I stepped up to the counter at Ben Gurion Airport and handed the young woman my Swedish passport. She eyed me up and down as she typed on her computer. I had taken that same flight, Stockholm to Tel Aviv, dozens of times, but this day was different. The clerk kept my passport and told me to take a seat in a room at the back of the hall.

Two hours later, a member of the Israeli security service interviewed me. She asked about my travel patterns, my family history, my professional and political affiliations. She even asked to see texts on my phone. After a total of four hours, I was free to enter Israel.

I have also been questioned at length while flying into Ethiopia, Germany, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia and the U.S. The inquiries each time followed a similar pattern. So I was surprised to read Peter Beinart’s recent article in the Forward complaining about his “detention” at Ben Gurion.

From what I can gather, Mr. Beinart entered the same room I did and was subjected to many of the same questions. But he concluded he was being persecuted for his political views. Few people are further apart politically than Mr. Beinart and me. He is left, I am right; he criticizes Israel, and I have worked for several pro-Israel publications. The facts point to a different conclusion: Israeli border security searches for patterns and flags that go far beyond either Mr. Beinart’s or my ego, and the profiling is much more sophisticated than any political spectrum.

To date, I have been questioned at Ben Gurion four times for up to five hours, yet this is the first time I have ever written about it. I have seen enough of the world and traveled to enough dangerous places to be able to differentiate between questioning and detention, thoroughness and threat.

A few years ago, I sat on a chair at a government office in Tehran, being questioned about my affiliations with Israel and the U.S. and asked whether I had a secret Zionist mission. It may sound similar to the questions Mr. Beinart got at Ben Gurion, but the experiences are worlds apart.

I did not argue with my Iranian interviewer, as I did his Israeli counterpart. I did not post about the experience on social media or make sarcastic jokes as I left. When they held my passport at Ben Gurion, I did not fear I would never go home. The Israeli questions about my family did not hold an eerie, underlying threat that made my mouth go dry and my legs turn to jelly.

When I am pulled aside and questioned on entering a free country, I am inconvenienced—but also grateful that the place I am visiting is sufficiently serious about border security that a white woman from the most liberal country on earth isn’t exempt. Comparing an interview to an interrogation, or implicitly equating a democracy with a dictatorship, may be an effective way of getting publicity. But it comes at the price of legitimizing and emboldening evil regimes, which can use the comparison as an excuse for further atrocities.

 

 

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal

 

 

 

I’m holding a folded packet of semolina, cupping it in my hands, the red letters against the faded yellow reminiscent of a time I forgot to remember. There is chaos around me and I hear the voices of children from beyond the open balcony door, playing with boxes and fighting over who is in charge of carrying them down to be collected.

I never liked semolina, but I keep buying it, thinking I will make the pudding my grandmother made for us on summer mornings by the sea. There would be berries and almonds that I’d carefully shift around until I caught her watchful eye and was given the speech on how the sticky grains were there to sustain me. I would eat it, she would smile, and every morning of those endless summers would start and end in the very same way.

Passover cleaning is considered an arduous chore, often discussed and described through posts and dramatic memes on various forms of social media. We know it is coming, but are rarely prepared, and throw ourselves into it at the tail end of a busy schedule of holiday prep. In the past few years, that has all changed for me. In recent time I have planned for the cleaning with more anticipation than the menus and the holiday fun. Perhaps it comes down to the thoughtful nature of the task; perhaps it is the talmudic detail of the search itself, but with each passing year, I found myself connecting to the purge of chametz as were I saying kaddish for all that I had held onto in my life in the months that had passed.

I connect to God in many ways, but I am never more thankful to him than when he provides me with practical ways to deal with the ways of the soul and the hardships of human existence. As we were commanded to build the tabernacle for revelation, remembrance and atonement, as are we asked to take stock of our lives through the practical and literal act of cleaning our dwelling each year. Ours is a religion of doing before understanding, and through action we will see, through motion we will find the bravery and wisdom to know when to move and when to be still.

