My friend Irit just returned from her annual trip to visit family in Israel. The first indication for her that this visit would be different (other than hourly updates of missile strikes and counter-strikes) was having three seats to herself on the flight over. The day after she arrived, US airlines stopped flying to Tel Aviv altogether.
It was a three-week visit that was terrifying, disheartening, stressful, frustrating, and also illuminating in the way that going home can be when you have been away for a long time. Hearing her talk about the experience has been both mystifying for me (never been near war or real danger of any kind) and enthralling (how do people adjust to that life? or do they?) I’ve come away with some (probably naive) insights that she’s been gracious enough to let me share. (Note: All these thoughts are mine, and so are all the errors contained herein.)
Irit was born and grew up in Israel. She served in the army, as all Israelis do, and lived through the conflicts in 1956, 1967, 1969, 1973…up to the first Gulf War in 1991. About 12 years ago, she moved to the US for good. Even though she was apprehensive about going to Israel this summer, her daughter assured her, “Mom, don’t worry. We are going about our everyday life. It’ll be fine.” But, it turns out if you have not been living in a war zone for over a decade, you start to notice things that used to be taken for granted. Things like, every residence is required by law to have a safe room. Like shrill warning sirens. Like having to make safety plans as you walk your granddaughter to the playground or run errands. Like having your Shabbat dinner interrupted by a bomb threat and then watching your family go right back to eating as if nothing unusual had happened.
My friend has plenty of insights about the violence. In addition to talking about the stresses for her family and those on the Israeli side, she has great compassion for Palestinians crowded into the 141 square miles of Gaza with virtually no safe rooms and even less hope. How can you make peace, she observed, with people who have no hope? And there was plenty of disdain for political leaders on all sides (because there are more than two).
But what made the biggest impression on me, the outsider, was this: my friend who grew up in war has now become accustomed to peace. Yes, she is frustrated that we in the US don’t feel the impact of the wars to which we contribute. (Seriously, how long can we keep sending dollars and weapons and expect to keep shopping away as if nothing is wrong in the world?) But it really struck me how shocking it was for her to return to a way of life that used to be normal for her. From my easy chair, I see too many stories on the news about people who can never leave war – the battles themselves won’t stop or the governments that follow are corrupt or a different enemy appears. But…
It is possible to get used to peace.
Shortly after Irit returned I was working on a sermon and saw that Psalm 133 was in the lectionary for that week. It is the Psalm for my alma mater – Yea Sewanee! – and I’ve said and sung it many times. The words struck me in a new way, especially when Irit noted that the conflict in the Middle East is between cousins. The cultures, languages, and people of that region are related.
Oh how good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.
Living together in unity is good. Not winning. Not power. Living together. In unity. Is good.
There are so many aspects of Irit’s experience that deserve reflection; it is a very complex situation. But just for now, I am focusing on this: it is possible to get used to peace. And the second related idea: getting used to peace is good. There are people trying hard to do this every day. What would make it possible for more to do it in their homes, neighborhoods, cities, and nations?
What do you think?