By Laura Marks, Founder, Mitzvah Day
Shabbat started for me and my husband with an invitation to services at Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem – a community clearly in shock.
After an hour of prayer, song and contemplation we learned that almost every family present had either a son or a friend directly affected by the troubles with several of the community’s young, injured.
We heard, after the service about the kidnapping of 23 year old Hadar Goldin and congregants stood, in the warm evening air contemplating the strength of the likely response and their fears for escalation.
It has been an unsettling week here in Israel – but we both feel that it was right to come. Tel Aviv, usually heaving with tourists at this time of year, feels in waiting. With cancellations the norm, the restaurants, shops and beaches are quiet (this is the week to get into those popular restaurants!) and there is a heightened sense of anticipation.
On our first day all was quiet. Second night, at three thirty the sirens rang. We were almost relieved, the suspense was becoming too much and at least now we knew what to expect.
Pulling on our dressing gowns, we ran out of our 15th floor apartment, clutching the torches we had left ready, into the stairwell (the safe area) and sat down on the cold steps. Way below, we could hear Israeli voices, doors slamming and light switches repeatedly resetting the light timers. Is this to be a regular nighttime occurrence we wondered?
Our second siren was two days later. We had travelled by cab to meet an Israeli family in Ramat Aviv for dinner. With two small children, the mother now refuses to leave her own neighbourhood for fear of being beyond familiar territory and known shelters.
Earlier this week, debris had landed just outside the children’s Gan (nursery) and the effect has been profound. As we arrived, we heard sirens, way in the distance over Tel Aviv. Looking for the nearest shelter, the silence was ripped apart as a rocket shot across the sky overhead headed towards the city. Then two huge booms halted the small crowd, heading to the shelter entrance in their tracks.
Of course, we are aware that we are relatively safe. With total faith here in the Iron Dome, life is going on pretty much as normal. The real danger is in the South and in and near Gaza itself; but this is most certainly not North West London.
After Shabbat services, we went to friends for dinner with their sons and a couple who were visiting from America. The family have one son post-army, whose course at Beer Sheva University has been suspended, exams incomplete, until further notice.
Another son was released from the army after concluding his military service just this week, and sporting new piercings and a relieved smile, he is already thinking about at least eighteen months away from Israel.
The third is, as yet too young for service. Compare this with my own university student currently at camp, my gap year student planning her trip and the youngest, a current tour participant, and the disparities become stark.
Conversation was intense; Is the Israeli army acting proportionately? What news is there from friends at the front? Why is the foreign press so critical? What is the USA really doing to help?
Are Jews expected to have higher standards than other nations and if so, is this either reasonable or evidenced? What is the role of anti-Semitism in the world’s response to Israel? Is the IDF really doing everything it can to save Palestinian life? Should Jews have learned more from the Holocaust, and if so, then what?
So here we were, with friends and their children, eating our chicken and challah yet feeling compelled to discuss these existentially impossible questions.
This family, by its nature liberal and Western, seems torn – on one hand questioning the fiery nature of the likely response to the kidnapping, yet on the other, incensed by the personal attack by Hamas on their very existence and way of life.
It’s hard to comprehend, even with sirens screaming, that only 50km away, terror reigns.
I am fearful on many levels, for the young people with whom I shared an outdoor, haimishe family dinner, for the innocent civilians in Gaza caught up in the violence of the conflict, for the ongoing and crucial relationships built up over years with our British Muslim friends, for the backlash we might expect in Britain from the BDS and deligitimisation campaigners, and of course for the future safety of the Israeli nation.
As we enter our second week here, I find myself with more questions than before but with a sense of solidarity with a nation struggling for answers.