My grandmother died two years ago, at the age of 103, and there will be no more summer morning semolina, no matter how many packets I put in my cupboard or recipes I print and pin to my fridge. Some things are meant to let go of, but too often I fail to do so on my own, be it my broken heart beating under the floorboards or the distant dream of having her hug me and tell me it will all be okay, just one very last time.

Passover is more than a story, more than our past; it is a ritual that every year frees us from bondage, whatever it is that enslaves us. Taking earthly belongings and emotional trinkets from the shelves, sifting carefully through the rubble of our everyday lives, it helps to refocus us and makes choices what to keep and what to let go of, as the sea closes in and forces us to move forward. Passover functions as cognitive behavioral therapy through the infinite wisdom of our calendar and our God, and we should make the most of it as it rolls around. Not to sell our chametz, but to own it, and sift through all the cracks and crevasses where it may hide.

So I do it each year, to the best of my ability, and with that I am well and truly done. And all those other pieces of fear, sadness and notions of insufficiency, which I have neither seen nor removed, and about which I am unaware, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth. I won’t ever cook that semolina, and I will never again know the touch of her hand against my freckled cheek, and as I burn the remnants of what was, I feel the freedom of a new brave world that is out there, mine to conquer.

                                             Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba

 

 

Those words trigger a Jewish instinct; we stand to attention and know just what to do, like some sort of ancient reflex to join in mourning, whether out of sorrow or as strangers, side by side.

 

The structure of the Kaddish-prayer is beautiful, and it reflects how we as Jews relate to death and mourning. We let the mourners speak of their sorrow but we interrupt them, interject as to say, “you are not alone”. We prop the mourner up when he cannot stand for himself and when his voice breaks we pick up, letting him know that if he goes silent we are here to carry the tune.

 

I never really understood the kaddish, not until last night. Last night I sat in a kitchen, holding a mother who had just buried her child and I heard the men praying net door and I could hear how they carried the father, answered him in the way we know how, telling him that he would never be abandoned. What I before had found repetitive was now meditative and meaningful and before the man with the broken voice is even done asking for God to reveal his majesty in our time he is interrupted by a loving unison

 

Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach
l’alam ul’almei almaya

 

And at this point, I start to cry.

 

I cry because these are no longer words, but a prayer over my dear friend Sara, who was buried just as she had turned 18. I learned of her death as I was walking home from dinner in downtown Tel Aviv and I remember very little of the rest of that night, except the cold feel of the apartment floor as I failed to get up from it, hours after hours on end. I scrolled through my phone in search of pictures of her until I got to my favorite – one where she is braiding my hair in my kitchen while we rummage through my mother’s old jewelry box. We were talking about life and love and Sara told me that she was impatient to get out there, into the world that was eagerly awaiting her, so that she could fulfill her two dreams; curing epilepsy and moving to New York to become a famous actress.

 

Out of the mouth of anyone else those would have sounded like pipe dreams, but for Sara they were anything but. She walked into a room and she was noticed, and more importantly – she truly noticed you. Always helping, always giving, seemingly unaware of the beauty she possessed. At the end of that night I gave Sara a Magen David-pendant I loved but never ever wore, knowing I could never pull it off. The stones and gold would outshine me, but on her it looked just right, as if it hung around her neck not to rival but enhance her perfect Jewish beauty.

 

As we sit there at the shiva, I want to tell her mother what I am thinking, but I seem to have lost all my words. Nothing comes out, expect tears and a silent wailing, and I realize that these rituals are not just for the family, but also just as much for us.

 

It is hard to be close to pain, as humans we have an instinct to fear the things we cannot change and avoid a hurt we cannot diminish, and just as the mourner has an instinct to hide and stay away we who love them are paralyzed with all the things we cannot do to ease their pain.

