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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Busy living... not dying!


I'm sorry to have to post this update, but I feel like the emails and comments I get after nearly every terrorist attack are getting a bit out of hand.

Just for the record, the best way to ensure that I delete your emails and comments is to breathlessly inquire why I haven't written a post about the most recent terrorist attack.  I sometimes feel compelled to comment on this troubling aspect of life here... but I reserve the right to think and write about the rest of my life as well.

This is a basic disconnect that I can no longer ignore.

I get the feeling that there are some people out there who experience morbid jubilation... or even something approaching righteous ecstasy each time Israelis are maimed or slaughtered in large numbers.  And as hard as this may be to believe, I'm not talking about our enemies here, but rather about people who profess a deep love and admiration for both Israel and Israelis.

For some reason, these horrible events become the only conduit for their sympathy and connection to Israel/ Israelis... and when they can't seem to wring enough agony out of the media coverage, they invariably start to look longingly at bloggers and journalers to prolong their emotional connection to the carnage.

If this sounds like I might be talking about you, here's a news flash:

We who live, work and study here do not have the luxury of allowing the conflict to define us.  We have families, jobs, shopping lists, religious beliefs, car troubles, work deadlines, social lives, schoolwork, political agendas, hobbies and a million other things that effectively combine to define who we really are.  We don't want or need the attacks of our enemies, or the sympathy of our friends, to define us.

I can see where countries that are unaccustomed to living under attack might fall into the trap of being at least temporarily defined by shared pain and outrage.  For instance when the World Trade Center was attacked and destroyed, Americans encountered a rare moment of unity... mostly because of the shared sense of outrage and victim-hood. 

When two men and a hunting rifle were able to paralyze almost the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States for several weeks, again there was that shared siege mentality that allowed a huge cross-section of the American public to unabashedly abandon a personal identify and assume the shared status of foxhole dwellers.

Unfortunately, Israel experiences the statistical equivalent of a 'Beltway Sniper' attack sometimes two or three times a day... and a 9/11-scale event every month or two.   At a certain point a nation full of people has to either climb out of its emotional foxhole and re-engage with individual hopes, dreams and identities... or risk abandoning them forever.

A society whose only semblance of cohesiveness stems from its perceived mantle of victim status runs the risk of never being able to reengage with the real world.  I feel this accurately describes what our adversaries are going through far better than it does Israeli society.  And this victim-inspired torpor has left our enemies with neither the motivation nor the means to climb out of their foxholes and think about who and what they really want to be. 

The reason Israel retains any semblance of an economy, a political system, a complex social fabric... the reason we retain any identity at all after all these years of living under siege... is that we force ourselves to walk outside at the first sound of the 'all clear' signal.   

The terror attacks are what occasionally happen in the midst of our rich and rewarding lives here... not the other way around.

So please, please, please don't try to force us back into the shelters just because you can't figure out a way to relate to us as anything other than victims.



Posted by David Bogner on December 6, 2005 | Permalink


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Thank you for expressing this so clearly! I sometimes feel guilty when I have the same reaction - I just can't get emotionally tied up every time there is a terrorist attack. We have to live our lives! The fact that we can do this strengthens Israel immeasurably.

Posted by: Rachel | Dec 6, 2005 5:02:35 PM

I, for one, enjoy your writings about the living you're doing, versus the 'surviving' that others seem to want to hear about.

Despite, of course, knowing that you're ok, but a new post about the bees or the kids or the shopping will let me know that!

Posted by: val | Dec 6, 2005 5:17:46 PM

I don't see how anyone can think of Israelis as victims. Has there ever been another country made up of such a stoic, strong, resilient bunch?

You plan for terror attacks in the same way we plan for tornados - train, plan, and hunker down if the worst happens - and then clean up and get on with real life. It's really amazing. I can't imagine us doing that (en masse, at least) here.

Anyway, like Val said, most of us just want to hear about the living.

Posted by: Tanya | Dec 6, 2005 5:32:37 PM

A society whose only semblance of cohesiveness stems from its perceived mantle of victim status runs the risk of never being able to reengage with the real world.

Agreed. However, have you never feared that much of the glue that holds together Sephardim and Ashkenazim, rich and poor, left and right, religious and secular is this victim status? There are those who feel that one of the greatest obstacles to peace from the Israeli side is that once the conflict with the Arabs is resolved then we will have to deal with the ugly issues within the family. It is much easier for people to deal with an external enemy than to fight amongst ourselves. Perhaps people are more comfortable focusing on the victim stuff as it let's them ignore some of the other issues in Israeli society, and that's why they ask you to do so as well. Like the other commenters earlier I appreciate what you're doing!

