Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Outside My Comfort Zone

I visited relatives recently in the north of Israel. I had not been to their house in a while and, though they live on a small quiet street, I drove past their home without recognizing it. What ultimately identified the house for me was a big tree they had planted in the yard some 40 years ago. I drove past the house at first because I didn’t see it. Since I was there last, they erected a big wall around their property, 4-5 feet high. Behind the wall, all the windows were covered with iron bars. While this is not uncommon in Israel, and many other places throughout the world, I was sad to see that they felt the need to make their quaint home into a compound. The house is very modest, small and old. There’s no indication of wealth and no particular reason why they’d need to protect their house specifically. So I was saddened to learn about an increase in violent theft and robberies throughout the area in which they live. I was sad to hear about it because in my utopian perspective of how Israel SHOULD BE, the increase of crime in general, and particularly against a person and his/her property, is particularly upsetting. I was saddened to hear that they feared opening their door to strangers, parking their car at the mall, and even suspicious telephone solicitations. I was saddened for them personally, but also for the state of things, that an older couple living in the same home for four decades no longer feels safe there. As we were talking, I couldn’t help but think about how, as far as personal security and crime, I felt the complete opposite. Maybe part of it is my naiveté. But a large part was very ironic. Because I live on the “West Bank”. Five years ago as I planned to make aliyah and told them that we were considering the “West Bank” they were horrified. Politically, we’re very different and I have learned a lot from them about how the far left thinks. (That’s a topic for another article.) They were horrified no doubt because, to them, the “West Bank” is not a place for a nice Jewish boy. They felt that the communities I was considering were unsafe. I’d be putting myself and my family in harm’s way. And politically, to put it nicely, they did not think that this was a prudent move for the good of the country. I did not have the heart to tell them in fact how safe, free and comfortable we are and feel. And how I am saddened for them in their loss of this feeling. While several of my Israeli relatives have actually dared to cross the “green line” to visit us and celebrate our smachot, I am mindful that they are uneasy with this for their own physical safety, as well as – in some cases – making a political statement that they’d rather not be making. It’s to their credit that they do join us from time to time. But most of the time, as much as we’ll invite them just to come visit, this is not something they will do. It is outside their comfort zone. During the 2006 Lebanon War I spent a few days in the north, working and bringing material and moral support to residents who had not fled. As the war progressed, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis from the north ran for the safer center of the country, we joined many neighbors in inviting people to move in with us. We had no idea how long the war would last or when they’d be able to go home, but we invited everyone we knew nonetheless: Friends and relatives. Arabs and Jews. I admired that, with only one exception, everyone we invited to join us stayed in their homes in the north. But it could not go unnoticed that for the majority of our relatives and friends whose political views are to the left of ours, the irony of being safer in the dreaded “West Bank” than they were in the north did not escape us. More recently, a similar situation took place. During the Gaza fighting, many here invited residents of Sderot and surrounding communities to move in, or even come for Shabbat as a respite from the daily barrage of rockets. For many, daily rocket firing was something they were used to so they stayed in their homes. Others thanked us, but politely declined as they were scared to come here. They were more afraid of perceived fear of life in the “West Bank” than living under a daily barrage of kassam and katyusha rockets. The most vivid depiction of this took place when two truckloads of vendors’ wares were on their way to a nearby community where Gush Etzion residents enthusiastically organized a shuk of Sderot vendors selling everything from food and disposable plates to electronics and clothes. This was a means to support those who lived in the war zone, economically as well as morally. But as the trucks were approaching their destination, one of the drivers heard something about rocks being thrown at vehicles somewhere in the “West Bank,” and he decided that to come here was unsafe. And so, while almost at his destination, he turned around with a truck load of things that we’d have bought, and went back to the safety of Sderot. I suppose everyone has their comfort zone. Some are politically oriented, and some are based on perceived level of personal security. For me, I could never live in a situation where I had to put a wall around my house. I look back on life in suburban New Jersey and recall how we’d never let the kids play alone in the front yard for a different set of reasons. Here, my kids have much greater freedom. While we raise them aware of other challenges we face, it’s a small price to pay for being able to live here. Here, I am mindful of my surrounding, but grateful for the freedom that we have just to live.

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