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We May Be In The West, But Our Hearts Are In The East

on Wednesday, October 14 2015. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Friends and family carrying the body of Aharon Banita, who was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, during his funeral in the city, Oct. 4, 2015. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/JTA

Almost every time I interact with individuals who have close family living far away who are going through a difficult time, they say something along the lines of, “It is so hard to know they are suffering and to be so far away. I think about them all day and only wish I could be there to show support at this time.” Feeling that way is a reflection of a healthy and close family. Conversely, not feeling that way may be a sign of dysfunction and an indication that the relationship needs work.

Our brothers and sisters in Israel are going through an incredibly difficult time. The “random” acts of terror throughout the country have left Israelis understandably terrorized, filled with angst, anxiety and constant worry.

I have been struggling for the last few days trying to identify what we, the Diaspora Jewish community, can be doing and should be doing to help. Of course we must daven, and our advocacy for a strong US-Israel relationship remains critical, but what can we be doing in this acute situation to ease the pain and provide support for our family going through this horrific period?

Rather than speculate or continue to wonder, I posed this question to members of my family who live in Israel. My sister-in-law Shayna, who lives in Alon Shvut (Gush Etzion) poignantly wrote back the following:

Over the last week I have gotten various emails from family, friends, and students in the US reaching out to tell me that they are thinking of me and my family during this horrible and very difficult time in Israel. It means a lot to me and to everyone here to know that we are being thought about. That other people are thinking about us and thinking about what it must be like to live here right now.  No one here wishes that our loved ones would truly understand what we are going through. But when someone writes and says that it is hard for them to just go about their normal life in America because they can’t stop thinking about the changes in our day-to-day life here in Israel–it means A LOT.  It means that you really care.  It means that you don’t just sympathize but you empathize.  It means that you are really imagining the thoughts that are running though our minds round the clock and the little things that we just can’t believe are part of day to day life right now.

It means you might have realized that:

I drive to work with my doors locked, my windows closed, my cell phone set on the number of the moked (the local security command center) and my pepper spray next to me in the car.

I sleep with a knife in my night table drawer.

I had a conversation with my husband about what should happen with our kids, G-d forbid, G-d forbid… and then wrote it down in my file cabinet because we don’t yet have a formal will. I thought I was crazy until I heard that lots of other people have done similar things.

I was sent a short movie by MDA (Magen David Adom) about how to treat a stab wound.

I watched a video on ynet (Yedidot Achronot) on how to defend yourself against someone stabbing you… and then sent it out to everyone I know.

I was sent protocol from the yishuv about what to do if someone is trying to shoot at your car. (Brake suddenly so that the bullets don’t hit and then do a quick U-turn.)

I haven’t shopped at my typical supermarket in two weeks because I can’t yet bring myself to enter a store where Palestinians shop freely.  I don’t want to pick out my potatoes with one hand on my pepper spray.

I thought twice and three times about whether I should let my third grader go on his class trip today.  I watched him leave my house, gave him extra kisses and had extra kavana in my tefila but I don’t want to raise him to be scared.

I’ve wondered whether the various Israeli Arabs that we have worked with in different capacities over our time here and had such nice relationships with are going to appear in the news any day. We thought they were peaceful until we saw that one of them had a whatsapp picture of the lightrail being stoned.

I had to share with my son more than I would have because Nechemia Lavi was his classmate’s uncle and the school let us know that the psychologist would be meeting with the class.

I have a sister who now has doubled her driving time to Yerushalayim, because the old route she took is more concerning.

I just wish that I could stay in Alon Shvut all day.  Ironically, the well-secured yishuvim are the safest place you can be right now.

And yet if you also thought hard and you know me well you might have also realized that:

I don’t regret our aliya decision for a second.

I feel a zechut to be living in the place where Jewish destiny plays out before our eyes.

I know I am in the place where I am supposed to be.  My kids know it too. They have not once asked to go back. They live with a fierce commitment to the values our ancestors lived and died for. They actually understand the Hebrew words they daven daily and thank us for bringing them here, the place they mention in tefila all the time.

I have bitachon that I am in G-d’s hands.  That He is in control.  That if He wants something to happen or not happen, it doesn’t matter where I am.  That He knows what is best even if we don’t always understand.

I have emuna that eventually things will improve. That this will also pass and that we will wake up to a brighter day.

The people of Eretz Yisrael are strong.

I smiled and then I cried today when I saw two teenage girls standing in the middle of the big traffic circle at Tzomet Hagush– all alone– just swinging huge Israeli flags out there in the exposed open–because they wanted to send a message.

For many of us, it is our kids who keep us strong.  Some of us have kids who are chayalim–who couldn’t come home for Shabbat when they were supposed to because of the matzav yet they go out and serve their country proudly and bravely and without complaint.

I have younger kids but today I heard one kid tell another that we need to be working on our middot so that Hashem looks upon us and all of Am Yisrael favorably.  That gave me chizuk.  It made me feel a little stronger.  It gave me something to do. Because there is not much else we can do.

So if you are thinking about us:

Daven a little harder, learn a little extra, be a little nicer, give a little more tzedaka, work on your middot a little….and let us hope that Hashem looks upon us favorably and says, “Enough is Enough.”

Thank you for thinking about us. It means a lot.

Her answer is both simple and profound. What would you do if your loved one who was far away was God forbid going through a very hard time? You would check in on them as often as you could, remain apprised of their situation, and consistently let them know you were thinking of them.

That is exactly what we need to be doing now as well. We cannot stop knife- and gun-wielding madmen. But even, or especially, from six thousand miles away, we can and must think about our family in Israel often each day and let them know we care as often as we can. Stay closely informed of what is happening in Israel, not because you are a news junkie, but because each update is about members of your family and you should be desperate to know what is going on with them. Reach out to friends and family just to check in. Let them know you are all thinking of them and that as long as their lives are disrupted, so is yours.

As with our immediate family, we hope and pray that our extended family is only healthy, safe, and secure and that we only share good news.

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