Posted by: wanderer | Dec 6, 2005 6:02:11 PM

I don't see why people need to make a choice what aspect of Israel to relate to. It's hard for me to imagine how someone can remain horrified but terrorism WITHOUT admiring Israel's virility and strength at the same time.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 6, 2005 6:08:41 PM


Here's a solution -- everytime you get an Email like that, sign them up for the Israel 21c newsletter, and subject them to five non-conflict stories per week...

Posted by: Allison | Dec 6, 2005 6:15:27 PM

I don't know...maybe I haven't been here long enough...but yesterday's attack really affected me and I found it very difficult to continue with my everyday activities. Of course I did, but with a very heavy heart.

Posted by: einsof | Dec 6, 2005 8:35:39 PM

My rant....

Just for the record, I have lived in Israel, and totally agree with you regarding how life must go on (even though when I lived there, it was of relatively peace with very few outbursts of violence). But the beltway sniper shootings, I NEVER FELT the anxiety and fear in Israel, like I did those 3 or 4 weeks, primarily because it was so random, and many of the shootings were within a mile or so from my home.

I get it why you use the beltway shootings as an example of what may happen statistically 2 or 3x a day. Especially living in Efrat, where the residents may feel like a sitting ducks each time they commute back and forth. But, nevertheless, the paralyzing fear that John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo successfully rained down upon us, I hope no one else will ever have to experience. I hope noone will ever feel like they need to hide behind a sheet when pumping gas. I hope noone will ever feel that anytime they go to the grocery store, they need to constantly look around to make sure they are safe and then walk very fast from their car to the entrance. I hope noone will ever feel that they can’t send their children off to school without the fear that they will get gun down while standing next to their bus, or send love ones off to work at the schools where they have to stand outside, wide open, to make sure that the children are quickly escorted inside. I hope noone will ever need to tell their children why, day after day, week after week, they can’t go outside and play, or go to the park, because it’s just not safe. And I hope noone will ever have to sooth their children from nightmares they had about those about those bad men. Am I exaggerating, I don’t think so. Ask anyone who went through it.

Yes, in Israel, life does go on and you do get use to the unknown, but it is a part of life there. However, that kind of terror is not a part of life here and so when we hear about overseas, especially if we have love ones studying, visiting, or living over there, we do worry and are fearful.

Posted by: js | Dec 6, 2005 9:00:19 PM

That message was very direct and powerful.
It affected me a lot because I am going through something similar myself but on a much smaller scale. My brother is not well and will be undergoing open heart surgery this Thursday. People keep asking me how I'm functioning.
Well, what should I do? Cease to function? Stop doing laundry and feeding my kids? Stay home from work and cry all day?
Of course I care deeply about my brother, as we all do about Israel and everyone of it's precious lives therein but to live in state of fear and panic does noone any good. Life is meant to be lived. So live it!

Posted by: shifra | Dec 6, 2005 10:00:58 PM

Rahel... What I have had trouble explaining to people is that each terrorist attack effects people according to their physical and emotional proximity to the attack and/or its victims. I didn't mean to imply that it isn't upsetting each time there is an attack, but people develop a self-preservation instinct that allows them to temper their response.

Val... Oh c'mon. I could publish two pictures of the kids and you'd be happy. :-)

Tanya... Not being Jewish you may not be familiar with the survivor's guilt that many Jews outside of Israel have to face each time there is an attack. One of the ways many non-Israeli Jews seem to deal with this is to become overly invested in the carnage to the exclusion of all other aspects of life here. Take the guilt that many feel for not being in Israel in the first place and add to that the guilt over not facing the same risks during a time of war... and well it produces some odd results.

Wanderer... I've heard for decades the old joke about how if the Arabs really want to destroy the Jews all they really need to do is leave us in peace and we will kill each other. There may be a grain of truth there since any country tends to have more internal strife during long periods of peace than when the country is unified against an external enemy. However that is no excuse to perpetuate a state of belligerence. I'm willing to take my chances with the social issues that will surely arise if and when peace breaks out here.

Irina... You may have misunderstood the point of my rant. I wasn't suggesting that people should withhold their feelings of solidarity and empathy with Israel during times of crisis. But the past 4 or 5 years have blinded many people to any other aspect of Israeli life besides the terror. My whole point is that there is nothing heroic about being exposed to potential terrorist attacks any more than there is anything heroic about being exposed to heart disease or lightning strikes. All survivors deserve sympathy when they lose someone to such random events... but if (G-d forbid) you were to lose a loved one to a heart attack or a lightning strike, would you want everyone to smother you with sympathy and heart attack/lightning anecdotes for the rest of your life? People and countries are so much more than the losses they suffer.

