You never think about the ordinary bad things when it comes to living in Israel.
Years before we came here, I read about a family who made aliyah, and then one of their sons was killed riding a bike.
It really made me stop and think. These kinds of things happen in Israel? Ordinary, bad stuff, like bike accidents, car accidents, slipping, falling, all the normal terrifying things that can happen to anybody, anywhere in the world?
Yes, sadly, it’s true.
It’s the extraordinary tragedies that people expect here, and then the everyday, ordinary bad things kind of sneak up instead.
When we first made aliyah, I slept with a tichel (head scarf) handy every night, in case I had to get up and make a run for the shelter in the middle of the night. True, things were “hotter” then in the north, with Syria making all kinds of threats, and Israel getting in the way as it does.
But also, I just expected it. This was Israel, after all.
Gradually, I let down my defenses. The extraordinary bad things that one expects from watching too much news simply weren’t happening.
Now, our gas masks aregathering dust on top of a closet. In fact, the government isn’t even issuing them right now because the situation is so “cool” at the moment.
A few months ago, I was fast asleep in my bed when I noticed, in my dream, that things smelled very bad. Very, very bad. And people were yelling. And it was raining very loudly outside, I decided, an odd, splashy kind of rain.
The smell got worse. That was actually what woke me – the single thought:
“This smell can hurt me and my family.”
It was the smell of destruction, a family business crumbling to ash, a fire raging in a bakery that was – baruch Hashem! – across the street, too far to even warm up our building a little bit. Firefighters were yelling into megaphones, spraying water, and the whole thing was well under control.
It was 4 a.m. I went outside and watched for a while from the front of my building. The weirdest thing was that in the park across the street from the bakery, there were a few people standing watching the firefighters. One woman walked past me, on her way home, I figured. But a minute later, she trudged back carrying a chair. Ahhh, a front row seat to disaster.
Israelis are like that; fascinated by any type of crisis, even the ordinary ones. They are well aware that you never know what you’re going to get in this gorgeous box of Israel-shaped chocolates.
A few weeks ago, a girl was killed crossing the street, 2 blocks from here in our quiet little neighbourhood.
Her name was Simcha, which means “happiness,” and she was 14. It was dusk and she was crossing without a crosswalk. It’s the kind of thing that happens anywhere and everywhere.
When I started volunteering last week in my daughter’s school, one of the two students I was given to practice English with plunked herself down and announced, “I don’t know any English. My sister died last week.”
There was no connection that I could discern between the two sentences. She had learned English for three years before her sister died; had she forgotten it all in that instant?
I said I was terribly sorry, and then carried on the way I do, asking myself every minute if I should be tough; if I should be lenient. I settled for “smiling but tough,” but the girls saw through it right away and made me tell them the answers.
I figured that the answers were in English, and any English was an improvement over none. So that was how we spent our time together – me hinting violently at the answer until they guessed it, and them pointing at words and pictures randomly in the hopes of striking English gold.
It was, as these things go, a good class. I saw them again this week and they were happy to see me, and actually remembered a few of the words. Progress.
“Is that Paris?” she said to me yesterday, stabbing at her test randomly. “Simcha went to Paris.” Yes, it’s Paris. No, I don’t know what to say to make your loss any easier.
Here in Israel, it really is strange thinking about the ordinary bad things that go on here and everywhere, every single moment, around the globe. These days, Simcha might not have been safe in Paris either.
It is strange thinking about bakeries that catch fire in the middle of the night and shed the sharp, foul scent of mayhem and destruction for weeks and months afterwards. About twelve-year-olds who get up from shiva and learn English and live the rest of forever without a sister who was named “happiness.”
Thinking about the ordinary, and the extraordinary as well, of course.
Like a family who has the strength to get married weeks after losing a father, a brother. A boy from Texas who volunteers for the Israeli army and is killed in a war nobody told him he had to fight. A father who holds his kids tight as they say Shema together and die instead of just ordering pizza, which is what they had set out to do.
Here in Israel, we have both kinds of bad things. There is a world of good here as well, of course. But sometimes, you’re just not prepared for how many types of sadness there are in the world.