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Giving Thanks

It’s awfully late, past midnight, and I should be going to sleep instead of sitting here writing this. But somehow I can’t allow this day to end without talking about it to someone.

I am trying to find my feet. To know where it is I am now that the world as we know it doesn’t seem to exist anymore. The daily murder of Jewish children by armed, adult men wasn’t supposed to happen anymore.

Not to my generation. The world had learned a lesson, cried a tear, placed a memorial wreath. It was horrified at the practical results of the ideology of anti-Semitism. We Jews had forgiven, if not forgotten.
Taken the reparations. Bought Volkswagen cars and De Dietrich dishwashers…. Now, it was supposed to be a land dispute with neighbors we were embroiled in..

The hotel blown up in Nairobi reminded me of the Park Hotel in Netanya, blown up on Seder eve. I was there. I knew exactly how those people in the lobby felt, and the ones in their rooms who spoke about the shattering of glass, the slivers that flew past their faces. The holiday turned nightmare. The family get together that will scar and sear the family’s memory for as long as they live, even if they walked away without a scratch. I cannot even begin to imagine how an injury or death would affect the family.

I sat all day thinking: the world as I know it has disappeared. Well, not all day. Because for us Israeli-Americans today was also Thanksgiving. It’s a day we’ve been spending together, eating turkey, here in the Middle East, for thirty years. My Israeli-born children insist on it. So, the raw turkey was sitting on the counter, and the green apples in the bowl waiting to be peeled for the pie. The sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn muffins were all still raw ingredients.

I wondered: How can I go on? Is it right for me to go on, prepare a family dinner, an evening of laughter with sons, daughters, grandchildren, great-grandparents? I thought of calling everyone up and canceling. But then, what to do with all this food? Reluctantly, I set about making Thanksgiving dinner.

And when the turkey was crisp and brown, the pie bubbling with fragrant juice, the potatoes mashed, the sweet potatoes baked…I heard the news on the radio suddenly switch from talking about Mombasa, to talking about Beit Shean.

Armed men with submachine guns opening fire on people standing on line to vote. Men with grenades. Six dead, twenty injured. In a sleepy little town. People there were being asked not to go out of their homes, because a gunman might still be on the loose.

A sense of panic went through me. Was this, then, war? Would they be blowing up cars on the highway? Attacking the trains? Could we really get into the car and make the hour and a half ride to Netanya to bring our holiday meal and cheer to Mom and Dad, who can’t get around anymore?

Mom – who lived through Auschwitz. And Dad, who just had his ninetieth birthday, who lost his first wife and two small children to the gas chambers? Should we cancel on them, stay home, lock the doors, draw the curtains, shut off the lights?

My daughter told me she was taking her three children to Mom and Dad, whatever I decided to do. So did my son and his wife, who were both at the Passover Massacre just a few months back. My children weren’t afraid. Weren’t about to give up or give in, or stop living, or stop feeling joy, stop celebrating being alive and having a family and living in the Jewish State.

Just yesterday, this same daughter spent the evening with her sister in law, whose young husband is dying of cancer. A handsome father of four. Thirty-eight years old. His little girl crawled into bed beside her father, who can no longer see, and asked: “Do you know who this is?” And he answered: “Of course. You have your own scent. Like a flower. Do you know,” he asked her, “how much I love you?”

My daughter wanted our family to be together this Thanksgiving. And so I, reluctantly, full of fears, loaded my car with a box full of a Thanksgiving feast. In the beginning of the journey, I watched every car on the highway nervously. We said the travel prayer, asking God to let us come and go safely, a prayer we have been saying for forty years, long before the Intifada, or Oslo made it necessary. I felt better after that. I tried not to think about the elections which will decide the course of Israeli history.

And you know what? When we arrived, safely, unpacked the food, set the table, we did forget, for a little while. Surrounded by all the people I love, passing the warm, good food around the table, giving some comfort to Mom and Dad, seeing some smiles on their faces as we invaded their small, quiet world with our talk and laughter, and small children that made a mess, spinning Chanukah dreidels, eating gold foil wrapped chocolate money, setting up plastic bowling pins on the living room carpet, and spreading playing cards over the couch. I had somehow entered the old world again, the good world, the world I grew up in, the world in which I raised my own four children.

It was, for an hour or two at least, a reminder of all those things we are fighting so hard for, we Israeli Jews. All the things we so deserve after all that has happened to us.

I knew the feeling would not last, because there were fellow Jews to mourn over, and that couldn’t, shouldn’t be forgotten. We needed to bring that into the world we are creating, day by day. But for those few hours, I felt great thanks for the things that God in His goodness, has granted me to rejoice in.

I’m going to sleep now. I don’t know how I’ll feel in the morning. But I’m hoping some of that good, old world I love will force its shape, insist on its place in the world I inhabit, even as corrupt men full of sickening evil insist on reshaping it in their own image. But I have learned something: I will see many more days of thanksgiving, if only I have the courage to insist upon them.

God bless you all. Have a Happy Chanukah. Insist on it.

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