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.

Brave

They are so frigging brave.

She never wants to go to school when she knows there will be a siren.  Yom HaShoah…Yom Hazikaron…and the days when it’s a drill.

Why do we have to practice?

So we’ll know what to do…in case it’s real one day.

She cries and we tell her to be brave and she comes home and says she clung to her teacher and covered her ears and that next time she’s not going to school.

The first time…we grab her and her brother out of bed.  We are on autopilot.  We don’t even remember how we know what to do.  We put them on the bed in the secure room and we shut the door and the window and we see that she’s sitting up and she’s sort of confused.

Did you know?

We look at each other…we choose truth because there is no lie to explain this…

No…we didn’t know.

So it’s real?

Yes…it’s real sweetie.

Oh.

She lays down and pulls the cover up under her chin.  We make the beds in the room and they sleep there.  They sleep there every night now.

We go to a carnival.  We have fun…we try to be normal…we smile and laugh and play…

We are on the way out when the sirens wail.  We turn around and run into the building…down the stairs…on the floor…it’s ok..it’s ok…it’s ok…

Hey guys…you ok?

My voice is not mine…it is calm and cool but it is not mine.

She whimpers for a minute…then she smiles.

I’m ok.

He grins.

I’m ok.

I am not.

It is night…they have already been tucked in.  We run in and close the door…and the window.

He jumps up and starts dancing on the bed.

Get down…get down…we have to stay down.

He laughs.

Everyone is in our room.

It’s so normal.

It is so damn normal.

She asks what we should do if there’s a siren on our way back from our long walk…we walked for half an hour…played at a park for a bit…walked back…and only when she sees our building from the path does she voice her concern…

We’re outside…where should we hide if there’s a siren?

We tell her.  The bushes…next to the wall…we have to lie down and cover our heads.

She nods and clutches my hand a little bit tighter.  And we keep walking.

He is in the kiddie pool on the porch.  I grab him and a towel at the same time and try to pretend it is ok.  We close the door and the window and we sit with the man who was working on our air conditioner and had been about to leave.  He babbles about the siren and the war and the soldiers.  I smile and hold him close…my clothes absorbing the water I pulled him from…and when it is over and we call his father…he tells him it was scary and then builds an Iron Dome out of clics.

She wonders if a siren sounds in the middle of dinner…whether we should take our food.

He says he’ll be in the army when he’s a big boy and he’ll go in a tank.  He makes tanks out of chairs and boxes and brooms…and he shoots the bad guys and tells his sister he’ll make sure not to die.

They hide their disappointment when I say we can’t go to the beach.

It’s ok…it’s because there are no bomb shelters near the water…right?

No…but there are missiles floating in the water.

And I don’t want to be on a bus…or a train…or out in the open…because I am afraid.

But they were born in this land…and so they have breathed in her air…they have dug her earth up with their hands…they have covered their toes with her white sand…they have splashed in the waves of her blue sea…they have felt her sun warm their bodies…the clouds cover her sky and bring them bountiful rain…they have eaten her fruits…and have grown roots firmly in her soil.

So, of course, they are brave.

They are so frigging brave.

Don’t.

Don’t…
Don’t tell me to stay safe…
not to read the news…not to check each siren…not to think about it…not to worry…
Don’t tell me not to be afraid.
Don’t.

Because it is my prerogative to be afraid.
Because it is my country under attack.
Because it is my children I am scooping up into my arms as I run…run…run.

I cannot stay safe.
I cannot make sure a missile doesn’t rain down on my head.
I cannot rely on the incredible Iron Dome to keep me alive.

I will not rely on miracles…I do not know if I believe in them.
I will not stop my life and hide…but I will be paranoid and afraid.
I will not lie to my children…I will answer their questions openly.

I do not stand with Israel…I crouch with her…
In shelters…in stairways…on the side of the road…in trenches…in ditches…
In war.

So I say…
Stay strong…stay low…and push forward.
Be afraid…be brave…and protect this land.
And don’t…
Don’t’ ever give in.

Arise

I wanted to write about it…

My problems.

My silly issue with our apartment and our need to move…

and the stress and the anxiety and the fear we’d never find another place and the panic that we can’t cover the costs and the frustration that this is just going to be the story of our lives year after year after year

But then there were the boys.

And their mothers.

Three strong women.

Broken men standing beside them.

Lives forever changed.

And my silly little issue seems like a blessing.

Because I’m in this together with my husband…and my two healthy children.

So, dear beautiful women with your heads held high,

I rise up and I stand.

In solidarity I stand – my broken pieces connecting to your broken pieces…

A mosaic of pain and suffering…

Heartache and heartbreak…

Colorful stories merging with the black and grey…

And we are lost…

and we must be found…

so our collage can fill the world with light…

and right the wrongs…

and fight the dark…

and illuminate the way…

for our boys to come home.

SILENCE!!!!

HEY!  Tzfira!

He yells it across the crowded store and everything goes quiet.

Almost.

Beep…beep…beep.

One cashier is still working.

The quiet gets to her and she looks up in surprise.

Slowly, she stands and lowers her head.

Two women continue their conversation.

Hearing English during these moments of silence is making me cringe and I try to focus.

The bread machine goes on as a man in a long black jacket slices his loaf of bread, oblivious…or maybe not.

I try to remember.  I try to stand at attention and feel.  I try to imagine the pain and sorrow this country manages to live through every second of every day…but all I can think of is that they have no damn respect!

I just want to shake them and scream and flail my arms out as I let that burning desire to wish all that excruciating pain on each and every one of those people, who can’t even stand still for two minutes and show a little respect, pour out of the carefully scripted mantra I hold…

The idea of love and mutual understanding…of debating softly and disagreeing amiably….of living with people who think and feel differently…of never, ever, wishing anyone harm no matter how they act.

But I can’t.

I can’t respect them.

I can say it’s because they don’t respect me.

I can say it’s because they don’t let me live my life peacefully.

I can say many things.

But really…it’s because they can’t give two fucking minutes of their time to shutting up and letting me mourn.

So damn you stupid people in the grocery store…damn you.