Allison... Deal.

Einsof... The point isn't that you should become impervious to the attacks, but rather that you will eventually be able to create a context for them. Some will hurt more than others because we knew someone who was killed or were very close to where it happened. But at a certain point you will come to the realization (I hope anyway) that living here isn't about standing still between attacks... its about living life as if there will never be another attack.

js... This is what I meant by "I can see where countries that are unaccustomed to living under attack might fall into the trap of being at least temporarily defined by shared pain and outrage." Because most people in the US have no shared experience in dealing with asymmetrical warfare, they are effected much more deeply by it. Simply put, asymmetrical warfare is where a very small force is able to paralyze and even defeat a much larger force through a random pattern of attacks. The Beltway Sniper was a textbook example of this. Terrorism is asymmetrical warfare, but it loses much of its ability to cripple a society if it is over-used. Yes, you and the rest of the people in your area went through a few weeks of hell on earth. But if the shooters hadn't been caught quickly through police work, the public would eventually have gone back about its business and the shooters would probably have been identified or even apprehended by people on the street. I am not asking people outside of Israel to stop caring about what happens here. I'm just asking for a little perspective. If someone living in the US can rattle off statistics about every terror attack for the last few years but doesn't know what is going on in Israeli politics, music, hi-tech and art... then there is something wrong with their perspective of life here.

Shifra... I had already written my response to Irina when your comment arrived and I was tempted to change it to spare your feelings. But I think the example is a good one. People who are concerned about heart disease watch their diet and try to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. But sometimes genetics and heredity are enough to laugh in the face of such measures, so its best to just enjoy life and live responsibly. The same can be said of terrorism. Israeli society has made tremendous concessions to dealing with the terror threat in the form of lost privacy and a lot of inconvenience. But it is still sometimes not enough. But just as people don't spend their entire lives talking about heart issues (even if they are worried about them), so too Israelis don't spend every waking moment fixated on terrorism. Thank you for your life-affirming comment and I hope your brother has a refuah shelaima ('a complete recovery' for all you non-Hebrew speakers). BTW, please feel free to post his Hebrew name here. There are a lot of good people here who's thoughts and prayers did a world of good for a neighbor of mine who was wounded in Gaza.

Posted by: David | Dec 6, 2005 10:27:33 PM

Awesome, David. You've just been linked.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Dec 6, 2005 10:37:42 PM

Yehuda... I appreciate that. I wish I'd known about your site a few weeks ago when I posted this entry. :-)

Posted by: David | Dec 6, 2005 10:43:57 PM

I sometimes wonder when looking back to when I was a teenager living in Israel, if my friends and I were just being like the natives when we would just accept that this was the way life there, adapt to it and take precautions (like seeing an empty pack of cigarrettes on the ground or plastic bag and avoid walking near it)or were we just being teenagers who felt invincible. I remember how difficult it was for friends of mine to continue to stay in Israel after their year aborad because their parents were so frightened, and yet we just couldn't understand their fear and thought they were too overprotected by wanting them to get back the to states as soon as their year or semester was over. Now that I am older and have kids myself, I think it's a little of both. Funny, actually not really, but typical, I remember a bunch of us going to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, just to see what it was all about. There were reporters and television reporters everywhere. One of the networks had stopped us and was interviewing one of my friends. All they kept asking was if we were scared to live there, what life was like being bombed all the time, etc. We just laughed and told them to get real. That is not how life was. No bombs, no going to class via underground tunnels, no daily fears of being hurt. They didn't like our answers and moved on, searching for those who would give the story that they wanted. We did experience some violence. We did have a bus stop blow up at the University, but after a few days of calming down, life resumed as normal and we had a kick ass year!

Posted by: jaime | Dec 6, 2005 11:28:07 PM

I'm not one of the people who emailed you, but I posted a photo of a young man killed on Monday in Netanya. I did so because I fear that the horror of his murder may be lost. Terrorism has become routine in our world.

Maybe people turn to you to overcome the danger of apathy, of seeing it all as an abstract headline: "violence in the middle east." Because they know you, you become a touchstone of reality, someone who can say, "Yes, these are not numbers, each is a person who had a precious life."

But of course, life goes on and you have your own life to deal with, as you should.

Posted by: mirty | Dec 6, 2005 11:41:51 PM

Thank you for the timely ranting. One of the reasons I choose to daily read your blog is that it goes beyond the typical political scenarios. We all know they exist. For those of us that have been to Israel a few times, we also know there is much more to Israel than media headlines. I want to read about "life" in Israel. You have provided that well, David.