 

So we are forced to sit in the unimaginable, stay in that pain and we finish each other’s sentences just to show that we are there. We cry together and we are silent together, we remember and we talk and we refuse to give way to the loneliness and darkness that threatens with its presence, just outside that door. Seeing what I saw and feeling what I felt yesterday I now think that this is one of the ultimate strengths of our Jewish existence – how we show up for each other and stay there, despite and through the hurt, and that the darkest parts of life are neither skirted nor ignored.

 

We say that the memory of a loved one should be a blessing, but with Sara it is so much more than that. I envied the confidence with which she walked through life and the beauty and largeness with which she lived it, inch by glorious inch, and I know that this is true for everyone who came into her life. Her entire being was a bracha, not just the memory of what she was, and having lost her far too soon I owe it to myself and to her to live bigger and truer and fuller – just as Sara would have if she got the chance.

 

When we as Jews enter the Temple Mount we turn right and walk counter-clockwise, except for when we have suffered a heartbreak or loss. When we hurt we turn left and walk clockwise, so that we bump into other people, directly facing them, open to their questions and comfort. Our traditions teach us not be alone, but to be radically brave and emotionally confrontational.

 

We are the chosen people but also a people who make choices, and we choose to come together as the world does its best to rip our hearts apart. For this I am thankful now, in midst of pain and anger; I am thankful to be Jewish and with that to never truly be alone.

 

Sara. I know you never got to see your name in lights but you will see your life live on through all of us who now owe your memory a blessing. I promise you that I will do my best to care for those you love the way you did, with compassion and humility, and dare to use red lipstick even when I’m feeling down.

 

You are loved, and you are remembered, from here to all eternity.

 

V’imru: Amen.

HAVANA — The young woman sees me watch in amazement as she gets up from her seat and attempts to carry the four bags with her through the aisle of the plane, and she gestures at them and shrugs.

“There is nothing in Cuba, so whatever we can, we bring.”

It took me a few days to fully grasp what she had told me, being a first-time visitor in a country entering its 58th year of communist dictatorship, and its very first without Fidel Castro. I came here to find out what had changed since his passing, and what was next for the island regime, but to my great surprise it was business as usual, in more ways than one.

On my way from the airport I ask my cab driver if things feel different since Castro’s death. He shakes his head and tells me that even on the night of his passing there was little movement in the streets or commotion through Havana.

“I was impressed, actually. Fidel has been everything, you know? He is the father of the revolution and when he dies – nothing – not a word. They were able to control everything, even then.”

By “they” he means the regime, now taking orders from Fidel’s brother Raoul Castro, and the security apparatus attached to it, with its infamous security service, Direccion General de Intelligencia (DGI) making sure the wheels turn smoothly. It is a simple yet brilliant scheme, where every neighborhood has an informant, reporting to the Comites de Defensa de la Revolution (CDR), a secret police in charge of keeping tabs on counter-revolutionary activity, and every infraction or sign of disloyalty is met with stern and immediate consequences. Given the dire straits of the people in Cuba, the regime is not willing to take any chances, having experienced revolutions in the past it knows not to allow the flame of change to be ignited.

With a monthly salary of $30 USD per person, supplemented with a fixed portion of rice, eggs and beans, the people of Cuba have been forced to use every opportunity to make some money on the side in order to avoid starvation. This has resulted in a shadow-society to take shape within communist Cuba, a society that is highly capitalist in every single way. I get evidence of this en route to old Havana one day, when my driver stops for gas and is told there is none left, only to leave the car with a fistful of cash and return later, car filled-up and ready.

“This is what we call the Cuban way. You see, the gas station belongs to the government, so the only way for these men to earn something extra is to sell gas to the highest bidder and deny those who can’t pay. I call it communist capitalism.”

