The Unbearable Lightness of Being Away


November 19, 2012 by Katia

This blog can’t be funny today. Not this time. If you were expecting laughs it apologizes to you and asks that you come back some other day. My mind is not in the right place. It feels inappropriate to be funny when my family back home has to worry about bomb shelters and my friends have to think of ways to explain this situation to their children and everyone are asking themselves if we are on the verge of yet another war.

I rewrote this post about 30 times. It seemed banal, helpless, sappy, whiny and at times all four. I didn’t understand why that was until I realized that I couldn’t figure out who I was addressing. Is it my friends in Israel that I am ashamed of for not being there at this time? Is it my non-Israeli friends and readers that I want to better understand me, where I come from, what the reality over there is like sometimes? Or is this all some sort of an online confession booth? I was addressing three different groups and had a different message for each. And I’ve decided to talk to all of them in this post. All of you.

This is not a political post. I am not a self appointed spokesperson for my country and do not intend to argue politics. What I set off to do here is to talk about feelings and what I know best is my own and that is why I talk of them, not because I think I have it worse than my friends and family under fire. I would also like to talk about situations that my friends and family face to illustrate what it is like to be under fire. And if anyone wants to use my words against me to say that this is what the other side feels like most of the time, save your breath, you are preaching to the choir.

This is my first war away from home. Us “war veterans” have our own clichés. One of them states “it looks much scarier from the outside than it actually is”. I don’t know about that, both situations have their moments. On the outside you don’t hear the siren but then again on the outside you DON’T hear the siren.

The sound of the siren is a terrifying one. I would argue that it’s much scarier than the sound of rocket blasts. Once a rocket falls it brings a certainty and finality with it. A certainty of where it didn’t fall and a certainty of where it did. The sound of sirens is a wailing promise of something wicked this way comes.

And then there is not hearing the sound of the sirens that sound off in the city you’ve spent most of your life in, the city you identify yourself with. It feels unnatural not knowing that that just happened. And again, and again and again. And when you’re away, watching from the outside, another emotion creeps in, an emotion at times just as strong and overwhelming as the fear and concern for your loved ones, a sense of estrangement. Isolation. That thing that immigrants work so hard to suppress. It feels unnatural to not have heard the siren that sounded off in the city I’ve spent most of my life in- MY city, to not know if we’re ok and by we I mean my family, my city. It feels weird to be cut off from the routine that follows, the one that is so predictable and well known to me – the endless discourse and the 24 hour news updates, the phone calls from concerned friends overseas. And it’s a whole different kind of helplessness. A guilty one.

And now I become the concerned caller.

Here’s another cliché for you followed by a gross generalization. We call Tel-Aviv the city that never sleeps. Us Tel-Avivians are laid back when it comes to major life threats, we sweat the small stuff and our answer to everything is eat more, drink more, party more. Tel-Aviv is notorious throughout the rest of the country for its decadent partying ways. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to hear yesterday when I called my mom after the attack that she is not in the bomb shelter and moreover doesn’t seem to understand why you would need to be in one, I’ve learned from her and other calls I’ve made that cars are running, that there are people on the streets and noticed that some of my friends are posting Facebook updates from the restaurants they are in. This is how we roll and that is what makes us who we are.

But each story has two sides even if that story is being told by the same person. My mom wasn’t worried, but even if she was she couldn’t possibly walk down 6 flights of stairs in a minute and a half with my 91 year old grandmother so they stayed in the apartment instead of hiding in the bomb shelter. And she wasn’t worried for herself, she tells me the next day, but it’s so uncomfortable, she chooses this word, to know that you are in charge of someone else’s safety, my grandma, and you don’t know if you’ll be able to protect them. And I call my best friend back home and she tells me she was scared, because her daughter was with her father today and there was no phone service when the rocket fell and when she finally spoke to her , her daughter was anxious and all my friend wants to do as a mother is to hold her hand. And on the next day I call her after another attack and she tells me how she and her daughter were surprised by the siren while in their car and my friend left the car in the middle of the road and ran with her 9 year old to hide under a building as they are instructed to do. This is some crazy movie shit stuff, she tells me.

I write this blog about my two boys. I try to keep it light hearted. It’s a blog about the funny things my two boys do. The reason I am not raising these two boys in Israel is because I’m a coward. I am driven by fear. The world’s biggest mama’s girl uprooted herself and moved continents overcoming grief over the loss of a familiar reality and guilt and shame toward her family, friends and country so that her future boys would not serve in the military. It’s a shameful thing to admit in a country that so many died protecting.

And then there is this.

I get off the phone and am off to daycare to pick up my son and there is this. On a day like this it feels so right and so wrong and the same time. I couldn’t have been happier for my sons who are raised in this pastoral atmosphere and at the same time everything around me screams on a day like this “you are not there!”, the piles of yellowing leaves on the ground, the chilly November air, the language spoken in a cheerful  stress-free tone and the chirp of unfamiliar birds.

As I am writing this post I hear the sirens live. My husband is talking to his mother on the phone and she is on speaker with the grandchildren. In a very calm but rushed tone she tells us she has to go. As for us? It’s a weekend and we’re supposed to take the children to a pioneers village today for some good time. Do we go? Do we stay home for solidarity? The unbearable lightness of being away.

** Dedicated to my family and friends in Tel-Aviv, Jaffa, Rishon, Ramleh, Ness-Ziona, Jerusalem, Kiryat Ono etc. I think of all of you every day and pray for the end of this and no more casualties on the Israeli and Palestinian sides.


6 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Away

  1. I admire your courage to write about your feelings, especially in times like this. I wish I could do the same.

  2. Tali says:

    I was tearing up while reading this post, I sympathize with you and have to say that as an Israeli citizen in situations like this, my mind and thoughts wonder instantly to my family and friends abroad that watch the situation through the media and worried sick about us.
    As part of the routine calls to see if my family and friends in Israel are OK after a bombing event (I can’t believe this is actually a part of our reality now), I let my family and friends abroad know we’re OK and tell them not to worry.

    and on a more personal note: you are a beautiful and sensitive person inside and out, you’ve warmed my heart with this post and I’m proud to call you my best friend.

  3. austraalien says:

    I never really had any interaction with Israel or even thought about it before I moved to Canada. I always felt sad when I heard about the conflict in that region, but I was in Australia or Hong Kong, and Israel seemed very very far away. Now I live in Toronto and my boyfriend is Jewish, 3/4 of my friends are jewish and some of them are straight from israel. I worked at a summer camp the last two summers and they had a group of israeli kids come for three weeks to enjoy a beautiful canadian summer. Now, to see the reports, read the Facebook status updates and to read the news…what can I say? I try to put myself in your situation (I am far from home but my family is safe) and it aches in my chest.
    You have to live each day and know that you are doing it right.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. Thankfully things have been peaceful for the last few days since a cease fire agreement came into effect and I pray that it stays that way.

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