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Running towards a crisis

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“Abby,” I said as patiently as I was able to, “Maybe you should think about coming home?” “Why?” was her immediate and impatient response, “There’s nothing to do there. Seriously. It’s fine here, dad.”

At 18, our daughter, who is currently on her gap year in Israel, had chosen to stay in an active war zone rather than come back to South Africa. More than happy to opt for rockets, bomb shelters, limited movement, and ongoing conflict.

Comfortable to choose Hamas over us.

I’ve no idea what it means, but it seems that either we’re very good parents, or very bad ones. Probably both.

With two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a daughter in Israel, most days involve a variation of the following WhatsApp text messages.

“Just saw a red alert for a rocket in your area. All ok?”

“Yep. All good. In shelter.” Or, “Not home. Nothing where we are.”

Some days are more worrying. This past Sunday, there was a direct hit reported in Ramat Gan where my son and daughter-in-law live. We managed to get hold of him. He was at work, and it took him a few unbearable minutes to reach his wife who was at home. It turned out to be a false report, but our anxiety took no notice of that.

The next day, following three weeks of this ongoing stress, I saw an alert that Jerusalem was under attack. “Abby,” I messaged “All ok?” “Ya,” She answered, “We were in the beit midrash [lecture hall] when the sirens went. We’re all in the shelter now. Bit hectic and stressful. But fine.”

I was staring at my phone when a work colleague walked past. Noting my discomfort, he asked what was going on. I explained that my daughter was currently in a bomb shelter at her seminary. “Are you not bringing her home?” he asked, perplexed. I explained that as Jews, we generally don’t leave Israel at a time like this, and then added that besides which, I believe in building my kids’ resilience. “Resilience!” He looked at me as though I had lost it. “Howard, resilience at 18 is dealing with loadshedding and not getting into the course at varsity that you want to get into. It’s not having rockets explode over your head while you hide in a shelter.”

Which is why that night, I broached the subject of her returning early to South Africa. And it’s when we learned that given the choice, she would choose Hamas rather than come to us.

Some years ago, when we were visiting Israel, we found ourselves having coffee a few meters from a terror attack. On hearing the gunshots, my son and I, along with several people, ran towards the event to see if there was anything we could do to assist. To this day, I have no idea why I thought a sharply worded email or article would have been helpful – pretty much all I could add in terms of value – but I realised then that running towards a crisis, not away from it, is coded into us as Jews. Just as Israel and her people are coded into our DNA.

Along with Jews around the world, we’ve hardly slept a full night in the nearly four weeks since the horrendous attacks in Israel. It might be because we have three children and a daughter-in-law in the country. It might be the stress of the antisemitism that we’re all experiencing. And how vulnerable we feel as Jews. What’s more likely, however, is that it’s because we’ve stayed where we are. Having our coffee.

And haven’t run towards the attack.

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