This time, it’s not even about being an expat. It’s about being a parent, a resident of a small, sleepy town, and a fellow human.
After noticing there was a destination address for sending messages of condolence for residents and victims of the Newtown, Connecticut rampage shooting, I suggested to Koala we draw pictures for some people who are very sad in America. And maybe our pictures will make them feel better.
He was happy to comply, as was Bebe. Maybe teaching compassion and empathy this early is an important part of the cultural solution to today’s twisted society.
With love to Newtown, from Tzur Hadassah, Israel.
You can send your own messages and letters to the following address:
Message of Condolence P.O. Box 3700 Newtown, CT 06470
Sitting just outside the kids’ room, on the cold tiled floor in the hallway, scrolling through articles on my phone. Silently scanning Newtown coverage, reading Newtown stories, seeing Newtown pictures as my son restlessly attempts sleep, deep within his bottom bunk.
“Ima, can you tuck me in?”
I don’t even bother wiping the tears from my face; it’s soaked and the evening chill stings my cheeks as I stand up.
He’s looking at me while I don’t make eye contact, lifting his little body up with one hand and stuffing the blanket underneath his back, the way he likes it. Tight like a hug.
I smooth it out on top of his belly and look at him. Kiss the place where his cheek and his nose meet.
What does this child know?
Does he realize my face is wet from tears as I kiss him good night?
Does he assume that I’ll always be there, even if I’m not?
Is he aware of the hidden demons that take shape around the world while we’re busy playing? Busy living?
Do American first graders practicing school lockdowns know why they’re lining up and locking doors?
Is there a way to fix it all, fix it like my son so passionately pretends to, fix the pain, the mess, the loss, the inevitability?
So I guess I’m not as paranoid as I thought… Or the world has become a more realistic place for people with morbid imaginations like myself…
Set your mind back eight years. Remember the Beslan school hostage crisis? The massacre in September 2004, erupting from a local school hostage crisis that lasted a whole three days, including the capture of over 1,100 people (including 777 children) and ended with over 380 children and adults murdered.
That horrible terrorist tragedy really shook me. Violently. To my core. Something inside me was never replaced after that. Back in 2004, I didn’t have my own children yet. I was single, about to make aliyah, and absolutely horrified as I read every single detail while my eyes stung and my face soaked in tears.
I didn’t have kids yet, but it stuck with me, somewhere deep, dormant. Years later, when I started sending my oldest to a maon, a local kindergarten here in Israel, the Beslan massacre edged back into my consciousness.
One of the safest places in the world for a child, invaded. A schoolhouse raped by violence. Death in a classroom door. If it could happen because of terrorism there, surely it could happen here, in Israel. Even right here, in suburban Tzur Hadassah. In fact, it has happened, in the very beds of sleeping babes.
Surely there are troubled, evil spirits everywhere.
And so it’s been, for the last few years of every morning splitting my soul into two, and then three, as I send my kids into their gans, my mind wanders to an ugly place. Two to three times a week, it creeps into the outskirt of my typically rational lobe, whispering to me, what if. And so, if the gate is ajar, I make sure it’s locked when I leave. If I see a stranger loitering outside, I wait until I can suss out their purpose. And as I drive off, each time, I spend a couple microseconds pushing these thoughts out of my way.
Did the parents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut ever feel that way?
From reading up since the massacre, I learned the Sandy Hook school seems to be pretty tight with their security. And not in an inner-New York City way. Visitors must be buzzed in (on a typical day). The teachers held occasional drills to be prepared for ‘lockdown’ which apparently happened quite liberally. I found that shocking, actually. Security drills are the new fire drills in today’s America, perhaps.
But mental health care – that’s another challenge.
In fact, it’s incredibly frustrating that ‘gun control’ is trending everywhere while ‘mental health care’ or ‘mental illness’ is still the untouched, ugly, misunderstood American elephant. I do hope President Obama is serious about taking “meaningful action” after this latest in an entire series of deadly shooting attacks in the second half of 2012 alone.
But meaningful action is not just centered around gun control, please. We Americans don’t have an encouraging health care system in place – and beyond that, a welfare management system for the mentally ill – in order to make serious changes regarding how these individuals are functioning (or not) in society. Forget Obamacare. As we all know, health care – and mental health care structure – are broken in the United States.
And Israel – well, it’s just as bad on that side of things. Kupot (the national insurance companies) barely cover therapy sessions, let along drugs related to mental illness, conditions, disorders. Even private insurance here isn’t inclusive.
From the classroom, I’ve heard from teacher-friends that learning disabilities are routinely denied in the classroom, or staff don’t have the education or tools for coping with it. For children with special needs, there are resources here and there, but until what point? And that doesn’t even touch the issue of what happens after the school system… Or way beyond learning disorders – serious mental illness.
This morning, after dropping the kids off, I did my morning walk routine. It includes a chance to peep through the fence that surrounds Tzur Hadassah and see from the outside of the yishuv the building where I send my son every day. Part of my crazy is that I often look to make sure everything is peaceful on the outside. No one strange lurking. That the gate is closed.
I wondered, as I approached today, what I could possibly see there. What kind of wide range of events is possible in such a twisted, ill world.
Who hasn’t been dreading the names of the 20 Newtown children being released. Who can handle their names, their ages. Their pictures. There’s really nothing to say.
As an American, a parent, a human, I hope “meaningful action” means something, on the part of all of us operating in society.
