Du Bist A Nazi

Du bist as Nazi, du bist a Nazi!

I turn in horror.

He’s a little boy.  Maybe four years old.  His blonde hair curls at his ears…his blue eyes sparkle with the sort of mischief I should expect from a little boy at the park with his friends without supervision.

And the other boy…three years old…sweet…innocent….wild at times…especially when he’s found candy…but mostly beautifully kind and generous, knows he’s been called something and doesn’t like how it feels.

He sticks his tongue out.

Ani Lo!  Ani David Simcha!

Another smirk.

Du bist a Nazi!

Now I know I heard right.

I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what to do.

I look at him with what I know can be a scary look, and lower my voice.

MA amarta?

He backs away, laughing, and runs off with his friend.

Du bist a Nazi.

I can’t explain this.  He’s a little boy.  He doesn’t know what a Nazi is.

And my little boy…he doesn’t know what a Nazi is.

But now he’s been called one.  And I am tormented by what I know is much bigger than this.

He’ll grow up, my little boy, and he won’t remember the incident.  Hopefully, he’ll remember how I gently reprimanded him for sticking his tongue out at  other kids, how I always reminded him that he needs to be careful not to hurt other people’s feelings and how he needs to treat everyone with the respect they deserve just by being human.

My little boy will know that I try to accept everyone and maybe he’ll try to do the same.  He’ll know that we don’t group people together by how they dress or what school they go to.  He’ll know that we believe in breaking boundaries and reaching out across the divide to love and cherish our fellow-man.  He’ll know that his mother cringes when people fight and that she cries for those who can’t see past their differences.

He’ll grow up, my little boy, and make the choices to be the kind of man he thinks he should be.

There will be a blond man with sparkling blue eyes out there somewhere…and I hope he can make choices as well.  I hope he can learn to discard what he hears at home and see the world with the same carefree way, knowing that he can always choose to look at someone who looks like my son and say something derogatory, nothing at all, or maybe…something that can unite us again.

For now…I sit with the voice of a little boy inside my head…reverberating pointless hatred and anger…and try desperately not to cry.

Living Israel

“So where are you moving to?” she asked.

“Moshav Zanoach” I said, desperately trying to pry a stick out of my son’s grasp.

I was too caught up in parenting to notice her reaction.

She kept quiet for a bit.

“Hmm” she finally said, and I turned because I could hear her eyebrows raise and her mouth turn down into some sort of scowling judgment.

I don’t know why, but I found myself explaining.

We’ve always wanted to live on a moshav.

We can’t afford to live in Ramat Beit Shemesh anymore.

We want to be in a more Israeli environment.

We’re not such city people.

I stopped when I caught myself starting to say something about the stupid politics.

Over dinner, I told my husband what my neighbor’s concerns for us were.

She thinks we need friends.

She thinks we need a community of people just like us.

She thinks our kids won’t find playmates.

She thinks there’s no place for people born in America among people born in Morroco.

And then, after we laughed about how she was just reinforcing our decision to leave, we began to reflect on the other kind of feedback we got.

There was the cab driver who asked me where I was moving to…and then his face lit up as he told me over and over how beautiful it is there, and how the people are so nice and amazing.  Another driver told me I was doing the best thing for my family, and every Israeli who heard about where we’re moving to enthusiastically said “Kol hakavod!”

It’s interesting to see things from this side of the fence.  For so long, we’ve known that in order to live in this country and be a part of something we chose, we would have to live an Israeli lifestyle in an Israeli environment.  But so many things got in the way.  The language, the culture…the fear of feeling lost and alone…and even a fear that our American family wouldn’t care to visit us in our little Israeli community.

So we stuck around the other olim and tried our best to raise our children with values that would help them fully integrate.

It didn’t help any.

It made us feel stifled and foreign all the time.

We didn’t belong with the Americans, but we still didn’t belong with Israelis.

And neither culture understood and accepted us.

We started to see that we don’t need anything from America anymore.  We don’t need deodorant and shampoo to be packaged in English…and tomato sauce can never be something to pine for.  We also came to realize that we don’t always want to understand every little thing our neighbors say.

So we found an apartment in a small Moshav near Beit Shemesh.

We brushed off the criticism and embraced the approval.  We took a big leap of faith and plunged right in.

In the past two weeks, we’ve been in an entirely different world.

And we love it.

