Last week, summer arrived in the Holy Land.
Unlike most places in the world, Israelis welcome summer somewhat reluctantly. Most of the recent wars waged against Israel have occurred in the summer, which has left many people associating warm weather with memories of sweating in a bomb shelter.
Yet, there is a divine resilience that the people of Israel possess, which enables us to move on with life.
So as the sun peaked out from behind the winter clouds, we left our fears in the secured rooms and headed for the beach.
When the summer flowers bloom and fill the air with a sweet perfume, the people of Israel go out to smell the roses. Two weeks ago the warm weather moved in, and you could practically feel the celebration and happiness in the air.
Children joyfully licked chocolate-banana popsicles, and laughed with excitement as it melted over their fingers.
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Teenagers hit the beach with their iPods, and had picnics to celebrate the end of the school year.
Elderly people took the long-awaited journey outside to get some fresh air and defrost from the chilly winter.
And just as we all started to finally relax and feel confident in the carefree summer joy, the code red siren sounded and the rockets struck. When this happened, all Israelis – whether in southern Israel or Tel Aviv – were violently brought back into the fragile and sometimes terrifying reality we live with every day.
The sobering reality is that we can go to the beach, roam the malls, fly kites, and have summer picnics like the rest of the Western world. But we’re not like the rest of the Western world. Here in Israel we live from war to war. We have terrorists on every one of our borders. Our summers – just like the winters and springs – are unpredictable at best.
Yet, it’s specifically at times like this that the resilience, faith, hope, and beauty of my people shine the brightest. After millennia of suffering and hardship, the Jewish people has learned how to make lemonade out of lemons, and use hardship to build our hope and strength.
In the past 10 years of living in Israel, I have learned that everyone here lives a life of paradox – a balance of many emotions and realities. My experience last Thursday night at Comedy for Koby summed this up perfectly.
I was speechless, and yet so deeply inspired, as I watched Seth and Sheri Mandell stand on a stage – mourning parents in deep pain over the brutal killing of their beloved son Koby – and telling jokes rather than talking about politics or Israel’s many enemies. Their 13-year-old child was stoned to death by terrorists. But this holy family consciously chose to honor his memory through spreading positivity and laughter.
And the people of Sderot are just like Seth and Sheri, who refused to let the darkness win – refused to be defeated, but chose to produce light and hope from a devastating and incomprehensible situation.
When I visited Sderot last week I saw basketball courts under huge bomb shelter structures, rocket remnants transformed into the shape of flowers as a poetic prayer for peace, and playgrounds with bombproof tunnels decorated as colorful caterpillars.
Just one week after a rocket attack struck southern Israel, vibrant life filled the streets of Sderot. I saw exuberant children play ball in the street, with mobile shelters every couple hundreds of feet lingering in the backdrop – as if that were normal. Like all of the cities in Israel, Sderot has built the infrastructure needed to go on with life in midst of the threats. They have learned to live in the paradox of being both slave and free; slaves to the ongoing terrorism, and free in their decisions to continue on with life.
But it’s not just mourning parents or heroic residents of Sderot who are living with this paradox. It’s every single one of Israel’s residents.
Last week on National Emergency Preparedness Day, code red sirens wailed in every single city throughout Israel. Although they were just tests, the sirens were a sobering reminder of Israel’s fragile existence. As I listened to the sirens blare, for a moment I could hear them calling out each name of Israel’s many enemies: “ISIS, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, Iran,” the siren seemed to be screaming.
Although the siren was thought-provoking and eerie, the way that the people handled it was inspiring.
“Let’s shake to the shelter,” my daughter’s teacher sang, as 35 children rushed to safety. “Let’s all hold hands and sing,” my son’s kindergarten teacher suggested, as they sat in the shelter and waited for the siren to end. “Let’s play in the safe room,” said my 3-year-old’s day care teacher when the siren screamed.
From these teachers, my children learned real “Israeli dancing” – dealing with your feelings of hope, comfort, fear, and awareness, and finding a balance between them all. “Did a rocket really fall this morning?” my six-year-old son asked me that evening.
“No,” I answered him. “But will they?” he asked. And I just sat speechless.
If there was one word I would use to sum up life in Israel, it would be “change.” Like an unexpected punchline to a good joke, after 10 years of living in Israel, I still get taken by the surprises which life unfolds. A wise man once stated that the only thing constant in life is change, which exactly describes life in Israel.
Sometimes it can be difficult, but I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. To be surrounded by a nation and individuals with such resilience, positivity, unity, and determination, has taught me what it means to live a deep and meaningful life. And for that, I am abundantly grateful.
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