Sixteen years ago, I published an article in Jewish Action entitled “Breezes of Redemption.” It was reflective and hopeful, and predated the second intifada, the Expulsion from Gush Katif, the Second Lebanon War and endless reports of corruption in high places.
Among the large national issues, I also wrote about my daughter, our first child. We were on our way to the Kotel on a Shabbat afternoon a few weeks after she was born, in May 1977. A sudden breeze caused me to pull the blanket up higher around her. The back of my hand rested on her little head for a moment after I had covered her, and, suddenly, I felt the sharp blow of a rock on the back of my hand. The rock had been thrown by an Arab boy from the top of the Old City walls. That sudden breeze probably saved my daughter’s life.
It has sometimes been hard to hold onto that thought, that a sudden breeze—or even a raging storm—can herald something great and wonderful to come. This is an existential question: Is there any way that even the creation of the State of Israel can compensate for the horror and the losses of the Shoah? Can the incredible, ground-breaking charities and projects that have been created in memory of those who died in battle or at the hand of terror ever compensate the family and friends for the horrific deaths of their beloveds?
We make the best of what we’ve been dealt by the One Above, but would we not, as individuals and as a nation, have chosen life for those who perished?
Over the summer I collected “vignettes”—short visual clips that bring me hope in this war-torn, yet miraculous, sliver of land between our enemies and the sea. I believe that God is truly in the details, and that every great work of art begins with small and exquisite scenes that are then woven together into a tapestry of what Viktor Frankl would call “man’s search for meaning.”
These are scenes that have moved me deeply. Or, to quote a character from Steven Spielberg’s midrashic film Close Encounters of a Third Kind: “This means something.”
The Olympic Girl from Kochav Yaakov
Shortly before the Israeli team left for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, there was a short item on the Israeli online news site Ynetnews1 that snowballed into reactions from both religious and non-religious figures throughout the country. Bat-El Gaterer, a twenty-year-old Dati Leumi woman from the settlement of Kochav Yaakov, was the only Taekwondo gymnast on the Israeli Olympic team who went to Beijing. The article focused mainly on issues of kashrut, and how she had managed on Shabbat during previous competitions. The religious newspaper B’Sheva asked rabbis and other public religious figures what they thought about her participation. Talkbackers on web sites discussed the kashrut challenges she faced, with one person commenting, “What’s the big deal about finding kosher energy bars? I’ll send her some of mine!” Other talkbackers debated whether or not her participation in the Olympics was a Kiddush Hashem.
• Number of olim since the founding of Israel in 1948: 3,035,362
• Number of olim since the beginning of 2008:
Source: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics
But I thought that the issue was not kashrut or Shabbat, or whether her loose-fitting Taekwondo pants would have passed muster at a Jewish day school. (She said that her ulpana [girls’ high school] in Ofra had always been supportive of her sport activity.) I thought instead about the fact that no religious man or woman today has to feel isolated from the stream of normative Israeli life, as long as his or her actions are not in direct contradiction to halachah.
Gaterer was quoted as saying that previously she had considered becoming a pilot or an astronaut.
The Soldier Who Begged Forgiveness
A heartrending interview, and subsequent letter, made waves in Israel shortly before the third anniversary of the uprooting of Gush Katif. A female soldier, who would only identify herself as “Maayan,” begged forgiveness of the people of “the Gush” for having taken part in the Expulsion of August 2005. The story that haunted her days and nights more than any other was that of a little Ethiopian boy, whose family members had finally found solace from their long, arduous journey in the warm and welcoming community of Kfar Darom, which they called home. The father insisted on leaving his home on his own two feet, but the ten-year-old son was forcibly ripped from the house, frantically grasping the doorpost, tearfully kicking and screaming.
I want to ask forgiveness for my stupidity and ignorance, for the fact that you spoke and explained and cried and screamed and I didn’t listen, didn’t even try to listen—locked in my opinions and my viewpoint….I’m only twenty-four-years-old, and already with a scar like this. I understand that I was a young and confused soldier, eager to carry out orders, and when it was over—months later, I was shattered. We were all shattered. All of my friends, even my commanding officers, we were devastated there in the Gush. Only when I returned home and I began to absorb what I had done, did I allow myself to cry.
So please forgive me.
The Contestant and the Game Show Host
In a favorite Saturday night TV game show, One Against a Hundred, a young woman won a million shekels. Her vast knowledge was astonishing, her self-confidence and poise impressive. There was nothing in her outward appearance or in that of her husband—who came up after the big win to give her a congratulatory hug—to identify the couple as Orthodox. When asked what she would do with the money, she replied, “First of all, a portion of it will go to a good cause.…”
It was the last show of the season. The game show host—a quintessential non-Orthodox Tel Aviv type who is a favorite Israeli TV personality and comedian—concluded the show by giving thanks to the producers, the station, the technical people and to the “Ribbono shel Olam, the Master of the World.”
The Lady on the Bus
It was a hot day in July. I climbed up the steps of the Jerusalem bus and, as usual, noticed the conglomeration of human diversity. It was crowded and I managed to weave my way to the back, where there were a few empty seats. I was getting off soon and took a seat on the aisle. A tall middle-aged woman, stylishly attired in a very short sleeveless dress, which made sense on a day like that (for anyone who didn’t feel bound by religious law), maneuvered to sit next to me at the window seat. As the bus pulled away from the curb, she settled back, opened a trendy purse and pulled out an old, worn book of Tehillim (Psalms), which she proceeded to read for the length of the ride.
There were a lot of choices I made in my life—some good, some bad, but moving to Israel by far was the best one I have ever made. I gave up about three-fourths of my possessions before I moved, and yet, I feel truly wealthier here.
After several trips to Israel, Sonya Davidson made aliyah from Columbus, Ohio, in December 2007. She lives in Beer Sheva.
The Rock Star and the Rebbe’s Niggun
Aviv Gefen, an Israeli rock star whose repertoire is notorious for its emphasis on death, suicide, drugs and refusal to serve in the army, is himself famous for the fog surrounding his own exemption from army service. He is also known to have a fear of flying. My husband, Yaakov, relates that when he accompanied his high school students to Poland a number of years ago, they found themselves waiting in the Warsaw airport for the flight home to Israel with Gefen, who had performed in Eastern Europe, and his entourage. Gefen was pacing back and forth nervously. Meanwhile, Yaakov pulled out his flute and played the niggun of an eighteenth-century Chabad rebbe for his students. Just a few days earlier he had played the same tune for them in the largest synagogue in the city of Landzhut, where the Chozeh of Lublin began to lead his flock.
Suddenly Yaakov noticed that the hard-rock Gefen was standing nearby, mesmerized by the melody. His nervous persona softened and calmed as he drank in the rebbe’s niggun.
The Way the Breezes Blow
After forty-one years in Israel, I no longer subscribe to Pollyanna-ish illusions. But I observe the wave and flow of the people around me, and I have hope that the essential spirit of the people of Israel will not be stifled. It may come and go, skip a generation here and there—and there are days that we wonder where it has gone. But it’s not disappearing.
And that had better be the case. Because aside from the One Above, at the end of the day, we are all we have.
Photo courtesy of Nefesh B’Nefesh
Toby Klein Greenwald, an editor and a translator, is also the theater director of the Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company and of the Seymour J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center’s Dor L’Dor Family Theater. She is the recipient of the Israeli Ministry of Education’s Yaakov Egerest Award for Jewish Culture.
2. Translation by Toby Klein Greenwald, used with permission of the author of the letter.