Just for the record, I have never felt more secure and safe than when I am in Israel. I cannot explain it, but it is there.

Thanks again.

Posted by: Tim | Dec 6, 2005 11:48:31 PM

On the contrary, I was agreeing with you. What I was trying to say is that I don't understand people who whine endlessly about how bad things are, often forgetting what an energetic, strong country Israel is. I understand your point, and have often thought about this issue myself. My opinion tends to vacillate on the issue. There are periods of times when I get unusually angry and defensive, and appear more like people you've described than what people in Israel are like. Then time passes, and I get sort of "numb", which is not really numb, but I understand exactly how Israelis are able to go on with their lives, and I have the same reaction to latest development... and then something happens, and for some reason I suddenly grow pessimistic and forget all about the things you've mentioned and which totally make sense and just whine. However, most of the time I do recognize that Israel is so much more than the Jewish vanguard against terrorism - which is why it's such a success! : )

Posted by: Irina | Dec 7, 2005 12:02:41 AM

Jaime... There is no question the media crafts the story to suit their intended audience and uses selective editing to provide the sound bites that will support their worldview. You are also correct that becoming a parent changes everything about how we perceive things to do with safety. But while I can't control the media, I can ask people to look at the media with critical eyes, and to use a historical filter when sifting through the reports from this part of the world. Is there danger here? Yes. Do we have pictures of kids on milk cartons and an amber alert system. No. So why don't people stop to think about that dichotomy?

Mirty... There is nothing wrong with educating people and adopting a policy of never allowing people to forget the results of terrorism. Not only is that an admirable thing to do, but it is imperative! But the people who have emailed me and left comments are probably more knowledgeable about the history of terrorism here than I am. They are like junkies who go to the hospital with made-up ailments in order to seek drugs. They go where the medicine is! People who feed on the terrorism/sympathy cycle are no different. They get their fix from the news with every attack... and seek more from me when the news buzz wheres off. Today's rant was just a reminder that I won't support their habit anymore.

Tim... Today is yet another reminder of why I rarely write about politics or 'the situation'. It feeds into a focus on things that are not at the center of real life here... and such things are not healthy when they become the core of anyone's diet. I couldn't agree with you more about feeling safe here. My kids have a level of autonomy that they could never have dreamed of in the US.

Irina... I'm sorry, going back to your comment I see now that I misread your intent. What you are describing is exactly what I go through here. But My wife and I also went through the emotional roller coaster when her mother was terminally ill with cancer. Was our world turned upside down? Of course, but we didn't stop living our lives... and we would have been horrified if all our friends defined their relationship with us exclusively in terms of my mother-in-laws illness and death. By the way, you need to hurry up and finish school... you sound like you'd do well here. :-)

Posted by: David | Dec 7, 2005 12:16:42 AM

Well said well done!

Posted by: Delmar Bogner | Dec 7, 2005 5:53:30 AM

I can so relate to the cancer analogy... I have many years of school left, but one day I hope... : )

Posted by: Irina | Dec 7, 2005 6:23:58 AM

I fall under that bracket of people who profess a deep love and admiration for both Israel and Israelis BUT I’m surprised to read that there’re those who express this love as an outlet for sympathy. I must confess though that the first time I saw an Israeli I was like – damn! he must have gone through hell, I wonder if he’s ever risked his life for someone else – obviously a wrong approach to my way of thinking because the enemy came here a few years after and its no story to tell.

Some people find Israelis to be very mistrustful or wary, its because of the known enemy or the wolf-in-sheep-gear friend.

Posted by: kakarizz | Dec 7, 2005 7:40:31 AM

I agree with the others...there are news and other outlets for letting people know about terror attacks. Most of use appreciate reading about how you are living in Israel.

Posted by: Essie | Dec 7, 2005 4:18:49 PM

Thank you, David. So true.


Posted by: Shayna | Dec 7, 2005 4:49:51 PM

Hi David, I enjoy reading about your family (and the bees). It puts a human face on the Israel experience that we don't get in our local newspapers. But the real reason I keep coming back is articles like this. It cuts right through all the bs. Best wishes to you and your family.

Posted by: David Nathan Bailey | Dec 7, 2005 10:01:23 PM

Irina... Don't make the mistake I did... come as soon as you finish school.

Kakarizz... So you know what I'm talking about.

Essie... The thing that has me feeling a little guilty about this rant is that it is a tiny minority of people to whom I was talking.

Shayna... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

David Nathan Bailey... I appreciate that. Maybe I'll change my tag line to 'cutting through the BS since 2004!' :-)

Posted by: David | Dec 7, 2005 11:20:39 PM

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