St. Louis woman reflects on current events in Israel after most recent visit


I recently returned from three weeks in Israel. As much as I enjoyed spending time with friends and family, this trip was bittersweet.

On July 2, only a day after I arrived, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem killed four and wounded over fifty when he used a bulldozer to turn over two buses and squash several cars in downtown Jerusalem.

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A few days later, a terrorist began shooting at Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, and three days afterwards, Israel returned five captured terrorists and the bodies of another 180 to Lebanon, in the hope of celebrating the return of two Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped by Hezbollah in July 2006, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. One of the terrorists who was returned to Lebanon was Samir Kuntar, who was hailed as a hero by Palestinians and praised by Mahmoud Abbas (our so-called “peace partner”), because in 1979, Kuntar murdered three Israelis, including Danny Haran and his four year-old daughter, Einat. Eyewitnesses said Kuntar smashed Einat’s head on beach rocks and crushed her skull with the butt of his rifle.

Few Americans can understand how events such as these take their toll on the Israeli psyche. In America, newscasters often report tragedies that happen in one part of the country or another. Yet many Americans remain unaware and unaffected. Not so in Israel. Even young children sat with their parents, glued to the television, watching the violent scene of the bulldozer crushing a car like it was a toy, and the subsequent scene in which a young soldier stopped the rampage by killing the terrorist. Only 14 days later, children on summer holiday sat and cried as they watched the funerals of the two soldiers, one of whom had lived next door to my niece’s elementary school.

Those two soldiers could have been any Israeli. Most Israelis serve in the military and most men are required to serve reserve duty until age 40. In fact, the day of the shooting at Lion’s Gate, my friend’s husband was serving his reserve duty outside Ramallah. I asked her what exactly he was doing and she replied, “I prefer not to know.”

She and I were both relieved when he returned home unscathed. She told me of the anguish she suffered two years ago when he served in the Lebanon War. Every evening he would call her and say, “I’m going to turn the cell phone off for the night, but I’ll call you in the morning.” Then one morning, he didn’t call. For three days, she had no idea whether he was alive or dead. Finally, he called to say he was OK. Meanwhile, she had to be strong for her son, who was four at the time.

One day, her son turned to her and asked, “Ima, is it true that Abba has not yet been killed?”

All of my husband’s family lives in northern Israel. During our visit, they told us stories of their experiences during the 2006 war, when a Katyusha fell on the house next door to my in-laws, and my husband’s former classmate was killed along with his 15-year-old daughter. My brother-in-law showed us the view from his new two-story penthouse, and the field next to his house where a Katyusha fell. All of his family described that difficult month, but then emphasized that their experiences pale in comparison with the daily horror faced by residents of Sderot, whose town has suffered more than 10,000 rocket attacks since 2001.

My sister-in-law tells me that the past year has seen a rise in diabetes and other stress-affected health disorders in Israel. Many Israelis are discouraged by the current situation, and have no faith in the current government. Many people expect that another war is imminent and that all of Israel will be in missile range in the next war.

On the other hand, life in Israel goes on.

Israelis celebrate life with a passion, and we enjoyed attending a friend’s wedding during our visit. Although the bride and bridegroom were both secular, non-observant Israelis who live on kibbutz, they were married by an Orthodox rabbi, with the same prayers and vows that have been and continue to be uttered by Jews all over the world.

We also participated in Israeli family-style nightlife almost every night we were there. In St. Louis, most restaurants stop serving food at 9 p.m. and many St. Louisians are in bed shortly thereafter. In Israel at 9 p.m., families are just making plans to go out. People wait until the evening, when the heat has subsided, and then take to the streets.

We especially enjoyed the restaurant district in Jerusalem’s German Colony and strolling along the boardwalk in the new Tel Aviv port. On both occasions, we took our leave around 11 p.m., with our sleepy children in tow, only to see that other families were just then arriving!

In his Internet blog, Daniel Gordis says Israel is “a country that is about life, and yes, even love, not about the celebration of death and hatred.”

My recent trip proved how right he is.

Galit Lev-Harir lived in Israel for nine years, of which two years were spent coordinating meetings with Arab and Jewish schoolchildren and women’s groups. Galit is a professional writer and an occasional contributor to the St. Louis Jewish Light. She currently lives in Ballwin with her husband and three children, and is a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona.