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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Unattractive self-absorption

Look, there is no excuse I can offer that will make this post OK.  It is selfish and thoughtless on too many levels to count.  But I'm guessing I'm not alone in having these thoughts so I may as well be the one to put on a 'kick me' sign and write about them.

In case you've been living under a rock, Israel is at war. 

We are at war in the south in an attempt to reign in the peace-loving Palestinians currently firing Qassam rockets at Sderot and Ashqelon... not to mention attempting to head off the tunnel diggers/ infiltrators.  Forget the fact that when we handed over every inch of Gaza a year ago, we were assured by our leaders that by now the Gazans would be engaged in the difficult task of state-building, not terrorism.   The current attacks make no sense according to our leaders... not to mention the accepted Palestinian narrative of struggle against occupation.

We are at war in the east (or west... depending on whether you are using the Jordan River as a reference) trying to deal with the daily shootings, Molotov cocktails and  attempted infiltrations/suicide bombings.  All of these ongoing attacks come on the direct orders of the democratically elected Palestinian leadership we were assured had been swept into power on an anti-corruption platform... not because of their unambiguous call for Israel's destruction.  "The Palestinians are simply tired of Fatah", I was told.  "They aren't endorsing Hamas' military agenda".

And of course we are at war in the north, fighting against an entity that, again, according to the Palestinians own narrative should have no dog in this fight whatsoever!  I mean seriously... Hezbollah has no plausible claims against Israel... unless you count the inconvenient fact that Israel continues to exist.   Hezbollah is a radical, Iranian-backed militant group whose raison d'être was to oppose Israel's presence in Lebanon after the 1982 invasion.  Once Israel withdrew they had no plausible reason to continue with the struggle.  They'd won!

The double irony is that the IDF's occupation of southern Lebanon in the 80s was to try to rescue northern Israel from the sort of bombardment it is presently suffering...  and, when we withdrew from southern Lebanon the decision makers pooh-poohed all warnings that such a unilateral move (i.e. without getting anything in return) would make Israel appear weak/vulnerable to Hezbollah.

I know... it seems petty to keep score, right?  It's childish to point out three specific warnings - all of which came to pass - that were brushed aside as 'alarmist Likud propaganda'.  Forget the fact that Kadima/Labor & Co. seem to have the collective memory of a goldfish when it comes to learning from past mistakes.  Every time they blink it's a new day.   But again, why quibble.  Mistakes happen.  Everyone's entitled to 15 or 20 identical miscalculations when dealing with the same armed thugs who are sworn to your destruction, right?

Anyway... glad I got that out of my system!

So what do I have to feel guilty about?

I'm feeling guilty because while my country is at war... while my friends' children are on the battlefield putting their lives on the line... while entire communities in the north and south are living in bomb shelters because of unprecedented levels of rocket attacks... I am sitting here fretting over what will become of my family's vacation plans.

There, I've said it.  I'm a shallow, self-absorbed person.

The only reason I'm writing this is because know I'm not alone.  Not by a long shot.

Nearly everyone I have spoken with lately seems to be wrestling with the same kind of guilty quandary.  August vacation time is almost upon us and one of two scenarios is playing out in the minds of many Israelis (those not in bomb shelters, that is):

1.  With long-standing plans to vacation abroad for a couple of weeks, it now seems vaguely unpatriotic to leave the country while a war is going on.  What if my reserve unit gets called up?  How can I tell friends living abroad that Israel needs them to come visit now more than ever while I'm thumbing through a brochure for Yellowstone National Park?

~OR~

2.  With long-standing plans to vacation in the relative cool of the Golan Heights and/or upper Galilee for a couple of weeks, the time has now arrived to face the reality that reservations will probably have to be canceled.  These northern tourist destinations are suffering hundreds of rocket attacks every day, not to mention the constant threat of attempted infiltrations of terrorists from Lebanon.  Yet they are about to be economically abandoned by their countrymen during the one month during which they normally see about 80% of the year's tourism revenues.

