Every Jewish schoolchild in the US grows up knowing how small Israel is. I must have known about the tiny-ness of Israel long before I became acquainted with its extended kidney-bean shape, though I think the overlapping of triangles to make a Star of David was taught at the same time as the diminutive size of Israel.
Ask the American children who have passed through the Jewish day school system about the size of modern Israel, and their answer will be either Delaware or New Jersey. Truth is, including the contentious spots, Israel is closest in size to Vermont, the 45th smallest state in the Union.
The size of Israel means that while you are sitting at home on a Shabbat morning, reading quietly, it's never too surprising to hear military exercises going on overhead. It's part of life. In a small nation, it is never surprising to see military trucks transporting military things around the country, and it is also not a surprise when your neighbor's son dressed in uniform kisses her good-bye on the way to his army base. I wonder if the people of Vermont know each other as well as we do.
It was hardly surprising, therefore, that as I methodically set the table on Shabbat morning, wondering if I should use the good china and if we needed a kids' table, I heardâ€¦ well, I wasn't sure what I heard. After 11 years in this country, I can recognize a sonic boom, and that wasn't it. We have had a minor earthquake, and that wasn't it, either. I stepped out into the garden and the sound continued for a good minute, and yet in my Israel arsenal of sounds, this one didn't register. There was a boom, a crack, I would say an avalanche, but the scene before me was completely quiet, unmoving. I went on with my life. Yes to the good china and yes to the kids' table.
Hours later, once we turned on the TV, the sound was explained. Israeli forces had bombed Gaza, and though we are 48 kilometers northeast of the Gaza Strip, I heard it, and automatically my thoughts were with my brother and his family. They live about 15 kilometers east of the conflict zone, and what must they have heard? In a small desert with no trees to absorb the sound, they must have been terrified.
Don't ask me about politics, or right or wrong. I love where I live, I love that my petite country can pack a punch. I love knowing my neighbors, I love the fact that living here means we are helping out a cause. Oh, but I do hate loud noises.
My mom would counter this situation with her usual coping mechanism - "Tell me something happy." So I will, for my mom and for those of you on the outside, tell you something happy. I could spend yards of newsprint telling you how a country the size of Vermont is as diversified as the entire United States put together. I could tell you how even though we live on high alert, the Israelis know how to deal with the stress and get on with life. It's a combination of Jewish resilience and Israeli obstinacy that makes a petite people come out fighting.
As our thoughts and prayers go out to the people in the South, as we read the newspapers, listen to the news every hour on the hour or park ourselves in front of the TV, take a break and do as my mother recommends: Tell me something happy. So here is another happy thought. Forecasted weather for Vermont today is 1Âº Fahrenheit, and the chance of snow is 80 percent; and in parts of the state, the garbage hasn't been collected in three weeks. Now who is happy?
The cook in me can't resist telling you one more happy thing: Blueberries. Yes, I know, having blueberries in Israel seems as achievable as quiet in Israel, but let me tell you, anything is possible. Sure, you need to pay the equivalent of five kilos of oranges for a tiny punnet of blueberries and you can only get them for about two weeks at the beginning of summer, but they are the real thing. And though it is winter, frozen blueberries are getting easier to find thanks to the demand by American olim. Another thing to add to the arsenal of happy ammunition is a recipe for blueberry muffins.