The same is true everywhere you go: people cooking the books to fill their plates and fight their way out of desperation, and as a tourist you accept it and move on, constantly struggling with the guilt of living here in a bubble that everyday Cubans will never be privy to. To outsiders, the combination of poverty and oppression and the recent loss of the symbol of the revolution would inevitably result in a turn toward democracy and capitalism. But as the regime does its best to convey, very little has been buried with Fidel.

The Cubans I have spoken to are proud of their country. Even though they criticize the regime, under promise of anonymity, they are quick to add that they don’t necessarily want Cuba to become the United States or just any other country in the West. When I ask them if they believe that democracy and capitalism will come to Cuba now that Fidel has left and Raoul is on his way out, they respond in the negative, saying that whatever will come next will be a Cuban version of those things, an adaptation from what it is now.

And the way things are looking, they may be right. Rumor has it Raoul Castro has already reshuffled the government, replacing generals and ministers with his personal confidants so that he will remain the unofficial leader even after his assumed successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, is sworn in as president in 2018. This ensures that even though Fidel is dead, the spirit of the revolution lives on, and the Cubans I’ve spoken to fear that the regime will take steps to emphasize the status quo by tightening its grip on the population.

It is not an improbable scenario, but rather a common tactic for totalitarian regimes when dealing with dramatic shifts, as most recently seen in Iran after the nuclear deal, where executions and imprisonments have risen dramatically during and after the rapprochement with the West. There is an important difference, however, and that is that Cuba is unlike many other countries of its kind, and that difference may actually be a hindrance in its journey toward democracy.

One thing that sets Cuba apart from other totalitarian regimes is the romance that surrounds it, still, despite the thousands of extrajudicial executions and arbitrary imprisonments, a ruined national economy, and denial of basic freedoms of association, religion, movement, and speech having taken place in the past 58 years. Even those who do not hold an ideological torch for the communist revolution are still enchanted with the country’s beauty, charm, and lust for life, making it easier to disregard the daily crimes committed against its people and quell the international community’s instinct to intervene.

Cuba is truly magical, and yes, it is full of life, but once you step outside of the lush hotel garden you see that it is life on the brink of death, magic existing in a state of suspended animation.

 

This is made possible by the geographical and cultural proximity to the U.S., loosening of sanctions and the idea of Cuba being kept alive through and by the booming Cuban tourism industry. This process is quietly supported by the regime itself because, ironically, the only way for the communist revolution to survive is by covert capitalism, keeping the population from starvation, and turning a blind eye to this keeps the oppressive communist regime from having to admit defeat.

There were no rallies through Havana on the eve of Fidel’s death and now, almost 4 months later, he has already moved from leader to martyr, cementing a well-directed legacy. Life goes on for the Cubans, with or without the father of the revolution, as they watch tourists flood their Island paradise, hoping to benefit from some of the overflow.

Cuba is lively and loud – full of life for days of play. But when it really matters, it is quiet – its people’s fate decided in silence, without so much as a word.

 

This article was first published in Washington Examiner and RealClearPolitics

There are 11 people around the table in the small south-side apartment. It’s warm and loud and smells of fragrant kubbeh. Somewhere in the other room, a child has discovered the magic of her own feet. It is home to us, to so many of us, the place that we go after Shabbat services and the radically un-Swedish interior stands in stark contrast to the opaque calm that dominates outside. Most Swedes would never see these scenes or know these people that I call family but we belong here just as they do, we play a role in the larger society and in some sense save it from itself, our antiquated ways and deeply rooted rituals balancing out the modernity and ennui of contemporary life.

I have spent the better part of five years trying to make the case for our survival, speaking of and writing about the life of European Jews. At first I got little more than a courteous nod, and now, after terror and totalitarianism has reared its many heads, the response to our plight is an immediate call to leave and stay gone forever. Perhaps I have failed to capture what it is I’m fighting for in a clear and snappy sentence and perhaps that is why the right to remain is not perceived as a human right for us Jews, once the right to return has given and defined. Or perhaps it is one of those things that cannot be captured in words but rather needs to be felt through experiences, and those are unavailable to many and of too little interest to most. So we are locked into an either-or, where we are somehow expected to stay and assimilate or, if our Jewishness persists, leave for Israel and be happy with our lot.