Trust me, one of these two thoughts is weighing heavily on many Israelis' minds this week... not because the vacations themselves are of such import, but rather because thinking about vacations at all at time like this seems treasonous. 

Surely Londoners didn't think about vacation plans during the 'Blitz'... and the French didn't fret about the loss of valuable leisure time as the Germans marched down the Champs-Élysées

OK, maybe the French were actually that self-absorbed... so let's just stick with the Brits.  Stiff upper lip and all that...

Here's the deal: Zahava and I fall into category #2 above. 

We've had long-standing plans to take the kids to the Upper Galilee in August for some camping and touring around.  For months the kids have been chattering about going to the nature preserve in the Hula valley.  They've been fantasizing about swimming in the cool waters of Hurshat Tal and the Kinneret.  They have already picked out camping equipment and claimed which side of the tent they will be sleeping on.  They have their own flashlights for crying out loud!

So for the past few days the subject of what is to become of our vacation has been looming just below the surface of every conversation.  Everyone is thinking about it... but nobody wants to be the one to broach the topic for fear of actually hearing the bad news out loud.

My parents, bless them, called to suggest that we all spend our vacation with them in their house on the beach in Connecticut.  Under normal circumstances this would be a wonderful idea... but right now there seems to be little comfort in switching from one of the less-than-satisfactory options above, to the other.

So the war goes on.  We put on our brave faces and fixate on the news.  Every soldier wounded is a national tragedy. Every soldier killed is the destruction of an entire world. 

And yet as July draws to a close, all across the country Israeli children are finishing up with 'ketanot' (day camps) and silently wondering what will become of this year's family vacation.  And the self-absorbed parents (including your host) are guiltily wondering right along with them.

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Posted by David Bogner on July 23, 2006 | Permalink

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Very true. Everybody I know is fretting about the same thing. The only thing people are happy about is that they are now saving hundreds and/or thousands of shekels because vacation plans have to be cancelled.
I did not have to cancel any plans because I ad been lazy and not yet made them. Looks like vacations this year will be pushed off until after sukkot...

Posted by: Rafi G | Jul 23, 2006 12:12:20 PM

Yup. I am going to the U.S. later this week for my sister's wedding and my wife will be joining me next week. While I, unfortunately, did not serve in the IDF and thus (fortunately? unfortunately?) do not do milium, I feel like having a big sign at the airport "I had these tickets for months. My American sister is getting married so I am not abandoning you!"

Though I have to admit, I'm more "afraid" of the Americans (in America) being "I'm so glad you are safe here and not there in Israel." It's rude but true but I know that, even though I still have the rest of the week in Israel and will be back in a few weeks, I would rather be in Israel than in an America disconnected from the conflict claiming "solidarity with Israel" while canceling their trips to the country.

Posted by: amechad | Jul 23, 2006 12:43:18 PM

Find a resort in Israel so you can spend your money there, then make your home available to a displaced family during the time you are at the resort.

You can have your vacation and be patriotic too.

Posted by: ka25lk2jl | Jul 23, 2006 1:09:57 PM

not to ignore anything else you said (it's all important and terribly true), but we went to the hula valley nature reserve a few weeks ago. it might make your kids feel better to know that this time of year there is nothing to see there - no birds at all! there is a cute movie and some catfish and turtles in the water, but it is super hot out on the trails with nothing to see. the birds apparently come after sukkot and leave before pesach.

p.s. your blog is great.

Posted by: abby | Jul 23, 2006 2:06:13 PM

I know what you mean. We also had plans to take a few mini-vacations up North- our kids were also looking forward to sleeping in sleeping bags in a tent on one of those trips....and most of our friends are in the same boat.

You gotta feel for all the hotels, guest houses, restaurants, etc. for whom the tourist season has basically gone to hell. How will all of those businesses survive?

Posted by: RR | Jul 23, 2006 2:33:18 PM

Since I'm a bookkeeper and my boss continually tells me I like to spend his money, I feel no qualms about telling you how to spend yours. :)

Send the money to all the places in north Israel while not going there yourself. Have campouts in your backyard, if it's safe to do so. My son, when he was younger used to love doing that.

