When was the last time you hugged your supermarket cashier? If you don’t understand why I might raise the subject, it’s a sign that you haven’t spent the last month in Israel. I first clasped the checkout lady three weeks ago when she was so obviously distracted that I asked if everything was OK and discovered that, no, it wasn’t: Her grandson was on very active IDF service in Gaza – “It’s worse than having a son there,” she half-said, half-sobbed.
This week I gave her another hug when her smiling face told me what I needed to know even before she spoke: Her grandson and his comrades were back out. We parted with a prayer that the cease-fire would hold. It seems strange that just a few weeks ago we had been complaining about the weather and the cost of living rather than discussing a war and lifeand- death situations.
No prayer or good deed is wasted, said the amazing Rachel Fraenkel at the beginning of July as her son Naftali was buried alongside Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer. She was speaking almost three weeks after their abduction by a terror cell now determined to be linked to Hamas in Gaza. The kidnapping of the three teens united the country at the start of what was to prove an emotional roller-coaster of a summer. (The apparent revenge attack in which Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir was murdered was one of the summer’s horrors and the subsequent rioting in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere, along with the war in Gaza, have set coexistence back by years.) A friend reminded me of Fraenkel’s declaration of faith as we discussed the miracle of the Iron Dome, for miraculous it seemed to be.
There was something in the air here this summer, something other than Hamas rockets and Iron Dome counter-rockets; something metaphysical that is hard to explain but was felt to some extent or another by every person who tried to carry on their normal lives in extraordinarily abnormal circumstances.
It’s been a summer full of love in the face of hatred.
The principal recipients of the outpouring of affection were the soldiers fighting in the field.
I have seen many wars and operations in Israel but never one like this. Many people turned to the social media as a means of expressing solidarity and togetherness.
Through Facebook and other platforms groups formed to supply much more than the standard care packages for soldiers (although they were inundated with those, too).
Seventy hairstylists descended on the South to give Operation Protective Edge a cutting edge, or at least a morale-booster.
So many civilians loaded with food and gifts traveled to the IDF staging area that it had to be declared a closed military zone.
(Poignantly, the first of the operation’s three civilian casualties was 38-year-old father of three Dror Hanin, killed in a mortar attack as he visited the troops.) Even the IDF’s Oketz Canine Unit had to issue a plea to stop sending dog treats to its highly trained four-legged members, whose diets are strictly controlled. Apparently the love we showed our Zionist dogs was not healthy for them.
Early on I was reminded of the so-called “Underwear Song” from the Yom Kippur War.
In it the guys on the front request a respite from the barrage of home-baked produce and ask for undershirts and pants instead. (My contribution to The Jerusalem Post’s gift boxes was deodorants.) One of the most unusual goodwill efforts was the initiative of interior designers who grouped up with handymen and housewares suppliers to do a complete makeover of the bedrooms of wounded soldiers so that they’d have somewhere especially pleasant to return to on their release from hospital.
And where else would the radio broadcast announcements to refrain from visiting the wounded because so many perfect strangers were coming that the patients couldn’t get enough rest? The love continued in the most excruciating of circumstances as thousands – 20,000 to 30,000, according to some estimates – came to pay their final respects to fallen soldiers. The deaths of Sean Carmeli, Max Steinberg and Jordan Ben-Simon put the spotlight on the particular sacrifices of lone soldiers, members of the IDF whose parents are abroad.
In part it was an expression of admiration for these brave men and women who have left behind the pleasures of other countries to serve one where dying of boredom is not an option; partly it was because in this family-oriented society, the thought of soldiers going through military service without the comfort offered by the presence of immediate families struck a chord.
Having an announcement at the start of a funeral that in the event of a missile attack the assembly of mourners was to lie down and cover their heads brought home even more, if any reminder was necessary, what it was these soldiers had been fighting for.
This was personal. Every soldier was worried about someone under missile attack; nearly everyone on the home front knew a soldier.
That some soldiers got a day’s R&R at home and some parents drove down to the border to give their soldiers a huge hug in person underscores the small distances involved.
THIS WAS the summer when Hamas did not so much cross a redline as tunnel under it, and we discovered a new threat.
Most of my first year in Israel was spent working with young children on Kibbutz Sa’ad, close to the border with Gaza. Suffering from culture clash and trouble fitting in with an Israeli pre-army Nahal group, I occasionally fantasized about digging my way out. In my wildest nightmares I could not have imagined terror tunnels being dug from Gaza toward the kindergarten of the quiet kibbutz.
Kids all around the country this summer learned to sing the “shelter song,” its words and movements carefully created to help them deal with their fears during a rocket alert. I have no idea how parents and child-carers are meant to explain the tunnel threat – which like the fear of rocket attacks has not gone away despite the apparent cease-fire.
People all over the country used humor to cope with the situation. Friends placed bets on how long the cease-fires would last. Some enterprising companies began marketing T-shirts and nightwear for the fashion-conscious, with slogans and a look suitable for unplanned encounters with neighbors in the stairwell or communal shelters. But nobody who has been through a rocket alert ever completely gets over the fight-or-flight instinct triggered by a siren.
Media criticism abroad focused on the seeming disproportionate damage caused to Gaza compared to Israel where, thanks largely to the Iron Dome and the extensive system of shelters, life went on and where, between sirens, people still went to the beach and sat in coffee shops.
More than once I found myself explaining to the foreign press that Israelis needn’t apologize for the fact that not enough of us died when more than 3,000 rockets were launched at us this month – every one of them a war crime.
That we carried on is to our credit, not our shame. If the country had come to a halt with every rocket attack, act of terror or war over the last 66 years, we would not have been able to build anything. Just imagine what could have been created had the Palestinians also decided to invest in building a sound economy and healthy society instead of constructing terror tunnels and stockpiling rockets in schools and hospitals.
Finally, this was the summer when Jews around the world worried about each other – those in the Diaspora losing sleep over the fates of those of us in Israel and Israelis wondering how our brethren abroad could live with the growing specter of anti-Semitism everywhere from Europe to Australia.
If you need a break, come visit; for permanent relief, come live here: It’s true we face some often frightening challenges, but we face them together – you can gain a lot of strength from hugging the supermarket cashier and not caring what your neighbors say.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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