Out There: Rocket attacks and the rivers of Babylon

When a war breaks out, there is so much to worry about, so much that preoccupies the mind.

Herb Cartoon (photo credit: Cartoon)
Herb Cartoon
(photo credit: Cartoon)
Many and varied are the benefits of aliya.
There is the privilege of doing what two millennia of Jews only dreamed of doing – living in the Land of Israel. There is the fulfillment of a religious obligation. There is that sense of taking part in something historic. There is the sunny weather, the beautiful scenery, the great food, the cheap tuition for Jewish education, the informality, the energy, the vibrancy, the Hebrew language flourishing, the olives, the living of life by the rhythm of a Jewish calendar, the sense of community.
There is also the freedom from the aggravation of having to read foreign papers, and watch foreign networks, during times of crisis in Israel. Indeed, that is one of the seldom-heralded benefits of living in the Jewish state.
WHEN THE conflagration in Gaza suddenly flared up last week, I found myself in the US. It’s very frustrating being away from Israel during a time of crisis inside Israel. It’s like being in the US on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day – a day that has little real meaning anywhere else in the world – only a lot worse.
Not only is there that feeling of disconnectedness, of helplessness, of nervous concern about family and friends, but there is also the constant exposure to a maddening and simplistic narrative of events.
To listen and read various reports last week in the US on what was happening in the south was to believe that one fine day Israel just woke up and decided to kill Ahmed Jabari. The hundreds of rockets this year and every year for the past decade, including the anti-tank missile fired at a jeep that injured four soldiers on November 10 that precipitated Israel’s response, were given short shrift.
Living the crisis abroad is like living in a parallel universe. In Israel, the IDF’s actions are viewed by most people – as well as by most of the media – as eminently justified. It is understood that there is a need to put an end to the random rocket fire on the country’s citizens.
But abroad, after a brief grace period, it soon becomes just another round in a never ending battle in which there are far more Palestinians killed than Israelis, and which some CNN talking head argues could all simply end if Israel just vacated the settlements.
“In all, 77 Palestinians including 41 civilians have been killed in the five-day onslaught,” The New York Post read on Monday. “Three Israeli civilians have died from Palestinian rocket fire.”
And that is the New York Post, once jokingly referred to by its Israel correspondent, the late Uri Dan, as the most Zionistic paper in the world. But even that paper presented its readers with a scorecard of the dead, as if that really said anything about what is going on, as if the fact that more Palestinians were killed shows who is the aggressor.
Also, the Palestinians were “killed,” while the Israelis “died.”
YEARS AGO, when I first made aliya, I remember being relieved that I would no longer have to read the anti-Israel ranting of a syndicated columnist by the name of Nicolas von Hoffman. It was one of the benefits of aliya. He could rant and rave against Israel, and it really didn’t matter to me anymore because I was in Israel.
I hated reading von Hoffman, yet when I lived in the US I read what he had to write about Israel as a matter of routine. It was almost masochistic. I knew I would become infuriated, but like rubber-necking a traffic accident, I could not avert my eyes from one of his Israel-trashing columns. It was as if I almost had an armchair Zionist duty to feel aggravated.
Then I moved to Israel and – poof – no more von Hoffman. He just ceased to matter anymore in my universe.
My father still goes through this ritual, calling me from his home near San Francisco every so often in a voice genuinely angry and agitated to curse out one columnist or another because of a venomous piece written about Israel.
“Dad,” I’ll say, “It really doesn’t matter. Save yourself the aggravation. Just don’t read him.”
But that’s easy to say from afar, from Israel.
HERE, WHEN a war breaks out, there is so much to worry about, so much that preoccupies the mind – the rockets on relatives, the sons and brothers called up into the reserves – that a talking head on CNN saying that Hamas really just wants to break the naval blockade, and that some way of accommodating them must be found, really doesn’t matter.
In Israel, when a crisis breaks out, you not only feel involved, you are involved, in real time, by the very fact of being here. That is a powerful feeling of peoplehood and connectedness.
But it is different abroad.
For those Jews overseas – and there are legions of them – who are indeed deeply and genuinely concerned about what is happening here, who feel a pit in their own stomachs when they hear about rockets crashing into Rishon Lezion, those reports, those articles and columns, become the war.
Those reports, articles and columns become the source of their fear and frustration, and their anger at them becomes a way of reflexively doing something, of empathizing with us, of feeling a part of what we are going through, of emotionally supporting Israel in a time of conflict.
Numerous are the Jews abroad in times like these who want to help, to do something, to feel involved and connected. But their real ability to do so immediately is limited by their distant location. Instead, glued to their computers and televisions for all news on Israel, they worry, they fret and they curse at the reports on what is going on here that are infuriatingly symmetric, even as they know that the conflict is not.
So here’s my suggestion for Nefesh B’Nefesh’s next aliya campaign: “Come on aliya, because that way when a crisis erupts in Israel, you’ll be in Israel.
Paradoxically, it makes coping with it a lot easier.”