Breaking Bread

You can cast bread on Herzliya's waters, by the time it reaches Gaza's coast it'll be too soggy to eat.

egypt gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
egypt gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Nationality I have grown past hate and bitterness, I see the world as one; But though I can no longer hate, My son is still my son. All men at God's round table sit, And all men must be fed; But this loaf in my hand, This loaf is my son's bread. - Dame Mary Gilmore There are poems you are forced to learn in school. And some you simply choose to remember. I came across this poem by the under-appreciated Australian writer and social activist Dame Mary Gilmore when I was at a particularly impressionable stage of adolescence. It made such an impact that I copied it down on the back page of a notebook in writing considerably more legible than I have today, and kept it. Nowadays, when I scribble words like "loaf" on a piece of paper it is usually a reminder to buy bread for the sandwiches that my six-year-old takes to school. The mundane nature of my shopping lists and a "to-do" list so long I'm tempted to add a few adverbs and seek a book publisher are far from the poetry I cherished in my youth. But the sentiment aroused by Gilmore's concise verse has traveled well: It has accompanied me from my early teens in London to my mid-forties in Jerusalem. The last stanza sprang to mind last week when I grabbed the shopping list, and felt guilty as it revealed the to-do list reminder to call my friend in Sderot. I had wanted to phone the previous day, but every time I started to dial, the radio broadcast another news flash of incoming missiles on the Negev town and surrounding communities. Fifty missiles struck the area on January 16. When I finally called my friend the next day I wasn't sure I'd have anything to say. The feeling was compounded when she translated the dry facts into her experience: Her young son had got on and off the school bus four times in one journey because the Red Color alert had been sounded, giving them all of 15 seconds to seek shelter from the incoming Kassams. A long time ago, hundreds of missiles back, she told me that she doesn't use safety belts when driving in the area because of the fear she won't be able to extricate her three sons quickly enough when the warning is sounded. I know parents who, in similar circumstances, carpooled simply to disperse their kids among different vehicles to reduce the chances of losing all their offspring in one attack. FIFTY KASSAMS is unusual for one day's tally. Sderot residents put up with three or four as a matter of routine. My friend's children are so used to living with Kassams that when her seven-year-old invites my six-year-old to "Come for a Shabbat!" it is in that wonderful way that young children have of being proud of their homes and parents no matter what. I can sympathize, too, with the mothers in Gaza. I sympathize with them but I identify with the Sderot residents, who Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has repeatedly declared are being subjected to a game of "Gaza Roulette." Like the rest of the world, I saw the images of Palestinian women using candlelight to cook in their kitchens as electricity was cut off and fuel supplies allegedly ran down. I saw the protests against the "fuel blockade" by Gazans alerting the world to Israel's "inhumanity." Eventually, the Gazans did the natural thing: They turned to their southern neighbor, Egypt, which responded by wounding 90 people, most of them women, as they stormed the Rafah border crossing into Egyptian territory. THE END result was highly predictable: Israel was forced to ease the blockade - which in any case had not been as total as Hamas would have us believe - when "only" four Kassams landed in the Negev. The fact that the reduced number of missiles is proof that Hamas can control the rocket launchers - and more significantly evidence that Israel's tough measures had worked - is largely being ignored. Also being overlooked - blurred by the blood of the wounded at Rafah and silenced by the arrests of some 500 protesters in Cairo - is the fact that it is far more natural for Palestinians in Gaza to look to Egypt than to look to Israel. The Palestinians continue to decry "the occupation" in Gaza - even after the forcible removal of every Jewish resident from the area - because Israel still controls the border crossing. To demand that Egypt open up its border did not enter into the equation, although it was eventually done by force. Hamas won the PR war. Yet again the Palestinians were the victims. Warnings of a "humanitarian crisis" flashed across the globe with the speed that does justice to the age of computers and satellites. Dr. Margaret Chan, secretary-general of the World Health Organization, stated the organization in Geneva is "concerned about the health situation in and around Gaza and the suffering this has caused for civilian populations in the area." The UN planned a debate. The crisis was avoided - in Gaza. My friend still thinks twice about popping out to buy a loaf of bread for her sons. She can't risk leaving them alone in an alert but is hesitant about taking them out of the relative safety of their house to the store. The physical and mental health of residents of Sderot, a civilian population very much in the area of Gaza, has not made it to the WHO's agenda as far as I know. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking on January 22 at the Herzliya Conference, said both Israel and the Palestinian Authority "must refrain from letting problems from the outside come into the negotiating room." But these aren't problems from the outside: They are - to hijack a phrase - "core issues." You can cast your bread upon the waters off Herzliya, but by the time it reaches the coast in Gaza it will be too soggy for consumption. And not even the crumbs will make it to Sderot. Maybe we should just eat cake. Several of my neighbors in Jerusalem have adopted the practice of ordering their Sabbath loaves from a Sderot bakery as an act of solidarity. One friend surprised me this week with the offer of a Sderot chocolate cake - which we both found tastier than the hallot. An army marches on its stomach; the home front in the Jewish state can certainly relate to that. Consuming chocolate cake to avoid being consumed by guilt is definitely an unusual but very Israeli way of participating in the war effort. And war it is. I wish the world would make as much of an effort to save Sderot from Gaza as it does to save Gaza from itself. I could save on phone bills, my neighbor could save on calories. We could all be saved from worrying. And next time my friend's son invites us for a Shabbat, we could happily set off to break bread together.