RIP Vicki Soto, a hero with no other choice to make than the right one…
Must-watch: What teachers do: Kaitlin Roig, first grade teacher, shares her account of how she protected her class… “I wanted them to know someone loved them… I wanted that to be the last thing they heard…”
I’m hurting. And frustrated. I don’t want to put anyone down. I’m not trying to guilt anyone into feeling anything. I just have an honest question to ask.
Why is that I feel… forgotten, or isolated by peeps from abroad?
I guess by ‘I’ I’m actually referring to people who live in Israel. People. Not government.
I’m having trouble clearly expressing it, as I’ve been attempting to discern my issues on Twitter for the last half hour. Here’s a breakdown:
Things I know:
Many diaspora Jews have a complicated relationship with Israel.
Many diaspora Jews have no relationship with Israel.
Many people in general have no relationship with world news.
Most people tend to veer on the side of blissfully ignorant, not interested in news, fatigued by Middle East crap, unable to commit to siding with Israel, frustrated by Israeli hell-raising, and most of all – just plain busy with their own lives.
Every one has their own set of priorities worked out. There’s only room for so much.
[UPDATED] The crises are simply… not reported by mainstream media abroad.
Things I feel:
Up until now, I’ve managed my expectations where they are pretty low when it comes to people abroad and how they relate to Israel, and to me in Israel.
Something spurred a new set of feelings in the last week of Gaza rocket attacks, which have been going on for 12 years. I think that ‘something’ is related to how utterly devastated I felt when Hurricane Sandy hit my hometown, home state, mother country. How helpless and frustrated I felt, how disconnected and painful it was.
Maybe now I’ve finally come around; if that was so hard for me, isn’t the pain and anguish going on here at all – a fraction – meaningful to people I’m connected to abroad?
And I’m learning the answer is a resounding no… like I said above, people are busy, fatigued, blissfully ignorant, uninterested.
And is this something we should/need to change?
[UPDATED] I feel bad making it sound like I need love and support, but… it’s not easy living here. And if some of us didn’t come across the bridge, what would be left for the people who never will?
I think, bottom line, my issue is that people I know, have known, people I love don’t seem in the know enough or concerned enough to reach out to friends in Israel. Personally. As an interested friend. I understand feeling complicated by Israel, feeling uncomfortable with the default connection between Jew -> Israel, feeling uneasy or angry about the violence – but it’s that personal touch between people that has disappeared… or become lacking… or something.
The personal connection many olim feel, straddling two countries, is fading, perhaps. Are folks back in the old country deep down angry I live here? Unable to break down what it means to have a friend live, and somehow default-support this complicated situation?
Anyone else feel this way? Disagree with me? Think I’m just whining and should go back to living my own hectic Israeli life?
The mainstream news isn’t reporting it, or when they do, they’re not giving you much of a personal picture. Whether it’s their job or not, or they’re fatigued or not, or this is what the readership wants or not – well, it leaves it up to the rest of us to paint the terrible but personal picture.
The rocket attacks from Gaza, produced by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and company, are raining down on southern Israel on a daily basis now – actually, make that hourly. Despite an unofficial ceasefire that ended with 13 new rockets courtesy of Islamic Jihad. Yesterday saw over one hundred rockets, which have hit buildings and caused casualties in residential areas.
Yes, Israel has sent IDF planes over Gaza to carry out missions against the terrorists and militants releasing their rockets from residential areas. Yes, that creates a similar situation for Gazan children. Yes, we all need to understand what the entire picture entails for all of us on either side of the border.
Another perspective of the direct hit in Netivot this morning:
Here’s what the rocket attacks in Israel look like from the nighttime point of view of children sleeping in bomb shelters:
Here’s what it looks like when southern Israeli children have been trained to duck and cover under school desks – and actually have to do it, at any given minute:
Here’s what it looks like when a children’s event is interrupted by a rocket siren in Sderot - warning, EMOTIONALLY GRAPHIC. (The video is from 2008, but the attacks have been going on for years now…)
Something I find myself considering: I know I could carry both my children in my arms, but what if I had a third?
Here’s what a mother of two has to say about becoming a maternal human shield for her children on the side of a road in Beer Sheva as the sirens sound above her.
What a rocket looks like up close:
The IDF blog has up-to-the-minute updates about rocket attacks across southern Israel (among other news). You can also follow several local Facebook pages in English/Hebrew to get that personal view I’m talking about:
My New York Times debut: A journalist found my post on my experience of helplessness as a Staten Island expat, far away during the Hurricane Sandy disaster. After some emails and a phone call, my Staten Island-based mama and I became the lede of his article on New York expats taking action during crisis.
Here’s the article, in this weekend’s paper in the New York Times Giving section:
It was kinda cool to be on the flip side of reporting as the interviewee. Probably made it a lot easier for the writer, too. And I also got a kick out of collecting info for him to find other local Israeli resources.
The experience reminded me of my old reporter ambitions (which, since abandoning them, I’ve partly pursued here for the last 8+ years; so one might say). It got me thinking that I might want to revive that old life a little, perhaps staying online, maybe starting with guest posts? Might be fun to give it a shot.
Felt lucky as a I pumped my car with gas last night, with no wait, no lines, no odd-even rationing, and any gas station to choose from.
The petrol shortage in New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy is making me consider how it’s probably our future anyway if we don’t collectively do something about reliance on oil and all that jazz.