Posted by: seawitch | Jul 23, 2006 2:45:40 PM

I would feel the same way. However, I suspect that this will be over soon...at least for the moment. The good news is that Hezbollah (and Iran) have now alienated most of the Arab countries.

Posted by: bird dog | Jul 23, 2006 3:10:29 PM

It's natural to think of nice things when times are stressful. It's also natural to not want to stress out your kids. Or see them sad about plans being upheaved.

Posted by: Alice | Jul 23, 2006 4:09:31 PM

At least my kids have Bnei Akiva - which has moved the locations of their summer machanot to forests in the Jerusalem area. I think we will save our money and perhaps go up north during Sukkot (with every other Israeli...)

Posted by: westbankmama | Jul 23, 2006 4:24:03 PM

I think that one of the hardest things about the situation now is how you balance living your normal life with what is going on in the rest of the country. Everyone is dealing with it. And incidentally, it isn't just Northern tourism that is hurt. My family from Nahariya just cancelled their vacation to Eilat since they are displaced from their home for an unknown amount of time, and unable to work while the city is being bombarded.

By the way, I love Hurshat Tal. When you makeit up there don't forget to check out Tel Dan.

Posted by: houseofjoy | Jul 23, 2006 4:55:27 PM

There is nothing selfish or self-absorbed about your thoughts. They are quite valid.

It is a tough situation. Honestly, not sure what I would do. Perhaps you could push the trip off to late August and re-evaluate in a few weeks.

I atteneded a "Solidarity for Israel" rally on Friday. Know that my thoughts are all on Israel right now.

Posted by: Stacey | Jul 23, 2006 5:02:58 PM

"I'm so glad you are safe here [in America] and not there in Israel."
Not all Americans trying to get our Isreali family members to come visit us in the States are doing so for reasons of safety.

We know that their vacation plans have had to be modified for this summer. Trep's older kids were already here [the States] for the first part of August (planned months ago before the current situation evolved) to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. So to provide a scenario to provide the rest of the Israeli Trep's a family vacation, my parents opened the offer to the rest of the family to come to the States for that time, as well.
I agree that Trep could make a donation to the area that they had planned on vacationing or plan to go there for Sukkot (when things will have, hopefully, returned to more peaceful times).
I understand that it's a dilemma that we, in the States don't have the experience to know EXACTLY how it feels, but I for one, know that it was just an offer to provide Trep and his family a vacation to enjoy their family for a period of time. It's not about safety. It's just easier to get them all over here, than for us all to travel back over there!
We miss them. We'd like to see them! Hopefully, that's something that most people can understand.

Posted by: val | Jul 23, 2006 5:03:18 PM

Awesome post! so true.

Posted by: Lakewood Venter | Jul 23, 2006 5:04:09 PM

I agree with the commentor who wrote that maybe you can wait a bit, and in a few weeks reevaluate. Maybe it won't last too much longer.

Posted by: Irina | Jul 23, 2006 6:47:16 PM

even as an american i understand. my boyfriend is supposed to come out at the end of august to visit the states for the first time... its been 4 months since ive seen him...

when war broke out my second thought was that he wuld not be able to come.

we still arent sure. he hasnt been called up yet. but if he does (whether hes in israel or california at the time) he will go... and that makes me sad. but i understand and im proud of him

such conflicting emotions about it all

Posted by: Lisa- the other one | Jul 23, 2006 6:57:06 PM

I can't tell you what to do about your second quandry although the idea of sending money but not going north yourselves seems like a good idea. There is nothing noble or patriotic about putting your children in harm's way.
On your first point, I have always thought that all of Israal's unilateral attempts to make peace were ill-advised (to say the least). However, I always figured that as an American and a relative youngster the Israeli goverment *must* have known more than I did. How could I have been right and they wrong for all these years? It boggles the mind.