But there is more. There is this. Us. The 11 people at this table, hearing the kiddush, singing and eating and praying together, and we have every right to be here if that is what we choose to do, being a integral part of a society that is nothing like us. The debate has been focused on the negative, the pain and the plight, and I, too, have been guilty of trying to achieve understanding by telling the worst scenario and citing statistics of crimes, horror and hate. Those things matter, but I may have come further if I had told the stories that matter even more.

Later that same day, I go to my friend Isidor’s house to attend his wife’s yahrzeit and to lend a helping hand. An hour later, there’s a prayer service in his living room, praying in one ancient voice, and I stand to the side just watching the scene and wishing I could capture what it is to me and why this deserves to be preserved.

European Jewish life is its own thing, our very own strain of Yiddishkeit with a tapestry of memories and meaning that we only share between ourselves. We walk the line between soul and society, purpose and practice, and the way we do this is a testament to the strength of who and what we are.

Isidor is telling jokes in Yiddish and though mine is quite rusty, I can tell that he works blue. We are eating gefilte fish from his grandmother’s recipe and drinking l’chaims made on traditional Swedish spices and nothing could more exquisitely describe the gorgeous complexity of our Swedish-Jewish lives. There are five countries and backgrounds represented at this table and so many untold stories folded and hidden beneath our mother tongue. We are not facts on the ground or mere statistics but people with pasts and futures that we should be allowed to master on our own.

I wish you could have been there, I really, really do. I wish all those who tell us to leave or who minimize the loss of freedom in our lives could have experienced the beauty of our joy and of our struggle. The right of return can never replace the right to remain, and both should hold a place in the Jewish psyche on the list of priorities of anyone who cares about our people’s fate.

 The men who came to pray and to honor Isidor’s wife took time out of their lives to tend to not only him, but to our rituals, and that is why we are family and why we will remain. We show up for each other, be it in synagogues or crowded apartments or a memorial prayer service for a loved one or a brother we don’t know. We show up for each other because we all know this life and we all walk this line, as European Jews in a time and a place that urges us to be either extinct or irrelevant.

But we won’t be, not just yet, not as long as there is life and breath within us. We show up for one another, and I expect the world to show up for us, fighting for our right to Jewish life and not merely Jewish survival.

 

This article was first published in Israel Hayom

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I sit at my desk and think about all the media coverage that this anniversary generated, and how quiet it is now, the day after.

Yesterday I read ten articles about the Holocaust, about the victims and the need to remember.

But today when I skim through the news feed, I find nothing at all.

Does that mean there is nothing to write about?

Yesterday a prominent parliamentarian spoke at the Great Synagogue.

In past years other dignitaries have made that same speech

flanked by the Swedish royal family.

But where are they today?

When it comes to defending the Jewish minority’s human rights, are they just as easy to reach?

Do they stand up for the right to circumcision?

Do they fight to repeal the shameful 1937 ban of kosher slaughter?

Do they promise to ensure the Jewish minority’s safety?

Or is it that simple, that it is politically more favorable to mourn the dead Jews than to ensure continued Jewish life?

I have all the respect in the world for what the Living History Forum of Sweden is doing by organizing this memorial, but I lack a forum for a living future.

The difference between actively remembering, and passively mourning, is vast.

To actively remember is to every day reaffirm your identity, and to live it.

Not allowing commemorations to serve as a political platforms, but be promise for the future.

For what greater respect can we show those we have lost but to keep living?

Proud and visible.

I am pleased that the synagogue was packed yesterday

but I hope that we honor the memory by filling it every week.

Many beautiful words were written in our newspapers on Monday

but I hope that our fate is considered news worthy every single day.

Politics and the royal family stood by our side in Raul Wallenberg Square

I sincerely hope that they also do so in the halls of our parliament.

