It felt as if we were going to summer camp on visiting day. The location that Friday, however, was not Pennsylvania or the Berkshires or New Hampshire, or any of the other popular camping spots that Jewish parents and grandparents flock to once each summer, laden with food, blankets, gifts, and sometimes the family dog. It did feel that way, but it didn’t look that way at all, and the tension among us was not due to fear of bug bites or not finding a shady spot.
Those minor problems, from another life, were not on our horizon.
We had learned two days earlier that our grandson Aaron and his entire IDF unit were going to be available for another kind of visiting day. This time the camp was an Israeli army base where Aaron and his fellow paratroopers would be allowed to spend about three hours with us at Yom Ha Mishpocha, Family Day. We, in our large and proud family, had been geared up to celebrate his imminent completion of active duty and return to his yeshiva. This was not to be. We all know the adage about planning….
The visit was to be Friday from noon to 3 p.m., arranged so that every visitor could make it home in time for Shabbat. We heard about it on Wednesday morning in New Jersey, boarded an El Al plane three hours later, and arrived in Jerusalem Thursday morning. Yes, our frantic packing and the rush to the airport resulted in quite a few items being left behind, but not our hearts. They were with us.
The flight was crowded; it was gratifying to see so many rushing back to Israel. Behind me was a little girl about 4 years old. She kicked the back of my seat unrelentingly for the entire trip. Under normal circumstances I would have been a bit intolerant. But as I looked at her, I realized that she was going back to Israel and not running away, obviously a courageous decision made by her parents. I said not a word.
Being here in Israel is not the same as being in West Orange. Here the war invades every cell of your body. It’s inhaled, in the air. Nothing is routine. And the stories are everywhere, the endless poignant stories, stories to remember and to share. Forever stories, of incredible bravery in unimaginable life-or-death challenges, or danger under fire from a vicious enemy. This is not the Israel you visited as a tourist, no matter how often you have walked the sacred streets. This is a nation at war, a battered nation with few supporters, except America, our cherished loving friend, and a very few other nations. Most of the world rushed to stand against us.
We all feel the need, more than the obligation, the visceral urgency, to be a part, to help the cause, to donate money or blood or food or time or skill or energy or love. People are searching for ways to help, so much so that the helpers can often outnumber the recipients. How I wish they would take my blood, but they are not looking for an 84-year-old donor, Type A. I am redundant and useless when I want and need to be more, to be sustenance for someone, or helpful to someone else.
I cannot be cheerful for anyone. That is beyond my powers. And our intention is to be here only another two days. Our mission was to see Aaron, hug him tightly, tell him we love him, bless him, and leave with prayers that we will be together again soon. This we will definitely do, rejoicing at every moment of our return to normalcy.
I’ve spoken with people who are too old or infirm to be chayalim. They search for places to be helpful and find that there are limited possibilities, and those few require physical power that is beyond them. They cannot carry refrigerators up the stairs to provide for refugees from the fierce neighborhoods surrounding Gaza to their new homes in Zichron Yaacov, homes donated to their families by formerly tough negotiating builders who are now lending property to the suddenly homeless with no charge. Generosity and kindness are so abundant as to be powerful expressions of humanity that we often do not see. The truth is that everyone who can help wants to do just that. And everyone who needs help has a place to go. Posts on Facebook offering food, clothing, and shelter are heartwarming and generous in spite of the hatred engulfing our citizens and soldiers, surrounded as they are by terrorists and evil-doers. And of course it is imperative to mention those throughout the world who scorn us, deride us, blame us, hate us, and find pleasure and joy in our pain. Sadly, this is not paranoia. I wish it were.
We pray for all the chayalim and citizens of this holy land. But, we wonder, how do some survive the fear and anguish. There are those with multiple family members in the military. There is a friend of a friend, a woman whose husband and two sons are at the front lines. There is a family from New Jersey whose four sons are serving simultaneously. Almost every single family in Israel is living in terror, usually not out of concern for themselves but for those loved ones on the battlefield.
Today we visited our cousin Rena Q. She’s a truly remarkable woman, Holocaust survivor, mother of four, grandmother of 22, and great-grandmother of 44. I asked her how many of the young people in her family are serving in the military right now. Her answer was 12. I looked at this lovely, beautiful, elderly woman, a few years older than I, searching for fragility or fear in her sparkling blue eyes. It was nowhere to be found. I feel like a coward. I suffer with one adored child serving. I just cannot imagine the trembling endured for 12. Her painful life has made her a beacon of light and a pillar of courage. Or was it the other way around? Was it all along her bravery that gave her this incredible strength?
Now it’s up to the rest of us to display our own courage and commitment, to unfurl our banners, and saturate our landscape with the majestic flags of Israel as is done here, and now. Very few of us actually will be fighting the physical battles, but it’s incumbent upon us all to raise our voices. Jewish pride is ours to own and to share.
The people of Israel live, in the land itself, and in the pathways of suburban New Jersey.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!