Posted by: ball-and-chain | Jul 23, 2006 8:09:57 PM

it breaks my heart knowing that you may not be able to enjoy so many of the activities we were able to enjoy just a few short weeks ago. GW, things will improve quickly and there will be time before school starts to have at least a quick dip in nachal dan or gan hashlosha!

Posted by: rachel | Jul 24, 2006 5:24:42 AM

America's a big country with thousands of places to visit and enjoy, places to set aside the real important things in life and kick back. And we Americans do it quite well. Maybe too well. It's easy to lose sight of what's important to one's life, to one's nation in such a big country like America.

I envy you. At least you recognize the sacrifices of your fellow citizens. We here in America, sometimes I wonder.

GB and take care.


Posted by: Alpyne Crowe | Jul 24, 2006 7:13:54 AM

Listen Man, don't worry too much about your country, she's a big girl and will take care of herself whether or not you go on vacation, the Northern Front is appears to be risky but I can give you an option, - Cross over Pharaoh's land and come visit, you are welcome. Hakuna Matata :)

Posted by: pk | Jul 24, 2006 11:55:47 AM

Rafi G... It really isn't about the money. There are so few opportunities to get away with the kids and lavish them with our undivided attention. Good attention, that is. Not the sort they get when their room isn't clean. :-)

amechad... By the description of the sign you wish you had, I see you understand perfectly.

ka25lk2jl...Great idea but logistically unlikely. I would happily invite strangers from the north into our home for as long as they needed. But I don't know that I would go away and leave strangers in our home. It isn't a security thing... at least its not all about security. It's more a privacy thing. Reading what I've just written makes me feel a little guilty and selfish.

Abby... Good point, but my daughter can identify about a gazillion kinds of non-migratory birds. I'm guessing she could find one or two there. :-)

RR... You can bet that if we don't get up there in August we will try to do so later in the fall. Coming so soon on the heels of the Intifada I really don't think these places can take another tourist drought and survive.

Seawitch... Nice suggestion, but we really need a change of scenery so we can spoil the kids. at home it is just too easy to fall into the old routines.

Bird Dog... Hezbollah, Iran and Syria are part of a region-wide conspiracy that has been developing over the past year or two. Watch what is happening right now and you will realize this isn't ending any time soon.

Alice... Kids are pretty resilient, but you don't want to test that resiliency too often. :-)

Westbankmama... the big kids have been in sports camp all summer in Jerusalem. They haven't lacked for fun activities. What they've lacked is us. We have to figure out a place were we can get reacquainted.

Houseofjoy... That's on our agenda. :-)

Stacey... Thanks for saying it, but any of us who are fretting over our devastated vacation plans are looking at the news and feeling pretty small.

Val... Try not to spoil the kids too rotten while they are there. :-)

Lakewood Venter... Thanks.

Irina.. From your lips to G-d's ears.

Lisa (I'm just going to call you 'SF Lisa' since you aren't 2nd fiddle to anyone!)... I get such a big smile when I hear you talking about your Israeli boyfriend. Obviously he's doing a good job with you because you totally get it. :-)

Ball and Chain... What's that old rock lyric... "...we won't get fooled again!"

Rachel... We're not going anywhere. If not this summer then next. BTW, we had a nice time with Alan and Chedva. Hopefully they are coming back this Friday for a local tiyul.

Alpyn Crow... If you go to the small towns in the US people still have old-time values. But you are right about the size and distance having a detrimental affect.

PK... You forget that I've been to your country. No offense, but I'll take mine. They're not to keen in Israelis there. Thanks for the offer, though :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 24, 2006 12:58:46 PM

A question if I may...how can I support my Israeli friends (parents of my young daughter's close friends) here in the US? I do know enough to say "thank goodness you're here and not there", but so far all I can think of is to tell them I hope their families back home are ok, offer to watch their kids if they need alone time to catch up on news or whatever, and just let them know I'd help however I could. It's hard to tell whether they want to talk about the situation at all (these are 3 different families, I should say)...if I don't ask periodically how things are, would that be seen as rude? Or am I being a busybody as it is? Don't want to be clueless as well as remedial if I can help it...