We slowly shifted our minds away from where we were born and what we were raised with and are grateful to say we have finally arrived…here.

Why Beit Shemesh Might Mean Something to Me After All

The waiting room in Assuta Hospital in Rishon Litzion is small and by no means cozy.  The chairs are set up in a way that maximizes the seating space while inconveniencing the actual sitting process.  The TV is on, blaring from behind the seats, forcing people to turn their heads up and around, mostly in annoyance, as they pretend not to watch the mindless dribble meant as a distraction.

I am nervous and impatient.  My husband is sitting next to me.  It is too public a place for me to tell him how badly I want him to hold my hand.  I don’t know what to expect behind the sliding doors.  I’m not sure how my children are going to handle this next week.  I don’t like doing things that hurt, regardless of how necessary they might be.  I hate that I will need to ask for help and accept  it in whatever form it comes.  The fears are trembling through my body, wanting to be eased by something other than the typical pat on the back and reassuring smile.

There are two women chatting comfortably nearby.  I am jealous of their relaxed attitude and wonder if they can see the churning in me.  As if reading my mind, one of the women looks up at me and smiles.

“Hey, maybe here’s a customer,” she says, and it takes me a moment to realize she means me.

I look at her questioningly as she hefts a large bag up on her lap and rummages about.

“Would you like some books?” she asks.

Books?

“I’m a librarian at the Benjamin Library in Beit Shemesh” she begins.

“Oh!” I exclaim.  “We’re from Beit Shemesh too!”

She laughs, although she doesn’t seem too surprised.  I get the feeling she’s talked to a great many random people.

“Well, we have something called the Wandering Library.  We give out books and ask you to pass it on when you’re done.  I give books to people all the time.  I go everywhere with this bag, and I always have a selection of books for all types.  So, what kind of books do you like?”

And then she starts pulling out books and I am going through them and I am not thinking about my fears at all.

I choose two children’s books to bring back for my daughter and a Steinbeck novel for my recuperation.  After a bit of a friendly conversation, the women get called in and I watch them disappear behind the sliding doors.  I am no longer afraid.

My mood lightens up and I spend the moments leading up to the operation in casual conversation with my husband, who I can see now is probably more nervous than I was.  We part with a smile.

The next morning as I leave the lobby supported by my husband, I see the woman from the night before with similar bandages on her face.

“Not that bad – right?” she smiles and I feel a kinship that warms me throughout.

I get home, climb into bed and begin a three day journey of “East of Eden”.  I am deep in the book, away from the excruciating pain and the feeling of helplessness as my family quietly functions around me.  I read of relationships formed, severed and carefully mended as Steinbeck rips open the human capacity for love and hatred and exposes the nature of connections.

I close the book on day four and breathe deep with a new appreciation for air.

In my inbox is an email from a woman asking if I am who she met in the waiting room of Assuta Hospital, and if so, wishing me a sincere refuah sheleima.  I am overcome with the thoughtfulness of her gesture.  I think of how I last thought of my hometown.  I had lost faith in humanity.  I had seen fighting that sickened me and had decided to stick to myself and forget about others.  I am ashamed.  I want to be someone who reaches out and brightens the world just a little.

And then I think of the concept of the book, that we, as humans, can overcome our natural disposition and be who we have the strength to be, through choice.

The last word of the book I was given by a complete stranger rushes back at me with force.

“Timshel!”

I resolve to be more proactive in kindness and to never give up on the strength of human connections.

Why Beit Shemesh Means Nothing To Me

Back in September, I wrote a post about the situation here in Beit Shemesh.  I wrote mainly out of frustration with my new hometown, and because mothers were bringing politics to the park.  I responded to a conversation held in front of children on this blog, although looking back maybe I should have kept my personal ideas as locked in as I did when confronted with the angry shouts and accusations against Chareidim, while sweet Chareidi boys played less than two feet away.

I heard some things that day that made me cringe.  Later on, I read worse thoughts on a Facebook group I wanted to join.  The group was formed to show support for the girls and parents of the school, something I felt was a positive, wonderful thing to be a part of.  Except, comments such as “a dead Chareidi is a good Chareidi” and “let’s project scenes from Baywatch on their buildings” made me feel so disgusted and embarrassed that my opinion changed.  My disgust and frustration flew from my fingertips, becoming, as usual, a blog post.

