I finally left the house and took a cab to Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem. Making my way in the cold air, I felt light as a feather. It’s 7 p.m., and I am usually between dinner and homework with the kids at this time. I don’t even answer the phone, but when I need to leave, I leave.
I feel like a teenager, with a bag containing her phone, lip gloss, and gum, excited like a girl on her first date.
I am meeting my husband in Tel Aviv – we’re going to an event, and he will pick me up at the station.
I get on the train, find my spot by the window and fall into it with a smile. This train is fantastic, I think to myself; comfortable, spacious and fast.
It leaves right on time, and I am peeking from the window like a child on her first trip on a train. I put my head against the window and close my eyes. Since I was young, as soon as I get into a car or train, I fall asleep. I feel so relaxed, the noise and slight shaking of the train are so soothing for my brain trying to detach from all intricate thoughts of the day.
Suddenly, I feel someone pushing me. I open my eyes and a large woman has placed herself next to me, her abundance overflowing the seat and clearly invading mine. I push myself to the side as much as I can. The lady speaks German, and her husband sits across from me, and her two children in the other seats across the aisle. They are German tourists, well equipped with maps and bags. I don’t understand what they are saying, but they are clearly discussing their plan once they arrive in Tel Aviv.
I smile at them and put my head back on the window and close my eyes; their voices in the background speaking German loud and clear are slowly fading as I doze into a light sleep.
SUDDENLY, I am woken up by the voice of a man. I open my eyes and see German police officers in full uniform, high shiny boots and heavy double-breasted coats checking the passengers sitting a few seats away from me. My heart starts beating fast. I am shaking and feel cold sweat on my back. I get up and take my little bag with me with all I managed to grab from the house and slowly make my way toward the small restrooms at the end of the train. My reddish blonde hair and height make me look very German, and I hope I blend in with the German passengers on the train.
The train is packed. I walk to the side and make my way through the corridor; I feel my breath getting heavier. I whisper “Shema Yisrael” in my head. I keep turning to see where the police are. They’re getting closer, checking each passenger and asking for their ID. I pick up the pace and ask people to let me through without making too much noise. My heart is going to pop out of my chest.
I am looking ahead... until I feel a hand grabbing my arm. “Entschuldigen sie, meine dame” (Excuse me, madam). I try to get away but cannot move my feet, they feel so heavy, the hand now holding me tight on my arm. I turn my face and stare straight into the eyes of the heavy German lady who had almost tripped and fallen on me in my seat.
I stare at her in fear and take a few seconds to realize I am sitting in my seat on my way to Tel Aviv. The lady, embarrassed, keeps excusing herself in German.
“It’s OK, it’s OK,” I answer her in English, my heart still beating, my hair squashed against my cheek from sleeping on the window.
I smile at her and straighten myself in my seat.
It was just a dream, I smile to myself.
Oh, my God, baruch Hashem [thank God] it was just a dream. I check my bag and my coat. I look around, and I see soldiers sleeping behind me, Israeli soldiers! I see people praying, people chatting.
I am in Israel! I want to scream out loud for the whole train to hear. I keep smiling, almost in tears.
What a dream. I must have slept for maybe 10 minutes, but very deep.
I keep on whispering to myself, “Thank you, Hashem for having me live in these times where we have a country of our own, where I don’t have to hide my Jewish identity, where I can pray on a train, where I don’t have to run away and hide from the Germans.”
As I get off the train and make my way into the warm Tel Aviv air, I keep smiling at everyone, even if they think I am mad. I get out of the station and move toward the main square. I want to dive into the crowd and feel “my people.” I am so thankful.
I see men, women, and children walking around town with big Israeli flags shouting against the government. I hear more people shouting against other people claiming this is their country too and they want their voices to be heard as well. I hear choruses in the air shouting DEMOKRATIA... I see chaos around me.
I feel lost.
I CALL my husband. “Where are you?”
“I’ll be there in five minutes,” he answers.
I sit on a bench and stare at the crowds passing by me. I see Palestinian flags being waved next to Israeli flags. A young boy with a hat and a jacket comes over to me and gently asks if he can give me a set of Shabbat candles. I look at him and smile back, “It’s OK, I light candles at home, but thank you; keep this for someone who needs it.” He smiles back and wishes me a good evening.
Where am I? Who am I? Or maybe, who are we?
Have we lost our identity? Have we forgotten where we come from and the miracles we had to go through to be where we are today? To have our own country?
Our land is only 75 years old, and yet we have already managed to create so many different versions of ourselves. Left, Right, religious, Chabad, Modern Orthodox... each one with such strong identity and ideas that we cannot get along and respect each other anymore? Have we forgotten that in the eyes of the Germans, we were all the same and we were all deserving of death, no matter what we believed in? In the concentration camps, we were all numbers, and we could count only on each other to try to save ourselves, sharing a piece of bread, hiding someone’s sneeze, and giving a hand to stand when we could stand no more.
We were all brothers. No matter where we came from, rich or poor, we were all wearing the same clothes and had no hair. We didn’t look like humans anymore, we were skeletons.
Why this hate now?
I look around me with sad eyes, my smile is gone. What do we need to unite us? A war? A terror attack? Then we all hide behind cars, one protecting the other with no questions about Right or Left. Can we be united only when we face the worst?
What do I tell my kids now, that the biggest enemy of our state is within us?
What do I tell my friends and family in Italy who think I live in the land of milk and honey?
My big dream as a newlywed who came to live in this country, following my new husband, who at the time was serving in the army, a devoted officer, proud of serving the land – what has become of that dream?
No, I refuse to hate my fellow Jew, much as I despise his or her point of view. I refuse to give in and fight without giving him a chance to communicate, to understand, to listen.
We have one country, and in tough times we can count only on each other to survive, and in Hashem who loves us and protects us no matter what.
Give peace a chance, give love a chance.
Stop the hate.
My husband arrives. I get into the car and try to finally enjoy our date alone!
The writer is from Italy, lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four children, and heads HadassahChen Productions. She also hosts a weekly talk show on Arutz7.