One of my concerns about October 7th once the security concerns began to be addressed wasn’t about the weeks in front of us, but the months. For a good stretch of time, the focus on Israel was overwhelming in every sense of that word. We had a fundamental imperative to both be and feel safe. There was education to provide our students. There were displaced Israeli children to absorb and to welcome. There were rallies for solidarity and rallies for advocacy. There were media requests and a need for thought-leadership. And yet, we knew that there was inevitably going to come a time when people’s natural attention spans and bandwidth for crisis was going to yield to a shift and perhaps create a fracture. And perhaps we are at, or nearing that time…
It isn’t to suggest that our (the school‘s) attention is waning or certainly not that our eye has moved off the ball of security even an iota. It is, however, to suggest that people have begun to walk down different paths of engagement depending on their personal connections and experiences. At our school, we still have teachers and families who are awaiting news of hostages and serving on the front lines of Gaza. We still have siblings and friends experiencing anti-Semitism in their public schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. We are still teaching “current events”, praying, raising money and engaging in acts of social justice. But as time inches forward, I think it is fair to say that it simply isn’t top of mind for each and every person as it was…and I state that as a fact of human nature, not a judgement.
I am experiencing the way the heartstrings can be strung and restrung through my parenting. When we made the decision as a family to stay here in Ottawa for our daughters’ high school years, in a place without a true Jewish high school, we committed to a variety of educational experiences that would build a bridge from their rigorous Jewish day school foundation to their studies in university. One of those experiences was to spend a semester of Grade 10 studying in Israel. And that decision got a lot more complicated since Maytal was scheduled to leave for Jerusalem in January.
Our older daughter’s experience was curtailed and compromised by COVID, but she did go. Our girls are Ramahniks through and through, and although there are other programs, Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), was our only choice. Normally there are upwards of 60-80 teens with a healthy Canadian cohort. We were looking forward to Maytal getting to have the “full TRY” and then October 7th…
After months of wondering about whether the trip would go, and then worrying about whether sending her was the right choice, we made the family decision – with Maytal as its fiercest champion – that despite the number of students barely in the teens, and without a single other Canadian participating, that now really was the time. (It very much felt like a true, “If not now, when” moment.) And so we found ourselves a couple of weeks ago gathering with other families at Newark Airport to send our children to a very different Israel than the one we knew months ago.
Let me pause to state something obvious. Maytal is in a bubble of privileged North American teens in Jerusalem. She will only travel to the safest of places under the safest of conditions. She is not living in a city near the border and we are not comparing our concerns for her wellbeing to those who are truly living in harm’s way. Not for a moment. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t think she is brave for choosing this time to be in Israel. (It also won’t stop my mother from worrying herself sleepless until she returns in May.)
Each ping of the WhatsApp brings news of the next adventure or a picture from the most recent one. She has bonded with her group and has started the experience in full. She is going to have the time of her life and being in Israel – now – will be extraordinarily impactful on her in ways we could guess and ways we cannot imagine. We are blessed to be able to provide her with this opportunity (and grateful to the many people and institutions who helped us make it possible).
But each ping of the WhatsApp also brings anxiety. Each news update on the state of the crisis lands differently than it did a few weeks ago. I don’t feel like I should say this, but I don’t know how to say it differently – obviously as a member of the Jewish People, I always have skin in the game when it comes to Israel. But now, for a short while, I also have flesh and blood. And whether it should or not…it feels different.
I share all of this in the spirit of wanting to ensure that we continue to ask ourselves what is the right amount of space the situation in Israel should continue to occupy – for our school, for our families and for ourselves. I know there is no “right answer” but I guess I hope that whatever newfound insight or empathy (again, I don’t think that is exactly the best word) or perspective having a child of my own living in Israel provides me, that it helps guide me to the right place. And invite you to reflect for what the right amount of space you believe it should occupy as well. Are we doing too much or too little as a community? As a school? (As a family?)
Let me know what you think. Let’s make sure Israel remains in our thoughts and our prayers and our actions even as life inevitably encroaches.
It only gets harder and more complicated the longer it goes.