a martyr.

I couldn’t tell.

So I kept taking my headphones off and checking his face and his body language…and he was driving fast and I was waiting for him to crash into a bus or a truck or a tree and there were only old women and young girls on the bus and we didn’t have a gun and then I thought maybe I’d be the one to knock him out and grab the wheel but I wasn’t sure I could even turn the thing or reach the brake…and then Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came on so I put the headphones back on and cranked up the volume and thought it was a good song to die to.

On the way home the driver was a nice Ethiopian man and I smiled widely and thanked him profusely and wasn’t in the mood to listen to music anymore.

Because when there is an intifada…you do as you feel.  And you try to stay alive.