Life in Israel was hosting thoughts on the Orot Banot saga and welcomed guest posters.  I submitted my post, hoping that it would reach a wider readership, particularly the mothers who shared the park benches with me and who were part of a community I thought I wanted to join.

Then I received a panicked phone call from my friend.  She begged me to come to be at her side as her sister lay dying.  I rushed out the door with an apple and my computer, thinking I would spend some time writing and possibly provide my friend with a distraction.

The intensity of that day ripped me apart and I completely forgot about my life or the lives of anyone living in the war-zone that is Beit Shemesh.

It was long past midnight and an angel’s life was drawing to a close.  I sat in the waiting room, taking a break from the pillar of strength I had morphed into.  I wanted to check back into reality.  I needed to connect with the real world, where people took deep breathes, related to each other, and didn’t have to say goodbye to their daughter, sister, and friend.

I checked in with the blogosphere and noticed that people had commented on my post.  I was excited and curious to see what sort of response I had generated.

My hands were shaking as I read comment after comment of what felt to be people telling me I’m stupid and invalidating my opinion. My words were picked apart and harshly criticized.  Although most of the article was my ranting thoughts, the point that I wanted to give over was summed up in the last paragraph.

“Let’s protect all the children.  Maybe we should start by leaving this sort of discussion outside the park.  I moved here so that my children could be raised in an environment of tolerance and acceptance.  That my children could be accepted and so that they could accept others is dependent on what they hear at home, in school and in the park.”

No one managed to hear that part.  They just went on about me and my ‘groundless’ opinion.

I closed my computer, refusing to respond, walked into a hospital room and watched a young girl die.

In my soul, I lost a little bit of faith in humanity.

In my heart, I lost respect for both sides of the story.

In my mind, I made a promise not to care.

I live in a home full of warmth, love, and tolerance.

And I do not go to the park.

Orot Banot

Well, it’s reached me.  I tried to keep quiet about it, tried to watch from a distance, but it’s all the rage at the park these days and lord knows I ain’t one to let a good point go unheard.

Orot Banot – by now the best-known school in Beit Shemesh – has made its mark on little old me, who never heard of it and still doesn’t know where it is.

Some self-hating Jews found it and seem to hate it.  Loudly and obnoxiously, they’ve let their point be heard and now I have to respond.

But not to people who can’t hear.  I have no nothing to say to, or about, a group of people hell-bent on bitter fighting.  I have nothing to say to people who terrorize children and swarm the streets, dispensing their twisted views oh too freely.

The truth is, there is nothing anyone can say to them, or about them, that they haven’t already said.  This is a group of people who have been around for years.  Discussions were held, points were made, voices were lost in the intensity of the disagreements………..and no progress was made.

So stop expecting people who don’t agree with them, don’t want to be associated with them, and do not want to engage them in any form of conversation to speak up about them.

I will spell it out because talking in tongues never seems to give the right impressions.  The Dati Leumi community is asking the Chareidi community to condemn the actions of a mixed group of people in the same league as the wackos who shake hands with our enemies.

Now tell me, is that necessary?  Do you really need the Chareidim to state the obvious?  Or do you have such a horrible opinion of Chareidim that you don’t trust that they’ve come to the same logical conclusions about people who are certifiably insane?

Let me tell you something about Chareidim.  I am not Chareidi.  I am actually anti a lot of their hashkafos and have deliberately chosen not to live amongst them because of those hashkafos.  I only know that I do not want to be Chareidi because I tried to be Chareidi once.  And so I can say without a doubt that there is nothing Chareidi about this.  The Chareidim should not break their teeth reiterating that they don’t agree with this.  They should not put themselves in a position to defend the Chareidi world, because any sane person should be able to deduce that a small group of men shouting pathetically outside an elementary school for girls is not a proper representation of the Chareidi world.

There is nothing to say to a group of people that make their own rules, as there is no one who can make a difference with any sort of proclamation.

The girls need to be protected because there are people who are dangerous outside their school.  Do what needs to be done.  Put them first.  Try to get this to be over using the tools available.  Don’t make this into a civil war.

Let’s protect all the children.  Maybe we should start by leaving this sort of discussion outside the park.  I moved here so that my children could be raised in an environment of tolerance and acceptance.  That my children could be accepted, and that they could accept others, is dependent on what they hear at home, in school, and in the park.