Reflections from Gush Etzion

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gush-etzionBy Dassie Jacobson

It is hard to believe what we’ve lived through this past week since the kidnapping of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach a few minutes from our home in pastoral Gush Etzion last Thursday night. The boys were waiting to catch a ride from a bus stop next to Alon Shvut junction in the direction of Bet Shemesh. This is a place we drive past frequently, and it is also around the corner from two of our kids’ (Teeli and Noam) schools, literally a five minute walk from there. While our hearts go out to the boys and their families, and to the boys schoolmates, many of whom are our friends sons, there is also a heavy feeling that comes from that this happened in our neighborhood.

Yes, we know we live over the green line, but Gush Etzion is safe.  We don’t generally feel like we live in a war zone.  We have all the freedom of movement that we were used to in America; in many ways things are safer here for kids, and our kids have more independence here than they would in New York.  We work, we shop, we have moderate political opinions. Dan and our big boys (Roni and Yehuda) run in these hills, 5K, 10K.  Teeli has walked to friends’ Shabbat afternoon birthday parties in Elazar and Efrat, neighboring yishuvim, with a group of teens. Our large grocery store, Rami Levy, has an even mix of Jewish and Arab employees, and an even mix of shoppers from both populations.  We greet each other, stand in line together. This is normal life in Gush Etzion.

And yes, our big kids, and we the adults, sometimes tremp to get around. There are safety rules of course: Try to tremp from inside a yishuv, try to get into a car with someone you know, travel with a friend especially at night, sit in the back, don’t say where you are going, wait for the driver to say his destination, try to take a bus… In a place where the cost of cars and fuel is prohibitive (both about twice the average America price), most people own one car, and have two working parents in the house.  Public transportation is infrequent and doesn’t always arrive reliably.  So we tremp, giving and receiving rides, in the spirit of neighborliness. It’s like an informal carpool. It is something that happens all over Israel, not just in the settlements.  Don’t be mislead- teens from Haifa, Netanya and Modiin find it to be a fairly efficient and certainly cheap form of transport which can get them to the natural spring they’d like to picnic at which is not on a bus route- all over the country. It sounds crazy to an American, and when we first moved here 9 years ago I certainly felt that way.  To this day it makes me nervous. But it’s usually very safe. Certainly for our teens it allows them freedom of movement, a freedom which has been intensely curtailed over the last week.

But the tremping thing is the least of it, and honestly I’m not wringing my hands over it.  The point is that the boys were doing something that is considered safe with the permission of their parents. An act of war was perpetuated against our kids (because they are all our kids, and that is something we all very much feel) in our own backyard.  Everyone is affected.  Kids with increased anxiety, Mothers and Fathers with worried faces, adults crying at random times.   This story is on everyone’s mind, and it is the only topic of conversation. We have friends in both Talmon and in Nof Ayalon, the homes of Gilad and Naftali.  In my WhatsApp group of old college friends, there is one woman from each place. Between them and the four women from Gush Etzion (out of 11 women), and 2 women with sons who are students at Makor Chaim, Gilad and Naftali’s school, the front lines are over-represented and Israel feels very small indeed.

So what do we do? We are blessed in Gush Etzion with a wonderful supportive community.  The army is mobilized just South of our area, doing house to house searches in suburbs of Hevron, searching for the boys in operation Shuvu Achim.  Soldiers are literally everywhere.  We are baking for them and delivering cakes and drinks to the pina chama, the warm corner for soldiers at the Gush Etzion Junction.  They have been receiving over a thousand cakes a day. We buy drinks, 1/2 liter sodas to be distributed by our friends when they bring a whole car full of treats to their sons unit of soldiers who are fighting in Hevron.  When we go to the local large chain supermarket, there are carts outside asking for donations of treats to be distributed at the front. On Wednesday, we as a community filled 34 carts.with goodies.  There were chayalim everywhere, at the junction, patrolling roads, sitting in the cafe near the grocery store, English cake, were a few high ranking officers (2 or 3 felafels) drinking coffee.  We thank the chayalim.  But it is a strange feeling.  Since we moved here, there has never been a war a few minutes away; we have never been able to sit quietly at night and hear the drones.  During the Second Lebanon War and the operations in the South, Oferet Yetzuka and Amud Anana, Gush Etzion was a refuge spot, a place for quiet respite, for the embattled residents of the North and the South.  It is strange and different.