This is my hope, amidst all the despair.

That proximity to death will be a call to life.

Yesterday people spoke eloquently about the need to remember, but what is done to make sure that the rest of us will not become memories of the past?

Who will love the Jews, the morning after?

 

“I’m in a fight for my life – not for their death. I want to live, of course, but I don’t want another life lost, be it Jewish or Arab or Christian”.

 

Eyal Gelman and I are the same the age, but I feel oddly young and naïve, sitting at his desk in the Kiryat Arba security office. I’m there to meet him in his role as a security officer in one of the most dangerous areas in Israel, but also because he has been personally affected by the terror most of us only read about or catch snippets of on the 8’ocklock news.

 

2 weeks before I got there, Eyal’s brother Eliav was catching a bus back from his military base when he was attacked by a Palestinian man, 26-year-old Mamduh Amro, at the Gush Etzion junction. While fighting off his attacker who was wielding a knife, Eliav was shot by an errand bullet from the weapon of an IDF officer who had arrived at the scene, and a few hours later he was pronounced dead at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Eliav was the father of two, a deeply religious man and a decorated soldier, who had lived his entire life in and around Kiryat Arba, and his was the 29th death from Palestinian terror in 2016.

 

 

“My brother always said that people like us have to do more so that other people may be able to live normal lives, and I truly believe that. Heroism does not necessarily mean to do extraordinary things, it just means you do more”.

 

His brother is not the only person Eyal Gelman has lost in recent years. Gelman’s brother-in-law was Benaya Sarel, an IDF soldier killed during the 2014 Gaza war who was also from Kiryat Arba, and I ask Eyal the question that has brought me there to begin with – how do you stay and raise your family in a place where death is your door at any given time?

 

“Bereavement is the spinal chord of our nation, Annika, and just because I am hurting it does not mean I am wrong or that I should allow the hurt to change who I am or what I do”.

 

And more share his sentiment, it seems, as Kiryat Arba has been growing steadily in the past 20 years, along with other settlements in Judea and Samaria. Since 1993 and the Oslo accord, the settlement population has grown from 100.000 to 430,000, and at this point the waiting list for housing in both Kiryat Arba and the nearby Hebron is permanently full, and I ask Eyal what he thinks the draw is to come here, despite the constant waves of terror?

 

“People want more, they want to feel connected, and here the life is built on connectivity. We are not about the immediate satisfaction or the selfish, but a bigger picture that spans 3000 years. And that is also why we are not disheartened, because our perspective is longer than most, we see our victories through history and feel confident about our future in our ancient homeland. And it’s not merely a religious issue – 35% of those who live here are secular- it is about fighting for something larger than yourself”.

 

As we walk out of the simple office structure Eyal greets a white-bearded man sitting on a bench outside. The man has a friendly face and a loud laugh and when we’re introduced I realize he is Shalom Sarel, Eliav Gelman’s father in law and the father of Benaya Sarel, the soldier killed in the 2014 Gaza war. I sit with him for a moment, overlooking Hebron and the land that we both love and so many have died for, and I ask him how he got here and why he’s decided to stay.

 

“I came here as a newlywed, looking for a cheap house, because my wife and I couldn’t afford a place in the city. Many years and 8 children later I am in love, and I could never live anywhere else. It was a practical choice at the time, but a few months later we found ourselves on the frontline of the 1st intifada, and from then on, every time I leave the house I know I can be the victim of terror. It is a daily reality here, ever since”.

 

Shalom Zarel speaks perfect English and he smiles with his entire face, gesturing lively as he points out the houses of his family and friends. Kiryat Arba may be a war-zone in the news, but to Shalom, Eyal and the others living here, it is a tight-knit neighborhood and it is home. And to me, an outsider, it looks weirdly normal. Perfect rows of houses and well-kept gardens, plenty of playgrounds with monkey bars and colorful swings. It’s noisy, but not from gunshots or war, but the laughter and conflicts to be found wherever children meet to hammer out the details of an intricate game.

