Diary of a Yoga-loving, Reform Rabbi in Israel
It is Sunday, Yom Rishon, the first day of the week in Israel. The kids went to school as they do every Sunday, Eran went to work, and I tried to re-enter my routine. In terms of the present situation in Israel, we feel conflicted. Are we at war, or at least on the brink of war? Do we strive for normalcy or do we hide in our houses close to our bomb shelters?
Israeli homes built since the 1990 Gulf War generally have what are called ‘sealed rooms,’ one room made of reinforced concrete with a heavily sealed window. Otherwise, many apartment buildings have public bomb shelters or sealed rooms for the residents, or there are public bomb shelters for each neighborhood.
Do we send the kids to school or keep them close? On the one hand, I try to embrace my newly-found Israeli-ute (Israeliness). On the other hand, the constant shrieks in my head courtesy of my neurotic American rearing remind me that we are indeed in a precarious situation.”
Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur is married to Eran Tzur, an Israeli, and mother to three kids, ages 14, 11 and 8. Lisa and Eran met while staffing a Reform movement NFTY trip in Israel, but have lived in the Bay Area for the last 15 years, where Lisa has been working on the Positive Jewish Living Project. While they love their life in Hillsborough, California, they’ve always lived between both places, and Lisa in particular has always found it hard to leave Israel after each annual trip. For now, they’re in Israel for the year, living in the coastal town of Herzliya, sending the kids to school and both working.
Herzliya is a bit of a bubble—we haven’t had a single azaka (alarm) since the conflict started. We haven’t sat in a shelter yet. We don’t really know what it feels like to live under the constant pressure of warnings, sirens, and missiles hurled in our direction. But we have friends who have lived with that pressure for the past twelve years.
The Tzurs are good friends with Micha and Naama Biton, who live in Netiv HaAsara, a moshav in southern Israel that is well within the 40-kilometer rocket range. Micha Biton, a musician, is one of ten children from a Moroccan family that experienced extreme emotional distress during his childhood and he went into foster care with an Israeli writer who then wrote a series of books about him that has become part of the classic Israeli canon of literature. Lisa, who also sings, has worked with Micha on several concerts in the U.S., and he also produces a Sderot to Jerusalem performance that interweaves songs with his personal story.
Micha and Naama Biton, and their four children–who have become part of our extended family—left their house in Netiv HaAsara on Thursday to stay with us for a few days (possibly longer) after spending three days isolated in their bomb shelter. The stories that they told about that intensive experience are heartbreaking and depict a reality that we simply do not feel up here in the center of the country. Yes, indeed, there have been warnings in the Tel Aviv area recently, but nothing to the extent that the southern residents of Israel feel. When the Bitons left, they did so amid the constant barrage of bombings. The moshav is practically abandoned, secured by IDF forces that have been sent to protect the area.
Meanwhile, in Herzliya, we feel somewhat protected. And yet, there are definitive moments of insecurity. Should I travel to Tel Aviv to attend my yoga class? What happens if there is a siren in the middle of the lesson? Where will I go? How will I react? Will I be strong? Will I cry? Will I feel ridiculously stupid that I can’t handle a single warning after listening to the stories that Micha told about the constant onslaught of missiles hurled directly to the moshav? What happens if something happens and I can’t get back to my kids? Maybe I should just stay home and practice with my favorite online video.
I go to class.
Lisa, a serious yoga practitioner, attends an Ashtanga yoga class at the Tel Aviv port four to five times a week. The namal, or port, located at the prosperous, northern end of the city, is a sprawling stretch of boardwalks overlooking the sea, lined with cafes, restaurants, stores and a bustling organic farmers’ market, and is a hub of activity every day of the week.
As I drove to the Tel Aviv port, every two minutes on the radio I heard, ‘Tzeva adom b’Ashkelon. Tzeva adom b’Ashdod.” (Red alert in Ashkelon. Red alert in Ashdod.’ [The siren signals alert residents to an incoming rocket, telling them to head into a protected area.]
Although there was no immediate danger to Tel Aviv, the sheer amount of alarms reported around the country was daunting. When I arrived at the studio, everything felt quite normal—in fact, so ordinary that I felt guilty for being there. We started the class and tried to focus on our practice. For a while, I was motivated to stay “on my mat.” And then…I heard a loud buzzing outside. I looked at the faces of the practitioners who surrounded me. There were looks of concern, but no panic. I tried to stay calm. My heart was racing. Would this really be my first azaka? In the middle of Ashtanga Yoga?
Of course, it wasn’t a siren. It was a lawnmower, or some kind of a lift mechanism. After all, we were at the port of Tel Aviv. I was grateful that I didn’t panic and give away the fact that under my perfect little Israeli accent, and despite my Israeli looks (“Really? You’re parents aren’t Israeli?” is probably my favorite compliment around here.) I am still a neurotic American Israeli-wannabe.
While Lisa grew up in a secular American Jewish household, she started studying Hebrew while at Brandeis University. But it was while she was in Israel for her junior year, working in the childrens’ house at a kibbutz, that she was immersed in Hebrew and picked it up as a second language.
And when I got home from the port, after listening to more tzeva adom b’Tel Aviv reports, the tears finally started flowing. I don’t know if I was crying in solidarity with those who have suffered so much for the past twelve years like Micha and Naama. I don’t know if I was crying because I feel guilty to live in an area of the country that has so far escaped the worst of the situation. I don’t know if I was crying because I’m so damn proud to be here and to be able to stand up for this country that I love with all my heart despite the challenges and the shortcomings of Israeli society. It didn’t really matter. At that moment, I lost a layer of American neuroticism and became a little more connected to this people and to this place.
As for Lisa kids, they hadn’t yet experienced a red alert until Sunday, while participating in their weekly after-school circus program in Tel Aviv. They had to run into the bomb shelter twice, but while they were “slightly freaked out,” said Lisa, “they’re fine.”
But I know that a few tears are not enough to solidify a relationship with Israel. I’m not sure what I need to do to feel entrenched in this country, but I feel that I am on the journey.
Cross-posted from Expeditions