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A Divided Nation

By Paula Stern
6/18/2014, 1:06 PM

Israel is today a very divided nation...in a strange and wonderful way. We are usually divided by many issues - secular versus religious (and too often everybody versus the Haredim). We are divided by economic factors like most countries - those who are poor versus those who are rich, though thankfully in our country even the poor have access to medical care at ridiculously affordable rates (comparable to other countries).

We are divided by region, though not very much. The south faces constant danger from Gaza and rockets; the north faces a more subtle danger from Hezbollah in Lebanon and a minor annoyance from Syria. And some regions face other dangers...

We are sometimes divided according to gender lines. Women still earn less than men do here for the same job. On the other hand, women can serve in combat units, in the government, even as Prime Minister. Women receive 100% maternity leave here (and men can take paternity leave).

We are divided by those who serve in the army, and those who do not. It's a hard division for those of us who have sent sons off to serve this land. And sometimes, the prejudice and anger is misdirected - like from the border guard who answered my question about why only two lanes of the check point were open when there were so many cars jammed up and waiting to get through. His response was, "if you served, we'd have more men to open another lane." It took me too long to translate what he said in my mind and I drove on not wanting to hold up the line any more. But for days, I wanted to go back and tell him about Elie and Shmulik, about Chaim and Yaakov, and my son-in-law who is Haredi...and served as well. Don't judge people so quickly, I should have told him, but I didn't and I regret that.

We are divided most of all by politics - left and right. Those who want peace...and yes, those who want peace too. The difference is those on the left will tell you that those on the right don't really want peace and we are enjoying subjugating, occupying, abusing, whatever. Those on the right will wonder why the left is so busy worrying about our enemies and ignoring the fact that it is our enemies who are doing or attempting to do those very things to us. Those on the right will say that it is easy to love the Arabs when you live in Tel Aviv and barely see or interact with them. Whereas we, who live here among them, work with them, and interact with them on a daily basis are truly much more in tune with what they want, what they need.

Bashir has a wife and three children. He works in the mall. He is sorry about the kidnapped boys and hopes they come home safely. Mahmoud walks our streets every day, picking up garbage, sweeping the streets and earning a fair wage for his work. It supports his family and people are polite to him. I often see him waving to people, as he waves to me.

Once I asked him to pick up a dead cat and he told me not to worry. I apologized and told him it was hard for me to look at it, and he smiled and said he wife was the same way. I make Mahmoud coffee in the winter - thick, hot, extremely sweet Turkish coffee that he takes with a smile. I give him cold water in the summer even though he shows me a bottle that he carries with him. He too is sorry about the missing boys. He says we should go get them.

What is amazing today, is that for all that divides us, the greatest divide today isn't along the lines of politics or religion. The secular Jews among us are praying (or, as perhaps they prefer to think of it - thinking good thoughts). The Haredim are praying for our boys, who are their boys too. The poor and the rich, men and women, left and right. Israel is united...except within ourselves. That is where the divide is today in this country.

We go to work, and a part of us remains with the boys. We go to sleep and think of them; wake and they are in our minds. We drive in the streets, we hug our children. We shop and wonder what they are eating. The wind blows and we wonder if they are cold. It's getting very hot, we wonder if they are terribly uncomfortable and most of all, we wonder if they are okay. We too want to hug them, but most of all, we want to see their mothers hugging them.

I've had this feeling of being divided inside me now for 7 years. The ability to concentrate on one thing while your heart worries about another. First it was for Elie - I didn't know enough about the army or what Yaakov was doing to truly worry about where he was. Then it was for Shmulik and Chaim - they went in together. Haim worked on an air force base so I really only worried about him getting to and from the base and mostly, I knew he was fine. Soon enough, too soon, it will be Davidi and part of me thinks this one will break me. I'm just not sure I can do it again...even though I know I have to, even though I know I will.

Sometimes, this feeling rises up to choke you and your brain falters. It did it while Elie was in the Gaza War, a few nights when I knew Shmulik was out there. It did it again during Operation Pillar of Defense while we waited to see if the Palestinians were stupid enough to let the situation move into a full war.

It often happened while I thought and worried about Gilad Shalit. Now, it is constant. Six days and counting. I need to work; I need to finish one document, two proposals. I need to set up a meeting with a new client; finalize the billing issues for another. I need to confirm which writer I'm going to put on a project and one client has optimistically asked me to finish what I'm working on so that I can start the next one on Sunday or Monday. It's never too early to begin working on next year's conference. I have to update FOUR different websites. It's Wednesday already - I probably need to make a shopping list.

I check the news 20 times a day (that's actually not an exaggeration and is probably below the actual number of times). I have so much on my mind, too much. So much going on; too many things to do.

And on the other side of it all, for six days now, there is this huge part of me that isn't functioning very well. The three boys are still missing. Nothing is as important as that and so my brain and heart focus on that. Yes, I am actually aware that there is nothing I can do. No words written will save them. Prayers will help - and I am praying for their safe and speedy return but beyond that...this divide in your soul remains. Day and night...

Day 6.

As you go through your day - please think of

  • Gilad Michael ben Bat-Galim
  • Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah
  • Eyal ben Iris T'shura

Please let them come home safe and soon.