"Normal" Life in Israel

Article excerpt

How do we define "normality" in war-torn Israel? Visiting there this past December, I took an ordinary Egged bus ride to Kiryat Arba/Hebron. In Israel, that "ordinary" bus is bullet-proofed to defend against attacks that the government knows will be made by terrorists against innocent Israelis. That's one definition of "normal." Fortunately, my ride was uneventful, and I returned to Jerusalem unscathed. A week later, as I was flying back to the States, my son, Baruch, decided to take the trip to Hebron instead of returning directly to Safed. His bus was firebombed on its return to Jerusalem, just as it was approaching Gush Etzion. This is an area that the government knows is used as a favorite terrorist staging ground. It remains "normal" in Israel for these firebombings to take place. Unless there are casualties, they go unreported.

Another example of "normal" in Israel was illustrated in my visit to the home of good friends, Ora and David Wilder, at Beit Hadassah in Hebron. Their lovely third floor apartment might just as well be underground since it barely sees the light of day. Every window but one is completely sandbagged from top to bottom against the daily threats of Arab sniper bullets coming from the hills that loom over the apartment complex both in front and in back. This doesn't deter David from going about his daily activities as spokesman for the Hebron community. Nor does it prevent Ora from carrying on with her work, raising their seven children, two of whom barely escaped bullets shot into the apartment before the sandbag level was raised to the very top of the windows.

However, true normality does exist. A visit to the Ulpana Girls Academy of Kiryat Arba, guided by Rabbi Avraham Groff, director of development, showed us a fully functioning school where 500 students compete for and earn the Education Achievement award. The award is given to the school that has the highest percentage of earned high school matriculation certificates and the lowest dropout rate in the country. This would be something to be proud of under any circumstances, but certainly, the staff and students of the Ulpana, working under stressful conditions, deserve a special commendation for their achievement.

David Wilder gave us a special treat in introducing us to Neve Abraham, a Regional Child Development Treatment Center created by his mother-in-law, Chaviva Tzachor. She responded to the need for a local facility that would provide all the varied services required for children, from newborn to 12 years, who have developmental disabilities. As the Center approaches its bar-mitzvah year, it is proud of the over 1200 graduates whose difficulties have been alleviated through the loving and devoted work of Chaviva, Ora, and the professional staff.

The picture of true normality in Israel is underscored by so many of the lovely activities in which I took part during my December 2001 visit. Shortly after I arrived in the country, on a gloriously sunny day, I was walking on the beach in Tel Aviv, admiring the surfers, children playing in the sand, and a few walkers like me. How tranquil and beautiful was the moment! As we lit the Chanukah menorah that night, joining the millions in Israel who were doing the same thing, one couldn't help but reflect on the victory of the few righteous Maccabeans over the might of the Syrian Greek army.

In Jerusalem the next day, we visited the Israel Museum to be treated to a remarkable display by a troupe of Chinese acrobats. The audience was made up of hundreds of families, bringing their vacationing school children to view the amazing talents of the acrobats. I understood their need to participate in such a normal activity. This need enabled them to overcome any fears of coming to such a public place, with this large crowd, and to take a chance that the morning would not be marred by a Ben Yehuda- or S'barros-style terrorist attack. Happily, all went well, and following the performance, there was a tempting feast of kosher Chinese foods, laid out beautifully in a specially erected tent. …