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Day #2 – Arrival – Israel & Palestine

9 March 2024
Some notes upon arrival … the juxtaposition of ‘normal’ and not normal has been the theme of my first 24 hours back in Israel.  The airport looked and felt the same, but the combination of it being Shabbat and tourism being 20% of ‘normal’ this time of year made it all too easy to navigate the often chaotic Ben Gurion visa kiosks, baggage claim and customs.  The long, lighted and iconic walkway from gates to terminal was adorned with the posters of the hostages.  I would find in the coming hours that it would impossible to hide from these smiling faces of loved ones in more joyous moments than the horrific existence they know right now.  It was a jarring and heavy addition to a walk that is often associated for me with excitement and anticipation of exploring, connection and experiencing this place.

In my effort to get ahead of the jet lag (or at least fool myself that I could), I did the thing that settles and orients me everywhere that I have travelled around the world …  I went for a run.  Today my run took me along the Tel Aviv boardwalk path just a block and half from my hotel.  It was booming and bustling with Israelis walking with families, partners and dogs.  Sitting, sipping and noshing at cafes and bars.  Again the normalcy confronted me … and I found it simultaneously affirming and jarring.  Affirmed by the energy of life and a reminder of the Israeli ability/need/coping mechanism to continue living and enjoying the joys of everyday life despite/in the shadow of/in defiance of whatever trauma or threat engulfs the nation.  It also widened my lens that is so focused on the news and images of what I read and watch and home.  Reminding me that while there are – heartbreakingly so – children who have no food, home or maybe even parents and their are children who mere kilometers away that need to get taken to dance class, need to take out the trash or want to play with their toy light saber.

And then I get to the jarring part … of the incongruity of this place (maybe of every place – there are definitely kids and families mere kilometers from my home that lack food and security.). Not far away along this very same coastline are human beings whose lives have been ended, damaged and crippled – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  And I have no idea what to do with knowledge.  That uncertainty pierces me.  I am sure, too, that if would stop my run and inquire of any one of these beach side strollers (once they got beyond the weirdness of this sweaty, bandanna clad American being so intrusive) … they would have little separation from one who was killed or taken on October 7th … or one whose life has been put in danger as were called to serve as Israel has responded.  

The ability for us human beings to shut out the other and her or his pain is both resilient and destructive … for us and for them.  I feel like Israel exists of the sharp edge of this tool in the human tool box.

My first day ended at what is currently called ‘Hostage Square.’  Since October 7th it has served a ground zero in Israel for families fighting for their loved ones kidnapped on that fateful day.  Some of the family members have taken up residence there since their parents, partners, siblings and children were kidnapped.  It is an overwhelming hodgepodge of tributes, installations, organizing tents, stages and merchandise stands. Every Saturday night hundreds of people (maybe thousands) gather to rally, support the families of the hostages and demand that the powers that be ‘bring them home, now!’  On this evening the focus of the rally that begins Women’s History Month is on the 19 women still in captivity.  Relatives of each women step up to the stage and tell us a little bit about their loved one.  It is poignant and heartbreaking.

The rally and my evening ends as a popular Israeli musical artist leads all gathered in signing the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah or literally, ‘the hope.’  I know it well, having learned it a kid and having sung it at countless Jewish events throughout my life.  I wondered about the peculiarity of having a country’s anthem being about hope.  Maybe they are all about hope in some way … hope for freedom, security, prosperity.  I found myself singing along, making this anthem more of a prayer … hoping that these parents and sisters and counting and children and partners … can hold their loved ones soon.

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