Posted by: Kayla | Jul 24, 2006 5:38:59 PM

Kayla... There is no single right answer because everyone is different. It sounds like you are being very sensitive and helpful which is all anyone can really ask for. I would avoid asking about 'the situation'. You have the exact same media/news sources available to you that they do. Other than that, if they want to talk about it they will. Trust me. Oh... I would also avoid leaving BBC, CNN or NPR on where they can hear/see it. :-) Thanks for your sensitivity and concern. You sound like a good egg.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 24, 2006 5:44:36 PM

Every time they blink it's a new day.
Is this a traditional expression that I have never heard, or is it original with you? In other words, do I need to cite you when I use it, as I certainly will. Best wishes to you and your family. Best wishes to Israel.

Posted by: PJH | Jul 24, 2006 11:09:44 PM

I'm the last person to be a risk taker, let alone advocating it for anyone else.

Yet I wonder just how dangerous it would be to do a trip to one of the tourist spots in the north--not a centre like Tzfat or Haifa, and obviously not Metulla or anywhere close to the fighting.

Are the chances of coming to harm greater than the chances of a road accident?

I sent my daughter to Israel on tour in 2002 when it was still high suicide bombing time... and we both came to Israel in 2003 when the Saddam war was just about to start and everyone was sure TA was going to be rocketed by Saddam.

Then I sent her to spend two years in Jerusalem which was still seen as the most dangerous place for suicide attacks.

All those trips proved to be hugely successful and enjoyable. And neither she nor I ever came close to danger. Though apparently there was an attempted knife attack on Jewish visitors to Maarat Hamachpelah half an hour after my daughter had been there.


And in the days after the suicide bombings on the tubes in London last year, I kept going to the centre of London. In fact, last summer was the most lovely summer I ever experienced in London, because tourists deserted the city, so it was possible to enjoy an uncrowded city and get into all the shows and sit in the best cafes without the usual hassles and queues.

Only a parent can judge what feels right for their children. But you know that lots of people think you put your children at risk by living where you do....

It's so ironic that the territories now seem safer than Israel inside the Green line.

So I'd say, if you can, work out an optimum safe and enjoyable route in the north.

And I do have to say, my experience is that US people seem much more worried by threats of bombing/rocket attacks than we UK people are. Not only do we have the strong folk memory of living through the bombing of our cities, but we also had years of terrorism from the IRA.

I really like the idea of letting your home to a displaced family....

Posted by: Judy | Jul 25, 2006 1:16:40 AM

Aaarrgghhh. You think YOU are selfish and thoughtless? I am sitting here in Chutz l'Aretz, crying my eyes out as I read your blog and the comments entered by your fellow Israelis, because I don't have your problems. I am listening to my guys play a duet of "Earth Angel" on their guitars, with their sweet voices. We might not be able to afford to go whitewater rafting this summer; but we will go anyway. Life is good, nu? It has one major drawback: it is almost totally artifical, because it is being played out on a stage in Baltimore, instead of Israel. My life is spent in cyberspace, because that is as close as I can get right now to my brothers and sisters in Israel. It is as close as I can get to my (please G-d) future home in the Golan. (Please come and visit. I have a very long Shabbat guest list -- just no house yet. Details, details...) Don't talk to me about selfish, Bogner. You can't even come close. Thanks for listening.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jul 25, 2006 4:53:05 AM

PJH... No I didn't coin that one. I have no idea who did, but my wife uses it a lot. about me. :-) Feel free to use it without attribution.

Judy... So many things seem random that it is human nature to try to exert some illusion of control. I try to keep this within rational limits.

Rutimizarachi... No need to cry. I'm delighted that you empathize with things you see and read here, but please don't cry. Come for a visit and then you can go back with a tough veneer of Israeliness to keep you from tearing up. :-) Consider than a personal invitation, BTW.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 26, 2006 12:59:33 PM

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