Alice in Israeland

"It would be nice if something made sense for a change," Alice said. Somehow, in this upside down, modern world, people love the underdog, even if the perceived underdogs are murderous terrorists. Perhaps the Mad Hatter can explain.

I was supposed to go grape picking this morning. A couple from my Ulpan invited me to go with them. They frequently visit during the summer months to help farmers harvest their crops. The grapes at the vineyard in Psagot were ready, and so was I.

Then, I logged onto The Jerusalem Post newspaper''s website. The day''s lead headline blazed: "Four killed as terrorists open fire near Kiryat Arba." Less than an hour from Jerusalem, on the same road I''d be traveling in the morning, two men and two women were killed - one of them pregnant. Z"L. The terrorists first laid fire from afar, then approached the car and shot the travelers at point-blank range.The attack was a response to the peace-talks between Netanyahu, Abbas and Obama in Washington.

The Israeli Defense Force expected more attacks in the coming days and put the country on high alert. Clearly, I shouldn''t go. The vineyard lies off Route 60, the same highway where the Israelis were murdered.

Psagot is a small, religious community in Samaria, outside Ramallah. Ramallah is one of those towns so dangerous people shudder at the mere mention - like they do Hevron, outside of which is Kiryat Arba. Why tempt fate? The country was on high alert. Go next week. I would support the families living there another time, I told myself. "You don''t have to prove anything," my mom added. But I hated stopping my life due to fear.

I rarely write about these heavier topics. There is so much good to talk about! Israel is so full of life, beauty, resilience, wisdom and perseverance that the world, for whatever reason, ignores. They would rather stonewall our home and her people as perpetrators, oppressors and bullies - an upside down appraisal that makes me feel I am Alice through the Looking Glass - where what should be up is down, and what should be down is up.

So, until now I didn''t write about the shop in the Old City''s Arab shuk where hateful t-shirts lined the walls. My friend took me to the store because she''d previously found beautiful and cheap Shabbat skirts there. But upon entering, I was assaulted by horrifying messages. One t-shirt depicted a masked man holding a machine gun in front of the Palestinian flag, underlined by the black, capital letters "Free Palestine." Another t-shirt showed a choking head, eyes popping out and tape over the mouth that said "Free Palestine." Wristbands bearing the flags of America and Israel donned the strangling hands. Another shirt showed the Palestinian flag covering a map of the state of Israel while the Israeli flag sunk in the ocean.

I left immediately, unable to spend a shekel or even another moment in that place that espoused and profited from hatred and destruction. Based on my friend''s facial expression, she disapproved of my response.

My friend, though a fellow Jew, has been raised on a strict diet of liberal media. It was her first trip to Israel. Two weeks since landing, she hadn''t yet been to the Holocaust museum but she had been to Hevron and Bethlehem to witness the Palestinian ''plight.'' I asked her if she planned to visit Sderot and the surrounding towns. No surprise. She hadn''t. I emphatically requested that she do her "due diligence" on both sides of the complicated issue, before thoughtlessly accepting the stories of our neighboring propaganda artists. Though, deep down, I had little confidence in her ability to be open minded.

Heading back through the Arab shuk, I noticed the vendors'' friendly faces all too eager to accept my American dollars to finance G-d knows what. I decided: I''ll spend an extra 30 shekels, thank you very much, support the family and know my thrifty purchase of a skirt or menorah didn''t finance a fellow Jew''s death.

I also never wrote about the time my roommate sat in our living room crying, recounting the incidents in Bat Ayin - a hippie community where her brother lives. A toddler had been taken and killed by Arabs, chopped to pieces with an ax. Another man had gone into the forest for hitbodedut (speaking to G-d in your own words) and never came back. They were murdered, stam (Just like that). I didn''t know what to say, as she sat there attempting to somehow reconcile her belief that surely all people deep down want peace with the reality that there are (and I don''t find it an exaggeration to say) evil people mired in hatred who target and murder innocent civilians. Four or five year-old babies, no less.