 

 

As we head for the car I say my goodbyes and I thank Shalom for living here, doing what most cannot stomach, but he laughs at me and shakes at head.

“You don’t get it, Annika. On Yom Kippur in 1941, Nazis murdered my great grandfather. Today I live here, in Kiryat Arba, with 8 children who have all contributed greatly to the Jewish state. This is not a sacrifice – it’s a privilege”.

 

The road between Hebron and Jerusalem is as treacherous as it is beautiful. Passing the infamous Al-Arroub camp, known to be a home for terrorists and then coming up on the hill overlooking Gush Etzion, the sun coloring the nearby valleys in deep pink and purple. Every bus stop here is fortified with concrete and hidden behind barriers, a way to create a normal-style life in the era of car-rammings and “spontaneous” stabbing attacks. As we re-enter Jerusalem I feel myself exhaling, ever so slightly, feeling as if I have visited a different world just 20 minutes away. But we don’t stop long, as we are headed to Samaria – the heart and midriff of Israel – to see more of the spinal chord that runs through this land.

 

“Would you like to see her room”?

 

Adva Biton is a beautiful woman, wearing a grey sheath dress, black high heels and a colorful jacket as she greets us in her house in Yakir, a village high in the Samarian Mountains. Last year, Adva’s 4-year old daughter Adele died as a result of a terror attack. Adele was critically hurt in a terror attack two years earlier, on March 14, 2013 near the town of Ariel when a truck driver suddenly hit the brakes after stones hurled by Palestinians struck his vehicle. The car behind him, carrying Adele, her two sisters and their mother Adva Biton, lost control and collided with the truck, wedging their car under the truck. The two other sisters, Avigail and Naama – aged four and five – sustained moderate injuries.

 

“There was an ambulance nurse there, an Arab man with the calmest voice, he took care of us. He carried Adele out of the car and saved the life of her sisters. He is my hero, and we still speak, he came to the funeral and he calls us every now and then and asks how we are”.

 

Adva tells me about Adele, about all that this little girl gave to the world in the short time she was in it, and how her life and death has helped others and changed the lives of many she never even knew. Tears start rolling down her cheek as she retells details. Her favorite game, the dress she wore that day, the party they were on their way home from. I’m fighting back my own sadness and anxiety, digging my nails into my palm as not to cry, however her words kill me I feel I don’t have the right to break down or break whatever professional barrier I’ve built. I have two children at home; one not much older than Adele, and to even imagine that loss or that heartbreak is to stand on the edge of a bottomless pit.

 

 

My train of thought is interrupted by a neighbor walking in unannounced, carrying a bag of groceries and gifts for the Purim holiday, and Adva, now 5 months pregnant, carefully gets out of her chair to greet her guest. We all chat for a while and I ask them both what I had asked Eyal, how do you stay here and raise your children, living in the heartland of this conflict?

 

“I wonder how they live in other places, how they survive grief and catastrophe in places where no one knows their neighbors”. Adva turns to her guest and says “look at this – it happens every day- people bring food and comfort and care for us here, because we are family and we have all chosen to be here, we are all in it together”.

 

For a period of a year and a half, Adele was hospitalized in various institutions, the attack having left her severely disabled and only partially conscious. Her parents Adva and Rafi immersed themselves in a battle they hoped would return Adele to life, Adva leaving her job as a doctor of medical chemistry to spend her days nursing Adele. In the middle of this battle, the family welcomed a new baby, a few weeks after the birth, Adele succumb to her injures and died, at the age of 4.

 

From the Oslo Accords in 1993 until September 2000 – nearly 300 Israelis were killed in terror attacks, and another 1,100 were murdered during the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Intifada (Sept. 2000 – Dec. 2005). Since December 2005, Palestinian terrorist attacks have claimed at least another 203 Israeli lives and injured three times as many.

