Life is an emotional experience, which explains why rationalizing things does not always help us take their emotional impact away; and which explains why when you escort your kid to the “Bakum”, you’re not interested in statistics on whether college life in the US or army life in Israel is safer. You’re interested in where in the world – literally – you left your sunglasses, and how will you move through the next hour without embarrassing anyone.
The Bakum is where one shows up to begin the “soldiering” process, and it is near Tel Aviv. Since my son’s home kibbutz is near the Gaza Strip, his drop off point is the parking lot for the air force museum near Be’er Sheva. Except for the other nervous and excited families, it is a mostly empty dusty field save for two booths: one, where you can buy water and sandwiches without paying any attention to what you’re being charged; and the other where you’re told which bus will take you to the real Bakum. Well, not you – you, but that kid of yours who just a few months ago told you, “mommy, mommy, I’m going to the army!” and you were hoping they don’t take 3 year old babies who babble nonsense, but then you realize that he’s actually 19 and 6’1” and all you can do is try to smear something on your face that doesn’t look like what you feel.
There’s a large group of friends accompanying us; I feel queasy as if it’s my own draft. Everybody tells jokes, laughs and slaps him on the shoulder and chest with a “sheyiheye be’mazal”, good luck wishes, like it’s a big party of some rite of passage. Overnight, I turned into a mom to not one, but two IDF soldiers. I am overwhelmed by a mixture of pride and anxiety, and seek solace with my own longtime friends who have been through this with their own kids. “Forget it”, says one, himself a retired officer, “I didn’t sleep for four years”. What can I say. The draft now is only 2 years and 8 months.
On Thursday morning, I am blessed with an opportunity to visit the University of Haifa, where I was a student some decades ago. The University which has since quadrupled its student body and expanded its resources, including new departments (where learning in English is available), an extensive library and an exceptional museum of archeology and art (free and open to the public!), is located at the very top of Mount Carmel; And, while most of its buildings blend with the contours of the mountain, it does have a 30 floor tower with amazing views. Through its big glass windows, you can see almost half of Israel.
It’s a bit hazy but possible to clearly see the Galil and Rosh Hanikra by the Lebanese border; the city is stretched in front of us with its white buildings, some with lovely red roofs, nestled among the dark green pines trees which this morning sway in the fall breeze. The blue-greenish Mediterranean hugs the city gently from three sides. The Haifa port and its industrial region is on the right; the white sandy beaches, to the left. The relatively narrow road, climbing up on to the Carmel peak, winding into the woods, behind. Haifa has a pastoral side to it with its slower pace and labor mentality. There are jokes about its hardworking population and though it is “developing”, it’s still not a party-town. When we were kids, being quiet between 2-4pm was a rule; people needed their rest. There was work to be done. It’s a serious, considerate place, more European, if I may say that. It takes pride in its peaceful diversity, with the famous Bahai Gardens, and other minorities living together. Standing there, at the “top of the world”, I take a few quick random shots of “The Evergreen Mountain” and this city I love. They are not high quality, just a souvenir for myself. After all, this is the view of home we’ve always had, and will always, just the same.
Then there is a shriek from a nearby office. Below us, in the wadi, a quick pillar of smoke is rising. Within a couple of hours, the city of almost 300,000 residents, is engulfed in fires and smoke in what comes to be known as the biggest fire my hometown has ever known. There are flames through the neighborhoods of my childhood; blackened yards and schools; ashes mixed with fire extinguishing material on cars and in the streets. We head south with thousands of others, stunned.
And then, almost immediately – Israel responds. Not with a military operation, though many suspect arson as terror, but rather, with kindness, as thousands offer their homes to evacuees, discounts of toll-roads, and more.
In this week’s Torah reading Abraham’s servant is sent to find a wife for Isaac. Reading the description of the meeting at the well with Rebecca (chapter 24) is reminiscent of the description of Abraham’s hospitality when the three messengers stop by (chapter 18). The underlying message is that of kindness, which is more than doing what’s right; it is going above and beyond. This supposed to be a trait of Abraham’s children. For generations, we’ve assumed we have it. So much so, that it has been assumed a recognition sign: if someone comes and says s/he is from a village of Jews, all of whom “disappeared” somehow (presumably murdered-) and there are no “proofs” to that person’s Jewishness, just wait and see how s/he behaves. If they have the “mida of chesed” and behaves in kindness, then you know for sure, they are Jewish.
But yesterday, during the fire, something happened: Our neighbors, Abraham’s children from the other side of the fence, offered to send its 4 firetrucks over the Haifa – and 4 to the Jerusalem hills. Palestinians volunteered to risk their lives and work side by side with the Israeli fire fighters in combating the flames. Then today, as fires and evacuations continue throughout the country, Jordan and Egypt offered their planes, and Israel accepted. I may be naïve but I feel teary and chocked. Like Yitzchak and Yishma’el of this week’s reading, who set their differences aside and join together to bury their father, maybe what these Biblical siblings still need are more common projects and enemies to fight against together.
Shabbat Shalom from Kibutz Kvutzat Yavne, Israel.