Cross my heart, I have no idea what I will tell these kids tomorrow.
Calling them children, technically, is an understatement. However, I can’t think of them differently. I feel very strongly about the importance of what I do; I want all of them to succeed and, quite frankly, stay alive.
For the past month I have been running like a headless chicken trying to reach as many visiting Birthright groups as possible. Each meeting is both an exhilarating as well as emotionally challenging experience. The summer groups were much more enthusiastic about coming back to Israel and joining Masa Israel programs. The winter groups are much less ecstatic about the whole potential future experience. I am telling myself that it’s the weather that isn’t very much helping the image of this place, but it’s not true. While I am sitting wrapped in two blankets, next to the radiator and with a hot water bottle between my crossed legs, these kids come from countries where they actually have winters. You know, with snow, ice and temperatures below zero. I am ashamed of myself and that fact that I am freezing now though I managed to survive Polish winters with a meter and a half of snow, ice, wind, minus 25 degrees Centigrade on warmer days and I wore stiletto boots all the time. Stiletto on ice should have been my nickname. High five to me from before I moved to England where mellowed down like mulled wine (for which I wouldn’t express contempt at this very moment should anyone kindly wish to oblige).
Over weeks now I have had the same nagging feeling during each Birthright meeting. I can’t help but see dozens upon dozens of young people looking at me with a huge question mark in their eyes: “are you bloody crazy woman? You want us to come back and live here for few months? Haven’t you seen the news?”
I have. I. Have. The next question, a much more verbalised one that follows is: “so… you live here?” Yes, I do. Yes. I. Do. I proceed to explain each program, different opportunities, the wide-range of long-term carrier-oriented benefits following completing each program and I notice one thing. Either they avoid looking at me and present the “screw you, we are flying home” attitude or they follow my every syllable and every gesture as if saying “screw the situation, we are coming back”.
Actually, in terms of numbers, there are more young people signing up for the Masa programs now than they did before the constant wave of attacks started. But these are different type of kids. They are not expecting that it’s going to be easy. The fact that I am not mentioning what is happening on the streets doesn’t mean that they don’t know. They know that they can’t go to certain places because of security concerns. They know that, essentially, they have flown into the country plagued by daily attacks of all sorts. Yet, they have flown in. With their eyes wide-open with fear they still listen to me and they still sign up. They think I am crazy. They think that they are crazy for listening to me, but I think that deep down we realise one thing. The only way to believe in this dream of ours is to be positively insane.
There is no way back. We only have one land and we can’t give up. It’s us, the young of the nation that are changing the face of what this country is. We are essentially building it. Every struggle we go through is to improve something, give back to both the people and the country, build for the future and see our children grow up here. Every time we see death we become more aware of our lives and their purpose.
I have no idea what I will tell them tomorrow though. An Israeli Arab opened fire on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv this Friday. Two people died, ten were injured and the attacker is still being pursued. There are reports of a cab driver being shot on the head and his vehicle being stolen, so it’s possible that he is heading north.
So what will I tell them? Come and enjoy living in Israel because the food is great? The weather is to die for? The culture? Not that these things aren’t important for them, they are, but would any sane person come to a country, which by many would be proclaimed to be a war zone to live here as if nothing is happening? How do people, who have never lived here reconcile what they see on the news with the vibrant everyday life? How do these kids manage to reconcile the beauty and modernity of Israel with the constant struggle for survival?
I wish I could be more real with them. I wish I could say: “Listen people, all bullshit aside. This is Israel. We have problems. The Arabs are running around and target random people. But we have no other land and we are here to stay. Come and help us build this country. Oh, by the way, the food is great and the weather is to die for.”