My Word: Frighteningly small world

Earthquakes in New Zealand, terror attacks in Europe, storms in North America – all are made easier if you face them together, helping each other.

Homes destroyed by Sandy on New Jersey shore 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
Homes destroyed by Sandy on New Jersey shore 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
I apologize in advance for what I’m about to do. I’m going to put the Disney ditty “It’s a small world” into your head. And that’s even though we’ve probably never met and you might be sitting thousands of kilometers away from where I’m writing this on a sunny day in Jerusalem. For good measure, in case you need an alternative, I can also auto-suggest Rabbi Nahman of Breslov’s “Kol ha’olam kulo,” with its simple message that “the whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is to have no fear at all.”
The two thoughts popped into my mind last week and have refused to leave, partly because the first has a tune with a candyfloss property that makes it sticky with sugary-sweet sentiment and the second has a lasting message offering a built-in coping device.
There is something surreal about sitting in the Israeli capital and being so absorbed by a natural disaster taking place the other side of the world. But global village it is. Like millions elsewhere – safe, warm and dry, with functioning electricity, water in the faucets, and food in the fridge – I spent a lot of time last week anxiously thinking about friends and family scattered in a huge geographical area ranging from North Carolina to Toronto.
It is not often that we, as Israelis, focus all our concerns on the fate of friends so far away. As I have written in previous columns, I’m used to monitoring the events in southern Israel; it is rare that I feel fear when I can’t contact friends in the States. The last time was probably 9/11 – an event so etched in the world’s collective memory it doesn’t require a year to identify it.
For an Israeli news broadcast to open with the weather, it has to be bad; for it to open with the weather thousands of miles away it has to be something of the epic proportions of Hurricane Sandy. Even the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 2011 took second place in Israel to the news of the massacre of the Fogel family, slaughtered by Palestinian terrorists in what should have been the safety of their home.
Ahead of the London Olympics this summer I wrote that sporting events are a reminder that there will never be world peace – there is something so tribal about the competition between different nations.
Although I still doubt that world peace – or even regional peace – is likely any time in the foreseeable (or imaginable) future, the last time so many people around the globe were glued to broadcasts of the same images and stories was probably the Olympic Games – and it was, I admit, a much more positive event.
On Monday night, October 29, in my particular corner of the world, it was so warm that I left the windows open. I live in a small neighborhood, with a small neighborhood mentality. At some point in the evening, I heard an unmistakable roar. It was coming from the apartment building opposite mine and so clearly meant that Beitar Jerusalem Football Club had finally won a game that I didn’t need to zap TV stations to check.
It only added to the strange topsy-turvy feeling: Beitar, for better or for worse, is definitely the “local” club. How extraordinary to be following its fortunes (marred by the behavior of some of the fans and the Ronaldo-like gestures of a player from the rival club) at the same time as worrying about Sandy’s trail of destruction.
Those friends in New York who still had a source of power updated their Facebook statuses with stoic comments about coping, armed with a sense of humor and a feeling of camaraderie.
Many mentioned that supermarket shelves had been wiped clean of beer and mineral water. The Israelis had been trying to stock up on Bamba.
Just thinking about the peanut-flavored snack gives many American parents an allergic reaction, but few blue-and-white families can conceive of battling war or natural disaster without it: It’s like expecting Londoners to get through the Blitz without “a nice cuppa.”
I was struck, not for the first time, by how people pull together in a disaster. If only we could maintain that level of empathy and community during fair weather (literal or otherwise). Earthquakes in New Zealand, terror attacks in Europe, storms in North America – all are made easier if you face them together, helping each other.
The difference, of course, is that the natural disasters are not man-made – unlike terror and war.
“Where would you rather be: In New York in Hurricane Sandy or Beersheba with the Grad attacks?” asked one journalist friend. The answer, overwhelmingly among Hebrew speakers, was in the Israeli South – perhaps because there is, after all, no place like home.
The giant pall cast by Hurricane Sandy overshadowed much of the last-minute American electioneering. In Israel, political developments from the Likud party vote on the merger with Yisrael Beytenu to the change in the way the Labor party list is determined were all described by terms like “stormy” and “cold front” and “against the wind.”
The noise of the storm even drowned out the sound of the ongoing rockets in the South. It should not be considered normal, however, for my friends in Sderot to invite me to visit with the words “There are hardly any missiles at the moment” as if delivering a weather report of “only occasional showers expected.”
The missiles didn’t stop because Sandy was diverting attention elsewhere.
The cabinet on October 28 approved a three-year, NIS 270 million plan for the building of 1,700 bomb shelters in towns and cities located three to seven kilometers from the border with Gaza. A Jerusalem Post editorial on October 30 suggested it “should also consider holding one of its upcoming weekly meetings in the South... “Above all, we must avoid a situation in which large segments of society go about their business as though all is well. We must not be disconnected from what is happening in the South.”
The sense of solidarity Israelis feel with people we have never met in the disaster-hit US and Caribbean should be reflected in the level of empathy for the residents of communities suffering from an ongoing onslaught of missiles, mortars and rockets. (Four Grad missiles falling on Beersheba, the capital of the Negev, on October 29 should be news – and not just local news.) It is only natural that whoever wins the US presidential elections this week is going to first focus on the domestic front, which is also going to require huge amounts of funds.
The Middle East is going to be placed on the back burner – only remembered if it heats up to a level a smoke detector can’t miss it. But while we watched the superstorm crashing into the coast overseas, to our North, Bashar Assad continued to slaughter his own people. As New York closed its nuclear energy plants as a sensible precaution, Tehran continued to work on its atomic weapons program.
We’d love to be able to discuss sports as if nothing else is going on in the world, but, sadly, we ignore the winds of war (like any other storm) at our peril.
The world is small, the bridge is narrow, and it’s often shaky; the best way to have no fear is to know that we’re all in this together – lending a neighborly helping hand whenever we can.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]