I apologize in advance for what I’m about to do. I’m going to put the Disney
ditty “It’s a small world” into your head. And that’s even though we’ve probably
never met and you might be sitting thousands of kilometers away from where I’m
writing this on a sunny day in Jerusalem. For good measure, in case you need an
alternative, I can also auto-suggest Rabbi Nahman of Breslov’s “Kol ha’olam
kulo,” with its simple message that “the whole world is a very narrow bridge and
the main thing is to have no fear at all.”
The two thoughts popped into
my mind last week and have refused to leave, partly because the first has a tune
with a candyfloss property that makes it sticky with sugary-sweet sentiment and
the second has a lasting message offering a built-in coping device.
is something surreal about sitting in the Israeli capital and being so absorbed
by a natural disaster taking place the other side of the world. But global
village it is. Like millions elsewhere – safe, warm and dry, with functioning
electricity, water in the faucets, and food in the fridge – I spent a lot of
time last week anxiously thinking about friends and family scattered in a huge
geographical area ranging from North Carolina to Toronto.
It is not often
that we, as Israelis, focus all our concerns on the fate of friends so far away.
As I have written in previous columns, I’m used to monitoring the events in
southern Israel; it is rare that I feel fear when I can’t contact friends in the
States. The last time was probably 9/11 – an event so etched in the world’s
collective memory it doesn’t require a year to identify it.
Israeli news broadcast to open with the weather, it has to be bad; for it to
open with the weather thousands of miles away it has to be something of the epic
proportions of Hurricane Sandy. Even the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and
nuclear disaster of March 2011 took second place in Israel to the news of the
massacre of the Fogel family, slaughtered by Palestinian terrorists in what
should have been the safety of their home.
Ahead of the London Olympics
this summer I wrote that sporting events are a reminder that there will never be
world peace – there is something so tribal about the competition between
Although I still doubt that world peace – or even
regional peace – is likely any time in the foreseeable (or imaginable) future,
the last time so many people around the globe were glued to broadcasts of the
same images and stories was probably the Olympic Games – and it was, I admit, a
much more positive event.
On Monday night, October 29, in my particular
corner of the world, it was so warm that I left the windows open. I live in a
small neighborhood, with a small neighborhood mentality. At some point in the
evening, I heard an unmistakable roar. It was coming from the apartment building
opposite mine and so clearly meant that Beitar Jerusalem Football Club had
finally won a game that I didn’t need to zap TV stations to check.
only added to the strange topsy-turvy feeling: Beitar, for better or for worse,
is definitely the “local” club. How extraordinary to be following its fortunes
(marred by the behavior of some of the fans and the Ronaldo-like gestures of a
player from the rival club) at the same time as worrying about Sandy’s trail of
Those friends in New York who still had a source of power
updated their Facebook statuses with stoic comments about coping, armed with a
sense of humor and a feeling of camaraderie.
Many mentioned that
supermarket shelves had been wiped clean of beer and mineral water. The Israelis
had been trying to stock up on Bamba.
Just thinking about the
peanut-flavored snack gives many American parents an allergic reaction, but few
blue-and-white families can conceive of battling war or natural disaster without
it: It’s like expecting Londoners to get through the Blitz without “a nice
I was struck, not for the first time, by how people pull together
in a disaster. If only we could maintain that level of empathy and community
during fair weather (literal or otherwise). Earthquakes in New Zealand, terror
attacks in Europe, storms in North America – all are made easier if you face
them together, helping each other.
The difference, of course, is that the
natural disasters are not man-made – unlike terror and war.
you rather be: In New York in Hurricane Sandy or Beersheba with the Grad
attacks?” asked one journalist friend. The answer, overwhelmingly among Hebrew
speakers, was in the Israeli South – perhaps because there is, after all, no
place like home.
The giant pall cast by Hurricane Sandy overshadowed much
of the last-minute American electioneering. In Israel, political developments
from the Likud party vote on the merger with Yisrael Beytenu to the change in
the way the Labor party list is determined were all described by terms like
“stormy” and “cold front” and “against the wind.”
The noise of the storm
even drowned out the sound of the ongoing rockets in the South. It should not be
considered normal, however, for my friends in Sderot to invite me to visit with
the words “There are hardly any missiles at the moment” as if delivering a
weather report of “only occasional showers expected.”
The missiles didn’t
stop because Sandy was diverting attention elsewhere.
The cabinet on
October 28 approved a three-year, NIS 270 million plan for the building of 1,700
bomb shelters in towns and cities located three to seven kilometers from the
border with Gaza. A Jerusalem Post editorial on October 30 suggested it “should
also consider holding one of its upcoming weekly meetings in the
South... “Above all, we must avoid a situation in which large segments of
society go about their business as though all is well. We must not be
disconnected from what is happening in the South.”
The sense of
solidarity Israelis feel with people we have never met in the disaster-hit US
and Caribbean should be reflected in the level of empathy for the residents of
communities suffering from an ongoing onslaught of missiles, mortars and
rockets. (Four Grad missiles falling on Beersheba, the capital of the Negev, on
October 29 should be news – and not just local news.) It is only natural that
whoever wins the US presidential elections this week is going to first focus on
the domestic front, which is also going to require huge amounts of
The Middle East is going to be placed on the back burner – only
remembered if it heats up to a level a smoke detector can’t miss it. But while
we watched the superstorm crashing into the coast overseas, to our North, Bashar
Assad continued to slaughter his own people. As New York closed its nuclear
energy plants as a sensible precaution, Tehran continued to work on its atomic
We’d love to be able to discuss sports as if nothing
else is going on in the world, but, sadly, we ignore the winds of war (like any
other storm) at our peril.
The world is small, the bridge is narrow, and
it’s often shaky; the best way to have no fear is to know that we’re all in this
together – lending a neighborly helping hand whenever we can.The writer
is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post. Liat@jpost.com