The tough stuff is what makes the news right now: Israel is in the midst of an exceedingly distressing situation. But we are so much more than this. We are more than angry demonstrations, communication failures and even the occasional shocking call for violence.
In order to provide a heartening balance, I share a story:
At the beginning of February, I received an urgent phone call from my 15-year-old grandson who attends a yeshiva high school. It is a small and modest yeshiva, built on the heights of a tiny yishuv (settlement) in the western Binyamin region. But it is one with enormous spirit.
My grandson was asking me to make an immediate donation by internet. He had also called his parents and the other students had called theirs. Why? Because the next day they were going to visit the families of those who had been killed or injured in the horrendous terror attack of the previous Saturday night in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood of Jerusalem, and they would be bringing gifts of food.
I spoke to my grandson the following day, when he and his classmates were in Jerusalem. They had brought 150 food packages with them, and—in groups—had visited not only the families of those who were victims of the attack, but their frightened and mourning neighbors as well. The young people came to let them know they were not alone and to provide them with koach—strength.
They also brought Israel flags and danced with them in the streets of the neighborhood.
Nor was this the end of the story. “We are going to do a siyum now,” my grandson said. A siyum is the celebratory completion of the study of a unit of religious text. I asked him where they would be doing it, and his answer brought tears to my eyes: In the Ateret Avraham Synagogue in front of which the terror attack took place. The people of the neighborhood had been invited and would be given treats of cookies and candies.
The spirit of these young students and their wonderful rabbi and teachers is, I believe, the true spirit of Israel. They came to give strength to others who were suffering. They exhibited Jewish pride. And they brought lightness to a place that was filled with pain. We must hold on to this in the darkness of these current days and be inspired by it.
But while the core of this tale would appear to be what had been given to grieving and frightened people by these students, this is only half of the story. We must also note what the young people came away with, what they learned about the importance of giving of themselves and what courage they were called to—to enter homes of mourning and elevate a place that had known murder. It is a sad truth: Our young people are often called upon to confront painful situations. They do not turn away and they are strengthened.
Arlene Kushner is a freelance writer, investigative journalist and author. She has written books on the PLO and Ethiopian Jews, and major reports on UNRWA. She is a co-founder of the Legal Grounds Campaign, which provides courses to law students regarding Israel’s legal rights in the Land of Israel. Her blog, focusing on political and security concerns in Israel, can be found at www.arlenefromisrael.info.