Of the many ways in which Israel is utterly different from the America in which I grew up, none is as striking as the fact that in the U.S. parents take care of their children until long after they’re kids, while in Israel, from a relatively early age, it’s the kids who protect the parents.
I was reminded of this strange role-reversal as the war in Gaza began to die down, as the conversations in the cafés turned from the news of the latest battle to the bigger picture.
“Who won?” people asked in worried tones.
Weeks of overwhelming Israeli firepower hadn’t stopped Hamas’s rockets. Some doubted the Israeli Army’s claim that all the tunnels had been found and destroyed, and assumed that Hamas would soon be digging new ones. In Lebanon, Hezbollah (which is more heavily armed than Hamas, with larger and more accurate rockets) had sat this round out. But what if it hadn’t?
We all sensed America’s abandonment: the absurdity of John Kerry’s first cease-fire proposal (which read like it had been written by Hamas), the Federal Aviation Authority’s turning Israel into a pariah state with the stroke of a pen, and now, a rumored American arms embargo on Israel. Add the wave of vicious anti-Semitism across Europe, and it did indeed seem that it had been an awful month for the Jews as a people.
For me, the funerals were the worst. Mothers spoke in broken voices, fathers wept, siblings cried out in anguish. But nothing was as painful as the eulogies of the girlfriends and fiancées: 22-year-olds shouldn’t know that kind of grief.
But those same kids have a resilience that has buoyed many of us older, café-based hand-wringers. At Shalem College, where I work and where we’ve just opened Israel’s first-ever liberal arts college, students who one day were studying literature and statistics, philosophy and music, simply disappeared. They’d gone, we knew, to pick up uniforms, to sign out a weapon and to head into hell. To me, with my American sensibilities, watching them transition from reading Aristotle to heading for gunfights in the alleyways of Gaza seemed an affront to the way the world is supposed to work. To their peers, who continued coming to class even as the war wore on, it was simply how one stays alive here...