One of my many Israeli-born cousins, Gila, whom I am especially close to, spent a few months with me in New York in the fall of 2001. As it happens, September 11th is her birthday. Family and friends called early that day to express birthday greetings; within a couple of hours,we started getting a different kind of call, communicating their concern.
The train station at Nahariya, the town neighboring her Galilee kibbutz, was struck by a suicide bomber two days before. I remember her tears at the shock of it – undermining her previous feeling that her area was immune from the ravages of the Intifada.
She’s very dovish – more so than I am. After returning home in December, she joined the ranks of Women in Black, protesting the occupation and Tayyush, the Israeli Arab-Jewish group that tries to ameliorate the worst effects of the IDF clamp downs on Palestinians that resulted from the Intifada. And, after voting Labor all her life, she joined Meretz following a campaign visit by Yossi Beilin in 2003.
Almost all of my Israeli relatives live in the north – from Haifa and its suburbs to Gila in the Galilee. She, like they, lived under the arc of Hezbollah’s rocket attacks. Her son was called to active service with his combat reserve unit, returning safely after the final push of the war. She refused to give the IDF his cell phone number, when he was not at home when they called for him; this bought him at least an extra day.
Gila represents for me the hardiness and humanity of what is best in the Israeli experience. I have not located the article I published about Sept. 11th at another anniversary, but the following is what I found from an e-mail that I sent out the day after the attack:
I am just fine. My work location is exactly at the 14th Street line that Mayor Giuliani proclaimed to cut off normal vehicular traffic today, tomorrow, and….?
I’m actually on 13th St. between 5th & 6th Avenues. On the corner of 13th & 6th, one used to have a straight view to the Twin Towers. Now one sees an eerily flattened, hazy vista. And when I came to work today, the area of 14th St., a good two miles or so north of the World Trade Center, was still infested with a veil of stinging smoke.
This smoke followed me home to 98th Street where, although invisible up here, it at least partially stank of this formless stuff.
I did not get to work Tuesday. On an impulse, I clicked on my TV at 8:50 AM to check on the weather. Instead, my cousin Gila (from Kibbutz Kabri) and I were captured by the dramatically evolving terrorist drama. I was emotionally sickened much of that day, but I’m better now.
When the two towers collapsed, Gila came close to panicking that the fire somehow would sweep through Manhattan toward us. I had to assure her that New York buildings are not so flammable. This veteran Israeli kibbutznik was rattled by terrorism in New York, just days after terrorism had struck in Kabri’s backyard at Nahariya!
Here’s wishing you all a Shana Tova, and a profound hope that God and humankind not let us down in the ways they have in the year now passing.