It’s an occupational hazard of living in Israel. You live your life, make vacation plans, and then there is a crisis. At first you don’t know how long it will continue and what shape or form it will assume. So you carry on as usual, as best you can, and when the date for your departure arrives you go to the airport to catch your flight, assuming – or rather hoping – that the current crisis will soon die down, as has happened so many times in the past.
But while you are on your way to your destination the crisis grows and grows, so that you find yourself on holiday reading newspapers in a language you barely understand, listening to news broadcasts in the hope of catching one tenth of their meaning, and spending ever-increasing amounts of time on the internet and Facebook, gleaning what you can.
For any Israeli, but especially one with family members in the fighting forces, being away from home at times like these is especially hard. How are you supposed to relax and enjoy yourself when you’re worried about how your loved ones – as well as everyone else – are faring? You identify with everyone undergoing rocket attacks, with every soldier on the ground, at sea, or in the air, and weep at every fallen hero, those smiling young faces which will never smile again, and whose untimely deaths have plunged their families into endless grief.
You also are concerned about the massive loss of innocent lives in Gaza. Yes, it’s their own fault for submitting to the cruel rule of the Hamas (as if they had a choice), and for their rulers’ obstinacy in continuing to fire rockets at our own innocent civilians, for building tunnels of destruction and mayhem instead of shelters and hospitals, and for refusing to accept a ceasefire. But still, no one rejoices when children suffer, wherever they may be and whichever nation they belong to.
And so there you are, in an island of tranquility in a foreign country that last experienced conflict seventy years ago. The food is good, the weather clement, the atmosphere pleasant, you meet charming people and enjoy everything that life has to offer. But that is constantly overshadowed by your concern for what is happening at home.
Somehow, you persuade yourself to get the most out of these weeks away from the conflict and the tension, and you almost succeed.
But then, without warning, the foreign radio station which is constantly on because it is officially the one that broadcasts classical music (even though that is not always the case) plays the full kitsch Broadway version of Shalom Aleichem’s Yiddish classic, ‘Tevye the Milkman,’ and you break down in tears.
This is something that would never happen if I were back in Israel, and can only be explained by my feelings of guilt and anguish at being far away from home at this sensitive time.
Even the most hardened cynic, such as I like to consider myself to be, must be allowed a moment of soppy sentimentalism at a time like this, I suppose.