In the Pillar of Clouds


First, many thanks to those who have reached out to inquire about our safety here in Jerusalem. We’re holding tight in Jerusalem, listening to happy music, drinking tea and eating the dozens of kilos of leftover food in our fridge. If you’re in Jerusalem and you’re hungry, the JSC apartment is the place to be! I obviously can’t even begin to explain what is happening in the country as a whole and why, but it’s clear from the messages coming from the US that understanding of the situation here is really shrouded in a cloud (The English translation of the name of this military operation is “Cloud Pillar”, hence my bad joke), so I do want to share my own personal reactions to the events of the last few day in Gaza and Israel.

Thanks to modern technology, I am getting near-constant updates on where sirens sound and rockets land pushed to my phone. This made for an unproductive day at work Thursday, because every two minutes I felt compelled to drop what I was doing and read the update. A brief glance around my office revealed that many of my co-workers were also finding it hard to concentrate on anything but the increasing violence in the south of Israel. Thursday night, as Facebook and email messages began to come in from friends and family overseas, one of my roommates and I laid on our couch and discussed the situation. The panic we were hearing from loved ones overseas did not seem to match up with the feeling of relative normalcy here in Jerusalem. We cracked several jokes about falling asleep on the couch in the middle of a war zone, and I went to bed feeling at least focused on the broken light in the bathroom and the leaking sink in the kitchen as on the conflict building in Israel.

Friday morning, I decided not to run a race I had originally registered for in southern Jerusalem, and went to my favorite yoga class. As I took my first few deliberately deep breaths for the beginning of class meditation, I concentrated on the feeling of my ribs moving in and out and felt like I was instantly 10 pounds lighter. I guess I didn’t realize that I was not breathing to full capacity. The familiar series of poses brought me back to myself. For 90 minutes, my biggest problem was how many more breaths I needed to hold myself up in Warrior 3. Reports that the army will be calling up tens of thousands of reservists brought back the slightly tight band that sits around the bottom of my lungs– those are my friends and neighbors! But the day progressed according to plan, with lunch in the shuk and the scurry to get food ready before candle-lighting.

At the exact moment that I covered my eyes to say the blessing over the Shabbat candles, a warning siren sounded across Jerusalem. Is this real? Is this for us? We walked out in to our hallway, where we got conflicting reports from the neighbors about whether the siren meant that there was a rocket headed to Jerusalem. We spent a few minutes debating whether we should go to the shelter, at which point we realized that the 90 seconds of warning the siren provides had long since passed. Whatever was coming at us had long since arrived. The moment of fear passed, and a sense of frustration settled in. I was so excited to finally spend 25 hours away from my phone and computer, disconnecting from constant news updates and relaxing. Now that this was getting closer to home, I didn’t feel I could completely disconnect. I left my phone with my roommate, and looked at the other two who were planning to go to services with me. At a loss for what to do next, we decided to keep moving with our evening and headed to pray. The rest of the night was as normal– beautiful davening, a lovely Shabbat dinner with friends, and returning to my apartment to hang out late in to the night with my roommates and our wonderful neighbors.

Even though the siren in Jerusalem sounded yesterday, today it feels real. Several of my close friends here have been called up from reserve duty in the army, and others could be called any minute. Talking on the phone with a friend as he sits at a base waiting to find out where he is being sent is so different from reading an article about a rocket landing somewhere in the country. Several of the messages friends sent from the US said that “it sounds like things are getting really scary there.” Maybe, but not because of what you read in the news. I have read some American news sources to see how they are portraying things, and I have yet to read anything that sounds like the analysis provided by my Israeli friends here.

What I do feel is general confusion about what I am supposed to think and do and say. This isn’t something they teach you in Ulpan, and Amazon doesn’t sell books about how to react when you move to a new country and make friends there, and then a war breaks out. For now, I guess I will continue attempting to read Harry Potter in Hebrew and dancing to silly music with my roommates.

Thanks for all the love and well-wishes, and may it be a week of peace.

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