I left out the time I ran into a group of backpackers on my way out of the Old City at midnight around a party. The backpackers were speaking to a very suspicious-looking character. The shared glances between my friends and I spoke our shared conclusion that this was not a good situation. My friend gestured for the students to come over to us. One did.

"What''s up?" my friend asked.

"We need a place to stay tonight. We''re looking for a hostel, but this guy wants us to go with him. He says he''ll take us to a cheap place. Could be okay, but he''s being really pushy about it," the backpacker said.

"There''s a hostel in the Jewish quarter that''s still open now. It''s really close," my friend said. We began directing the young guy, providing the hostel and street names.

"What are you doing?!" the dubious man suddenly shouted at us, clearly annoyed.

"We''re just talking to the guy. What''s the problem?" I replied, trying to make it sound like no big deal. Then he suddenly and intensely screamed at us, "Jew! Go home!"

The backpackers looked shocked, as did we. I was dumbfounded, but my friend yelled back, "We are home!"

The backpackers headed toward the Jewish Quarter, and we continued on our way, everyone slightly rattled.

Those examples of hatred Israelis cope with perpetually and personally. But there are also the experiences we cope with together, like, in the case of Gilad Shalit. A constant inner battle wages within me and others because we all want him home. There is no mistaking that. In Israel, we are one family. That''s why someone might offer you unsolicited advice while walking down the street, or escort you to your destination if you''re lost; you''re not a stranger. We care and we value each person''s life. L''Chaim (to life), we say at weddings, bar mitzvahs and before taking a sip of our wine or beer. People wear Chai necklaces around their necks. Chai means life. Life, life, life. Our focus is on this life - making this life holy, making this moment, and this moment and this moment count. Life. It is the foundation of our moral code.

So the entire country is acutely aware of Gilad Shalit''s life passing in captivity. He recently "celebrated" his fifth birthday in Hamas imprisonment. But, as we writhe imagining the misery of his daily existence, we are also acutely aware that the price of his freedom runs high. Releasing the 400+ terrorists Hamas demands in exchange for Shalit sets a dangerous precedent that kidnapping works. (And that assumes they actually honor the exchange, at the end of the day.) Not to mention, hello? It sets hundreds of terrorists back on the streets. They return to a hero''s welcome and a high percentage, according to statistics, return to kill again.

From the outside, Israel seems so fragile: the world''s seemingly permanent misunderstanding and the fury of blood-thirsty hatred from her neighbors. Not to mention, the hotbed of loathing from within one need only scratch the surface to discover, as demonstrated by my experience in the shuk, for example.

Yet while here, I feel safe. Is it a false sense of security? I walk around fearlessly. I travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I splash in the Kinneret. I ride buses. I pass sites of previous terror attacks and they don''t cross my mind. Today aside, I don''t make choices out of fear. That''s the Israeli mentality. We don''t let them win; we don''t let them get to us. We live. That''s why you see parties here brimming with utter joy! People dance in the streets on a regular basis. There is an appreciation for life; a call to live.

How the media twists such a people into the ''bad guys'' baffles me. Iran plots against Israel and the Jews first, the West next. Ignoring these declarations and deeds, we''ll one day regret. People and leaders naively trust those who glorify death and believe such people will drop old vendettas over "coffee talks." Such wishful thinking seems the simplistic dream of a disconnected people removed from reality. The talk seems enlightened or evolved, but irresponsibly gambles with our lives, with our hard-won home, not theirs.

I pray people wake up. That they awake from suffocating political correctness. That they are shaken from complacency to act upon dangerous threats - while there''s still time. I pray that they choose life.

In the meanwhile, each time I see a soldier - each of whom allows me to visit here and live here and enjoy a reality wherein there is a Jewish state - I implore Hashem to bless them. May they and all of Israel and her leaders be safe and protected, guided and blessed, healthy and strong, wise and successful. May she win the battle on the ground and the battle of public opinion. May all life-loving people awaken to the truth and support her in all ways, in word and action. This Rosh Hashana, may Israel and all of us be inscribed in the book of life.



Ken yehee ratzon

(Amen. And so it should be).