From the magical to the mundane

I can’t help but sometimes be touched by the stories that emerge from our unique life here in Israel.

Gilad Schalit saluting  GPO 465 (photo credit: GPO)
Gilad Schalit saluting GPO 465
(photo credit: GPO)
It’s one of those things journalists are supposed to pride themselves on – that detachment from personal emotions about a story in order to cover it properly. But I admit, I tear up quite easily (I also like quiche).
As such, I can’t help but sometimes be touched by the stories that emerge from our unique life here in Israel.
Often working over much of the last couple decades in the hot seat of news editor, or night editor, at The Jerusalem Post, I’ve found myself creating an emotional barrier in attempt to focus on getting the news out, and not dwelling on whatever particular life-taking event just took place.
That became even more crucial during the horrific period at the beginning of the last decade when Israelis were dying in gruesome manners almost daily at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers. At any time of the day, those tell-tale signs of sirens and first alert bulletins meant only one thing: not that innocent people – my fellow citizens – had just died, but that reporters had to be reassigned, photos had to be ordered and pages have to be redesigned.
However, there have been instances when sitting in the news-control room at night, tasked with putting together the next day’s paper – its story placement, headlines, photos – when that efficient, cold, professional detachment has become blurred by tears.
I can recall a few concrete incidents – from Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, on up through any number of terror attacks that now meld together in my mind, although the Fogel family murder is still freshly there, to tragedies like the disclosure of the details of little Rose Pizem’s murder – where I was momentarily too stunned to think about the quickly approaching deadline.
Tuesday was one of those days. It started off at 6 a.m. from the cozy confines of my living room with my wife and one of my sons as we began to watch the non-stop coverage on the local channels.
About four hours later, having some errands to do, I dragged myself away from the addicting scenes unfolding (when will Gilad cross from Gaza to Egypt? When will the first photos be shown?) and drove to the local mall.
I arrived just in time to join about 30 people crowded in front of a TV at the ice cream parlor in the mall’s central expanse. Together, in a moment of community crossing all demographics, we watched that first footage of a scared-looking Schalit being escorted by Hamas and Egyptian handlers to his freedom.
There weren’t many comments in the crowd, aside from an occasional “wow” or a gasp or sigh. There were no words, as we all knew it was a scene that would stick with us for the rest of our lives.
But between the magical and the mundane, there is life, and I had banking to attend to. When I finished my other errands and returned home, I joined my family (this being Hol Hamoed Succot, after all) for a long-ago scheduled field trip to Ramle, for a short walkabout its Old City and a highly recommended rowboat ride in a giant Muslim-era water cistern called the Pools of the Arches.
Afterwards, walking along the downtown streets on the way to a recommended humusiya, we passed cafes, shops and kiosks where patrons were all focused on one thing. Stopping at one sidewalk bistro, we joined the clientele in watching the footage of the freed soldier being greeted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who then brought Schalit to a reunion with his father. Again, all eyes riveted, without comment, watching something we hadn’t been convinced would ever happen.
It was one of those surreal days, like during the World Cup season when you can hear the games coming out of every window walking down the street. Except this time it wasn’t just a goal at stake, but a human life.
Arriving a couple hours later to begin putting the next day’s historic paper together throughout the evening, much of the staff was gathered in the editor’s office, watching the Schalit family land in the Air Force helicopter at their home in Mitzpe Hila – the end of a five-year-plus journey.
Later on, in the thick of things, I tuned in Channel 2 for their news report. They had skillfully compiled the whole day’s events into one 10-minute piece, and like those hypnotized hours early in the morning, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen.
And at some point, it happened. The screen became hazy as my eyes welled with tears watching Schalit’s day unfold from captivity in Gaza to his reunion with his family and his return home. Unlike the tears that arrived from seeing the results of unprovoked terror and murder, these were happy tears – for the Schalits and for the country, a country strong and brave enough to sacrifice so much to bring one of their sons home.
When the segment ended, I pulled myself together and returned to the business at hand, confirming to myself once again that there really is no way in a country like ours to separate ourselves from the story.
I’m sure the tears of rage and sadness will be there again – as we mourn the senseless death of another innocent victim of terror (whether that’s due to the prisoners released in the Schalit exchange, remains to be seen).
But for one day at least, it was a refreshing change to feel those happy tears. After all, we all know that there are enough tears to go around.