My son, Asher, made aliyah eight years ago. He lives in Tel Aviv with his husband, Mati, and has made a great life for himself there. I couldn’t be more proud of him – after all, he’s living out my dream.
But the past two weeks have been incredibly challenging, to say the least, for Israelis and for anyone who cares about Israel. Despite the overwhelming success of Iron Dome in intercepting hundreds of rockets that Hamas has been firing at populated areas in Israel, daily life has been completely disrupted.
Some of us have downloaded the “Red Alert” app in order to receive notifications in real time as rockets head to cities and towns all over Israel, alerting residents to seek shelter immediately. The frequency and timing of these alerts is nerve-wracking enough – all the more so for those who have to stop whatever they are doing and run to the nearest shelter. For parents or caregivers, that includes awakening their charges in the middle of the night. What a nightmare for parents.
My husband and I visit Israel several times a year, and I was in Jerusalem for the entire duration of the 2006 Lebanon War. I also spent a great deal of time in Israel during the second Intifada, so I know how to respond when people ask about how dangerous it is there or whether I feel afraid to be in Israel.
But this is a new reality – hopefully, a temporary one – and the Jewish mother in me doesn’t know how to handle it. Example: a few nights ago, I awoke in the middle of the night and saw on “Red Alert” that a siren had just sounded in Tel Aviv. I immediately texted my son to see if he was OK. He responded, “We’re fine, go back to sleep.” The next morning, he got angry at me and said that I was upsetting him and making him feel like things were worse than they are. I even had to turn to my son-in-law, who has his own Jewish mother – except that she’s Israeli and lives on a kibbutz near Haifa – to back me up.
There is no code of conduct for how to deal with this situation – how to express appropriate concern without being too overbearing. (It’s inherent in the concept of Jewish motherhood that one is occasionally overbearing; it’s simply a matter of degree.) How to be supportive of Israel without overreacting. How to deal with the inescapable guilt that comes with the knowledge that while I’m sitting in peace and quiet in suburban Maryland, my son – and all of his compatriots – are taking it for the team in Israel and ensuring a Jewish future for all of us – not to mention the great concern for the Israeli soldiers who are now in Gaza, in a very dangerous and complicated operation that will result in far more casualties on both sides.
A close friend of mine wrote to me this week that perhaps constantly worrying about Israel (and receiving “Red Alert” notifications) is the modern form of prayer. I don’t know if that’s true, though it did resonate with me. We Diaspora Jews know what to do when Israel is in crisis – we rally in support, we raise funds to assist with the additional urgent needs, we visit Israel on solidarity missions (or just visit, because inevitably tourism takes a huge hit when times get tough) – but what is a Jewish mother of an Israeli son supposed to do when rockets are falling on Tel Aviv?
The writer is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and a part owner of Washington Jewish Week.