My mother often notes that people remember a certain year by their personal celebrations and life-cycle events rather than the greater global picture. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, all but passed her by, a backdrop to the birth of my brother. The crisis came to a surprisingly swift end last week – the official diplomatic disconnect between Washington and Havana disappearing in something like the waft of smoke and aroma of a Cuban cigar. The deal in which Alan Gross was released provided the American Jew with his own personal Hanukka miracle. Would that all diplomatic crises could be solved with such ease.
On a personal level, 2014 was the year my son, an only child, celebrated his bar mitzva – a momentous milestone. Since he came of age in September, a few days before the Jewish New Year, the joy was increased by the fact that the 50-day war with Gaza that no one in Israel had foreseen or wanted had just come to an end.
I regularly point out that this is a generation that takes more photos than any previous generation, and yet has so little to show for it. If you don’t print the pictures and put them in an album it’s as if they didn’t exist, in my opinion. Over the last week, I have noticed Facebook has a similar philosophy. Most of the 100 million or so users must have by now come across Facebook’s attempts to sum up our year for us.
Facebook took the photos we posted and compiled the most-liked into a cyber album.
My life does not neatly suit algorithms. It requires more emotional intelligence and imagination than Facebook’s powerful computer systems possess.
Despite my own admonitions, my strongest positive memory of 2014 was not captured on camera. It was when I looked down on my son reading the Torah, surrounded by family, friends and members of the community in the most crowded Shabbat service our tiny synagogue has ever held.
An Orthodox community, I have no picture of it other than the one in my mind. It’s more than a picture; it’s a feeling.
Facebook, in its mindless manner, cannot portray our emotions. And in its 2014 way, it wanted to put a happy face on everything. (Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” was definitely song of the year along with “Let It Go,” from the movie Frozen.) Where was the agonizing over the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach? It seems strange that at the beginning of 2014 we did not yet know the name of Racheli Fraenkel, Naftali’s mother, yet in her darkest hour, she provided inspiration – and hope – to us all. The response of the Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrach families to the abduction and killing of their sons helped bring us together and give us the strength to go on with our own lives despite the disruption of war. Racheli Fraenkel was the face of good, when we faced such evil. (And her family without hesitation condemned outright the awful so-called revenge murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir.) THIS SUMMER something much greater than the social media brought us together in Israel: the feeling of a common fate.
Facebook and WhatsApp were handy tools for those who used them carefully – a means of keeping in touch in the most tense of times. It was surreal to receive Color Red missile alerts via Smartphones and iPads (almost as extraordinary as watching television shows while alerts on the screen flashed names of communities under attack).
Yet the social media were also the bane of all those who wanted to know what was really going on: The rumor mill spins at a dizzying pace in cyberspace. Stories that the teens had been dramatically rescued were the first hint many of us had that they were missing.
Altogether, there was a media and psychological battle going on. My year, particularly this summer, included many radio interviews in which I tried to explain that just because the Israeli casualty rate wasn’t as high as the Gazans’ that didn’t mean we weren’t suffering. The Iron Dome proved to be a game-changer, providing a measure of security to those areas not immediately adjacent to Gaza, but anything that sounds like a siren still makes us jump. Moving on and enjoying life is our way of coping.
As cease-fire after cease-fire was broken by Hamas (some of them so brief I didn’t have time to post about them on Facebook), the old truism came to mind: If the Palestinians were to put down their weapons, there would be peace; if Israel were to lay down its arms, we’d be dead.
And where was the UN in all this? I dread to think: I am still waiting to hear a convincing explanation for the presence of missiles and arms in UNRWA facilities in Gaza. I have a nasty suspicion that terror tunnels like those found in the South are being dug from Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon in the North, under the noses of UN peacekeepers. And the UN should be grateful that Israel helped rescue its military observers in Syria, instead of repeatedly demanding Israel hand the Golan Heights over to..., well, to whom? Bashar Assad or the jihadists? It’s not clear.
In the more-than-small-mercies department, although Iran continues to nuclearize while the West smiles back at Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive, at least so far there is no sign that Islamic State and its evil siblings have managed to gain hold of the nonconventional weapons on the loose.
Twelve months ago, the world didn’t even know of ISIS, ISIL, IS, or whatever you call it. Islamic State would exist without the social media but in a different form. Victims are dead even if their decapitation is not seen and heard on YouTube. Would so many Western recruits race to join the Islamist cause without the stepping stone offered by Internet platforms? It’s doubtful. But one thing we now know for sure: We can no longer pretend that atrocities occur because world leaders and opinion makers aren’t aware of them.
The “lone wolf” attacks by terrorists armed with vehicles and perverted ideologies have been predictably copied elsewhere. The slaughter of men at prayer at a Jerusalem synagogue briefly shocked the world; strangely, though, people seem almost immune to the mass murder of Christians in Muslim lands.
My year, like that of most Jerusalemites, includes the memory of the papal visit in May – a happy event, reinforcing interfaith ties (but tying up the traffic in hours-long gridlock).
At a time when global jihad is gaining strength, it is comforting to see Jewish and Christian communities – of all stripes – coming together to fight evil. The voice of the moderate Muslims who bravely speak out should also be praised and bolstered.
This was the year in which Israelis and world Jewry worried about each other as Israel suffered from missile fire and another intifada, while Diaspora Jews could no longer ignore the ugly rise in anti-Semitic acts and attacks. Some openly wondered whether they had a future in Europe at all. French Jews immigrated to Israel by the unprecedented thousands; Jews from Ukraine were airlifted from the chaos. Australians had the chilling awakening that not every day is a “G’day.”
But many immigrants arrived here not because of the threats they face elsewhere, but because this is home.
The outpouring of love for Israel’s “lone soldiers” during Operation Protective Edge was extraordinary. The country smothered all its soldiers with love, but the respect for the soldiers who’d left their families to serve here was something special.
In 2014, Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin stepped into the enormous presidential shoes vacated by Shimon Peres and is proving to be the right man at the right time for the job, focusing from the start on trying to heal the rifts at home in Israeli society rather than playing the elder statesman abroad.
The call for early elections was a surprise; the personal nature of the campaigns is not. The results? Like so much, we will have to wait and see what 2015 brings.
May it be a year of celebrations and joy, whether shared on Facebook or in private.The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.