We pray.  Last Friday, we went to a tehillim gathering in a friend’s house. The house and yard were overflowing with men, women, and children. On Sunday night Teeli and I went to a special tefilla service for women and girls (Atzeret Tefilla Imahot Ubanot) in Migdal Oz.  The tefilla, with hundreds of women and girls, the Bet Midrash overflowing, was fervent, uplifting, and full of singing.  Yamim noraim style, whith additional special tefillot for ne’edarim (missing) and for chayalim. We daven for Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal.  And for our soldiers, our boys, our friends’ kids, who are fighting.  At the same we hear reports of the 30,000 people strong tefilla going on simultaneously at the kotel. The Jewish people coming together for these boys.

We demonstrate.  Yesterday, over 200 Gush Etzion mothers at 5 pm, which we all know is crazy time at home with kids, gathered to sing and say Tehillim and hold signs at the kidnapping site, holding signs with the hashtag,”Bring Back Our Boys.” Today, Teeli and Roni, who already finished school for the year, wanted to go to a demonstration at the Alon HaBoded, the famous Lone Oak Tree, in Gush Etzion.  It was organized by Im Tirzu, a student organization of secular and religious activists.  It was uplifting to see the people from outside this area who turned out bedecked in flags- secular, religious, young and old- to be together, to sing, to pray, and to hear the story of Gush Etzion.

We support each other.  This morning as a psychologist I did a processing group for women in my house.  I will do two more, bezrat Hashem, next week.  Many people are suffering.  We reassure our kids, we tell them that bad people can do bad things, but largely we believe we are safe. We encourage them to tell us if they are feeling scared. We answer the questions of the more inquisitive ones (Tani!!) as honestly as possible.  We try to notice unusually irritable behavior so we can help the kids figure out why they feel extra upset.  We try to help them be distracted. Last Motzei Shabbat, Yehuda (12 years old) came into our bedroom and said, “I need some help calming down.” We spoke for a while.  Then Dan went to tuck him in.  Yehuda, well versed in distraction as a tool for allaying anxiety, said, “Abba, lets count sheep.  One sheep, flying over the fence, two sheep, flying over the fence. To the shochet.  Just kidding!” So yes, we use humor too. We are inspired by the amazing families of the boys who go on international TV and speak to us in such a dignified way, with so much faith, with an encouraging word. They are truly incredible. We are awed by the very real and special people in our midst.

We also try to live life.  It is complex. Two of our kids graduated this week. On Tuesday, we celebrated Roni’s 8th grade graduation, on ThursdayTeeli’s from High School.  The evenings both began with tehillim.  Every speech mentioned Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal, and the joy mixed with sadness that can be part of living and building Israel.  Looking at the photo montages of the beautiful, happy eighth grade boys and twelfth grade girls was heart warming but also heart wrenching.  these kids, all our kids, are so beautiful and precious.  God should protect them and give them mazal.  We, the adults, are not really in control, though sometimes we manage to believe that we are.  We can give them tools, educate them with values we believe in, teach them to be cautious, and live within appropriate boundaries.  We can teach them to believe that they are part of something bigger than any of us, and we can be inspired too by their simple faith, even the bigger kids who have seen difficult things. We can love them infinitely but we can not fully protect them. But we also need to help them learn how to take appropriate risks which are part of life and which make life richer and worth living. And we also need to let them be free.  It is the story of the life of a parent.  But this week it has a different meaning.

At the graduations, they played a song by Arik Einshtein called “עוף גוזל ,” “Fly Little BIrd.”  The chorus is as follows:
עוף גוזל
חתוך את השמיים
טוס לאן שבא לך
רק אל תשכח
יש נשר בשמיים
גור לך

Fly, little bird
Cut through the sky
Fly to wherever you want
Just don’t forget
There’s an eagle in the sky
Be cautious…

May it be so- May our children be able to live without fear, to have self-imposed boundaries, but to be truly free.  יהי רצון שה, ישמור צאתם ובואם מעתה ועד עולם. May God protect them in their travels for always.

With tefillos for besuros tovos.

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