Friday, July 14, 2006

I'm Home and I'm Fine

"To be or not to be is not a question of compromise. Either you be or you don't be." Golda Mier, former Prime Minister of Israel

I've been in Israel the past two weeks. Just got home last night. Not early, not running from anything. Just returning as previously scheduled.

We traveled to Israel for a wedding and a bar mitzvah. Both went off without a hitch. We danced, we sang, we ate and drank, made toasts and enjoyed the company of family and friends.

But in response to numerous concerned emails and phone calls, I feel compelled to state publicly that I'm fine. Our family is fine. They're not in danger. Well, not any more than usual in Israel.

Because as usual, the American and international media are having a field day with the Middle East. We left Tel Aviv Thursday morning unaware anything was happening until we arrived in Frankfort. Where we found big screen TVs with CNN screaming news of fighting in the North and over the boarder in Lebanon.

Our family lives in central Israel, away from the West Bank, away from Gaza, far away from Lebanon. I called earlier today to thank them for a wonderful visit. We chatted briefly about the news and what we call the Foreign Fear Factor.

What's the Foreign Fear Factor? It's the overreaction of those abroad and in America to any news of death and destruction anywhere in Israel.

As my husband says, it's like living in Kansas and worrying about riots in Miami.

When you're on the ground in Israel you don't focus on bombings and incursions. Unless you've chosen to live in a contested hot spot, they usually don't affect you directly. They're just a daily fact of life.

As my brother-in-law says, there are no guarantees of safety anywhere in the world today. Israel is a tiny country, under attack virtually 24/7. So of course danger is much closer to home. Nearly everybody knows some family who's lost a loved one to terror.

Tensions have been running high since Israeli soldiers were ambushed, one captured. All knew Israel would respond. Politically. Militarily.

But still, life goes on. What other choice do you have?

So it was business as usual during our visit. We went shopping for food and gifts and clothes, scoured the bookstores for new additions to a kid's series my 8-year-old niece loves. Brought home lox and bagels for a light supper on a hot night.

We checked out the local markets, visited friends, held new babies, cooked and baked and cleaned and entertained. We ran errands, went to parties, took endless pictures of all the cousins together, from the kids to the college grads to the married ones with kids of their own.

The older ones held nightly marathon games of Hearts and Pictionary, played practical jokes on each other. Some of the teenagers took a two-day school trip. The little kids went swimming at the local pool. One night each week we had pizza delivered.

In other words, lived a normal life.

During our two week visit, some took day trips. To Masada. To the Dead Sea. To Jerusalem. On one of those days Hamas insurgents fired a missile into a high school in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. A lovely coastal village on the other side of the country from the Dead Sea.

The only awareness our travelers had of the attack was the common sight of two Israeli fighter jets crossing the sky.

There was no loss of life in Ashkelon, thank God. But our Israel family was saddened because they used to vacation there every summer. And now that's a bad idea.

It's a worse idea to forego the pleasure of joining family and friends for happy occasions in response to an overblown sense of fear.

Yes, you have to be cautious when traveling in Israel. But you also have to be cautious in London, Madrid, New York, Bombay ... almost everywhere in the world.

If we all gave up and abandoned Israel, the result would be even more calamitous. What if we'd given up on New York after 9/11?

When your loved ones--or your fellow countrymen--are in trouble, you don't run away, you show up. Just like the brave firefighters who ran into the burning Twin Towers, people flowed into New York after 9/11 to offer support and help.

What guarantee of safety did they have then?

They went anyway, to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. To make sure life would go on.

In the end, the deciding factor must be hope, not fear. Our family wedding last week was bittersweet -- the bride's father killed two years ago in a Jerusalem bus bombing. The healing will take a lifetime. But a young woman managed to fall in love and get married. And we were all there to celebrate the ongoing cycle of life.

To do any less would dishonor her father's memory. And Israel's right to freedom. The bride's father was a brave and generous man who loved his family and his country. He lived and died for the promise we all must hold -- a better future for his children and for Israel.

So even though I'm home now, I'll go back. And you can go too. Really. You'll be fine.

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