September 19, 2014

Of Ceasefires and Cinnamon

When I last wrote, so long ago, I felt that the world had veered in a new direction and that reality, as I knew it, would never return. We endured a horrendous war in Israel this summer, dubbed Operation Protective Edge.  Some 4,382 rockets were shot into civilian areas and we suffered the tragic death of some 70 brave, young soldiers. Two soldiers died from their wounds just last week.

Some seventy percent of Israel’s population was within rocket range, including the most populated cities. Living in Ra’anana for nine years, we used our bomb shelters for the first time this summer. We understood that we had ninety seconds (a luxury for many who have 30 seconds or less) to run for shelter.

We soon became accustomed to the screeching siren, the initial panic of where to run for shelter, the fear as we huddled inside a stairwell or shelter, counting in our heads until a ‘boom’ thundered above. And then we serenely walked off to finish our errands or we returned to bed, often calling our children to make sure they were fine.

We became accustomed to this?

At first, I was floored by the bravery of Israelis who pulled their cars to the side of the road, cupped their hands over their heads, then complacently drove off to work. Or the children, who calmly knew where to run and stay and wait before returning to their games. This was their summer holiday, supposedly time to relax and play with friends and swim at the beach.


And then we flew to Canada. As the rockets continued to fly into Israel, despite one broken ceasefire after another, the average Canadian seemed to be a little tired of Israel’s mess. Canadians were intent on embracing the few days of summer they are granted each year, and many flocked to cottages on sparkling lakes for some summer fun.

We did the great Canadian thing and drove up to Muskoka where we watched loons bob atop soft rippling water, and heard the whir of ski boats pulling laughing children on water skis. The sun set crimson and it rose again to the smell of pines. There were no ‘booms,’ no sirens. No agony.  No crying. Polite Canadians tipped their baseball caps and wished us ‘Good morning.’ They spoke of the weather and fishing and the summer barbecue.

I, who still listened for a boom and imagined I heard one, was gripped by my Red Alert phone app that rang day and night, screaming of rockets falling in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Eshkol and Nitzan. Israel was being bombarded despite a ceasefire and Lake Muskoka simply grinned back at me with a yawn. A woman in a kayak paddled by and gently lifted her oar in a greeting.

I had crossed into another reality. I soon adjusted and Israel started to feel so, so far away – even though I had left two children behind who are soldiers in the IDF.

Just before Labour Day, when Canadian kids were getting ready for ‘back to school,’ the newscaster announced a new school safety campaign run by the police. I, who knew the schools in Israel did not want to start on time because of the ‘matzav,’ (situation) wondered what the dangers were? Perhaps the police were nervous about unsafe pedestrian crossings? Or just maybe kids did not signal properly on their bicycles.

Meanwhile, back home, the school principals were complaining that the school year could not start because many schools did not have adequate space in their bomb shelters. And many schools did not even have bomb shelters at all. I remember my daughter coming home from school a few years ago and telling me of a mock emergency. The kids heard a siren and were directed into the playground where they curled up on the pavement with their hands over their heads. Outdoors. Completely exposed.

Two worlds in one small brain.
It is hard to contain two worlds in one small brain. And it is challenging to accept that rockets should be the acceptable norm here. Israelis may be laissez faire about this, but no human being should have to live like this.

The school year started on time and kids flocked back to the classrooms. Rosh Hashana is now coming. Trying to get back to a peaceful reality, I looked up some recipes and earnestly started to think about apples and honey and sweetness for the new year. But I felt unsteady, like a kid who just learned how to ride a bike. Could I trust this calm? As I was chopping my apples yesterday, the read alert rang loudly on my phone. My pulse raced and I ran to see. Could it be true? Rockets in Ashkelon and another ceasefire broken.

Did the world hear about this? Was it on the BBC or CBC? Who cares that this ceasefire has been breached?  Who has heard that children and frail grandmothers and panicked parents are running to shelters to save their lives at this moment?

No one. We are alone in this insanity. And yes, I now know, as I sprinkle cinnamon on apples, that reality will never be the same. We must just relish small moments of beauty. We must be good and treat people well. We must think positively and speak well of others.

Although we may not have peace outside,  we should strive for inner peace. The sirens may rage, but inside, we must be calm and strong.

I wish everyone a Shana Tova, a year of positive thoughts, of strength and understanding.