November 18, as I do every Tuesday, I was sitting with a man who is dying. Each week I volunteer at Hospice House, and I have had the honor and privilege of sitting with several people just before they die. Last week I was sitting with a wonderful gentleman who accepts that his cancer is "everywhere;" he doesn't want any more treatment. He likes me, and I like him, so I make extra time for him when I'm there. I'm not sure which one of us gets more out of this arrangement; I know it means the world to me.
Last Tuesday was different, however. As I was standing there talking to him, the news was on in the background, muted, so that we could talk. Slowly I realized that the words "Breaking News" kept flashing across the screen, along with images of ambulances and people running. I was engaged, tuned out of the news and these things... but then, the street on the TV looked familiar... and I saw the words, "Terrorist attack on synagogue in Jerusalem!" My 24-year-old daughter lives in Jerusalem. It's not a large city, so anything that happens in Jerusalem, is too close for comfort in this mother's eyes.
I couldn't help it; terror grabbed me and I excused myself abruptly. "George (not his name), I'll be right back!" I rushed to my phone, tears rising and struggling to breathe easily -- hoping to find a text message from my girl. I felt an old, familiar panic rising in my chest. This is not the first time I've feared for my oldest child's safety, in a city so far from me. There was no message, and my heart raced faster.
Admittedly, I also felt a moment of self-recrimination. This should be easier at this point. My girl has lived in Israel for nearly three years now. She has told me dozens of times that the media exaggerates things. "I'm fine, Mom;" I could almost hear her saying. I was at work, in a place where others rely on me to bring comfort. I had to pull it together. George smiled when I returned and asked if my girl was ok. I shrugged, and told him that I wasn't sure. We talked about the Middle East, and his views on Netanyahu. We pretended everything was ok, even though he is dying and I was worried about my daughter's safety.
Sometimes, perspective is everything.
It should be easier... But my mother's heart was racing. Scary thoughts swirled in my head. She became an Israeli citizen this past September. All but one of those murdered last week had dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship. She is not a militant or politically motivated. Those murdered today were in a synagogue, bowed in prayer; they were not in a settlement or at a demonstration. My daughter is Jewish. Every one of the men brutally murdered were Jews.
It never gets easier; I'm a mother first.
There are times when I settle into a quiet acceptance of my daughter's choice to live in a foreign country, far from her family and place of birth. I am proud that she has such strong convictions and passions that she would live so far away, in order to live a life that fills her -- spiritually, aesthetically, ideologically. She has marched to her own drum from the day she was born; as hard as it is, I respect and admire her for that. The Hebrew name I gave her means Lioness; should I expect any less? An she is a Jew; Israel is the homeland of all Jews. She feels at home there.
Here in the U.S., my daughter has to search for kosher food and places to eat. She feels out of place; she stands out in her faith. She grew up in a town that consistently, every year, schedules major sporting events and school tests on the Jewish High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ok, yes, I can hear you already: "But there are so few Jews here! Should we observe every important holiday, in every faith?" Point taken. But, should we observe every important Christian holiday, just because that is the majority? I've heard people go on and on because a soccer game was scheduled on Mother's Day! Hello? Really? As a mom, I hate having soccer games on my one officially sanctioned holiday too, but it's not exactly sacrosanct.
My husband grew up in a community on the east coast, where there were enough Jews and Christians that everyone had the High Holy Days off from school. Christians were the majority there too, but it was just done that way out of respect. Here, each year our family has had to explain why our children will miss school or sports because it is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. I'm certain I've never had to ask for Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving off.
So, my girl found a place that respects her faith, her principles, her beliefs, and she moved there. Add to that, she finds it a beautiful country, filled with beautiful people and rich culture -- and that is both Jewish and Arab people and culture. My girl has always been a person who embraces people from many walks of life. She does not discriminate, though she has faced discrimination, herself. She works helping African refugees in Israel. She has worked tutoring Arabs and Jews.
My girl has a big, wide heart... that was broken last week.
At the same time that mine stopped... filled with anxiety and worry, hers was filled with grief and sadness; hers was filled with righteous indignation. She is justified in her emotions. There is nothing about the horror that happened in that Israeli synagogue that is explainable or justifiable. I've heard it all. I am not a staunch pro-Israel supporter, as many expect I might be. However, this was wrong on all levels. This is black and white for me: this was terrorism.
And still numerous media sites used what (even) I see as anti-Semitic, highly slanted headlines to report the incident. The CBC stated: "Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack." Jerusalem police shoot 2? Hello? Those two shooting victims had just used meat cleavers to savagely murder four Rabbis, who were praying! Those two had just shot a police officer who was pulling another female victim to safety. The police officer later died. Those two shooting victims were cowardly murderers, attacking worshippers as they prayed. Numerous other news agencies removed the word "Palestinian" when referring to the killers. Barely 24 hours later, many news sites did not even have this event on their current news, but many were reporting Israel's response: demolishing the homes of the killers. There is no nuancing this to fit a political agenda or belief. They used meat cleaversand guns... In a house of worship. No finessing can clean that up.
Let me say this clearly, because I believe it with every fiber of my being: If two terrorists walked into a church in any city in America and butchered four priests, with meat cleavers, and shot several others... leaving that church awash in blood, there would be no gray area! There would be no words of explanation; no political rhetoric, nuance or finessing -- no excuses. In fact, if those two men were black, or brown, or Muslim, I am ashamed to know that this country would rise up in abject rage. Let's talk truth: This was an act of outright terrorism and barbarity.
Because it happened to Jews, in Jerusalem, does not make it any less so.
There is no other way for me to look at this event. As a U.S. citizen I have, sadly, become accustomed to mass shootings. I have become numbed down by the barrage of ISIS stories, young black men being killed in our streets, and horrors, inflicted on people all over the world. Yet, I am always particularly impacted by attacks on schools and places of worship. Let me be clear; there is no place where this kind of attack would be ok, but the idea that these were men of great faith-men who studied long and hard to be closer to their God and bring it to their followers -- these were men talking to God, when they were attacked and slaughtered. Prayer books and prayer shawls soaked in blood- and still, there were news agencies who rushed to place blame on Israel and the Jews.
When I heard the news, I admit: I was a mother first. I thought of my child and my child's safety. I did not think of all of these other things in those initial minutes. That came hours later, after having read the news on various sites, having let the idea that this kind of thing happened where my child lives. I was a mother first; I messaged my girl. She reassured me that she was safe in bed, but she also shared that she was sad, that she was shocked, that she was afraid of what all of this will mean.
I am a mother first... I am afraid too.
My daughter and I on the Old City wall, Jerusalem, at dusk.