 

According to data compiled by the Israeli Shin Bet Security Agency, 2015 was the deadliest year for terrorism since 2008. Twenty-eight people were killed in terror attacks in Israel during 2015: two foreigners, one Palestinian, three members of Israeli security services, and twenty-two civilians. So far, 34 people have been killed in terror attacks in Israel in 2016, and according to a report on terrorism published by the Israel Ministry of foreign affairs earlier this year, there have been 156 stabbing attacks (including 76 attempted attacks), 98 shootings, 46 vehicular (ramming) attacks and one vehicle (bus) bombing. These terrorist attacks are part of the Palestinian Authority’s strategy of “popular resistance” adopted by the PA and Fatah at the Sixth Fatah conference in August 2009. After every attack, spokespersons from Fatah and Hamas have issued statements describing the attacks as “heroic actions” and “the natural response to Israel’s crimes”.

 

On our way back, we stop for dinner in Tapuach, a small Samarian settlement with approximately 1,200 inhabitants, about 40 minutes North of Jerusalem. The modest restaurant opened just a few weeks ago, serving simple food grown on the premises, and the owners run a 2nd hand clothes shop out of an adjacent room. The girl serving us our food is no older than 15, she does not speak English but smiles at me, shyly, as she puts overflowing bowls and plates on our table. An older woman is standing in the doorway, watching us, and she doesn’t smile yet I feel that she is friendly. Her face is sad, her long hair tied and meticulously covered and she seems very protective of the young girl by my side.

 

“Her name is Raaya”.

 

My friend sees me watching her, and nods in the woman’s direction.

 

“Raaya’s sister and brother were murdered in a terrorist attack at the Tapuach Junction 13 years ago, leaving 6 children orphaned, including a 2-month old baby. Rayya dropped everything and moved with her husband and 8 children from the Galil to Tapuach to raise her sister’s children as her own”.

 

 

It’s everywhere – the sadness and the tragedy and the stories of insurmountable human loss, and suddenly I feel I need some air. Outside there is perfect spring air, pink flowers and hills for days, and I see why this place inspired songs and prayer and the hopeful dreams of my ancestors. In the distance I see Tapuach Junction, one of the most dangerous places in Israel, but right here I feel safe and calm and at home like few times before.

 

“I just love the air up here”.

 

Rayya is next to me now, watching the view as the sun slowly sets.

 

“I love the air up here, it’s the tension in it that I can’t stand”.

 

These people, my people, are so often dehumanized in the media simply based on where they live. But regardless of geography or where your political alliances lie, their lives need to matter, their loved ones have the right to be mourned and remembered as more than “settlers” on the 10th page of a newspaper or a meme in a media-feed.

 

The Palestinian Authority is waging a war, without uniforms or tanks, but with plenty of soldiers acting on orders from their leaders. Incitement leads to murder and murder leads to shattered families and broken homes, and the more we dehumanize their victims the more effective this warfare will be, taking more lives and causing more hurt.

When I sit down to write this piece my phone vibrates and I see a newsflash, saying that there has been another death. On June 30th, 13-year old Israeli girl Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death in her bed at her home in Kiryat Arba, by 19-year old Palestinian Mohammad Tarayreh, who had broken into the family’s house. The attacker was from a nearby village, and climbed the fence into Kiryat Arba before breaking into Ariel’s home and locking himself inside, where she was alone. After the murder of Hallel Yaffa, her killer was hailed as a hero by Hamas and candy was passed out in the streets of Gaza as part of their celebration of the martyred terrorist.

 

Hallel leaves a devastated family behind, a life cut short and a story untold, as Adele, Eliav, Benaya and the hundred of other’s murdered by terrorists in Israel in the past years. These are stories that deserve to be told, faces that deserve to be known and human heartbreak that deserves its place in history. Not because of politics, nor geography, but because Jewish lives should matter, too.