It is nearly six years since we came to Efrat for “the Summer”… It looks like we’re staying. Our oldest daughter, who married two years ago at age 18, is expecting her first child in July. She and her husband live across from us. Our son, who was eagerly anticipating his States-side bar mitzvah when we came here – and was justifiably outraged when we decided to stay on at the end of our first summer -, is now proudly testing for elite units in the IDF. Our youngest daughter is finishing 11th grade at a Jerusalem English-speaking high school that prepares its students for all the bagruyot (standardized Israeli academic exams) – in Hebrew. At this point, our house in the U.S. is under contract and we are finishing construction of our Efrat home. My mother –now 80 — made aliyah in December. My brother and his family did likewise.
Here – especially walking the Judean Hills – Jewish history is palpable, alive and unapologetic. Jewish life here is organic. Next week is Shavuot; in Jerusalem, hardly anyone asks you “What’s that?”
Last week was Yom Yerushalayim. The experience of heading to Jerusalem (a 15 minute drive) on a whim to join tens of thousands of other Jews – of variegated ancestry and appearance – singing and dancing at the Kotel is representative of why we stayed here. My wife imagined her grandfather, who was murdered by Ukrainians in the Holocaust. She so wished he could have witnessed this scene – joyous throngs of young people dressed in blue and white, dancing with Israeli flags in Jerusalem. Could he even have conceived of such a possibility?
This snapshot might make our experience here sound idyllic. That’s one problem with snapshots. Life is a movie. We live it going forward and we understand it only looking backward. The snapshots fossilize whatever meaning we assign them.
That’s worthwhile remembering when tempted to definitively label others – Jews in general or Israel as a whole – freezing everything in time. There is a reason we are divinely commanded to love other Jews. It’s hard. We are not always so lovable. It’s easier to bumper-sticker people and issues than surrender our prejudices.
Life here is challenging, mostly due to the stereotyping entailed by the sloppy shorthand we often use to figure each other out. Contrary to popular myth, the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) are not a monolithic bloc, nor are most of them benighted medievals. I frequent a Haredi minyan where some of the men served in the IDF, others have kids serving – and a blessing is said for Tzahal (the IDF) every single day. Likewise, most “settlers” — which I guess includes me — are not wild-eyed, fanatic outlaws, as the media often portrays.
I have cordial relations with the Palestinian Arabs building my home. We talk about religion, but not politics. We shop at the Gush Etzion Junction Rami-Levy supermarket, where on any given day many hundreds of Palestinian Arabs and Jews of numerous stripes and descriptions work together and shop together. It’s hardly all sweetness and light, but Israel — including Yehuda and Shomron — is no “apartheid state.” The briefest visit to the Jerusalem malls or hospitals where Jews and Arabs work, shop, and heal together bears testament to that.
I still remember my interview for Wexner in 1992. I was perplexed when challenged with “Why do you need this program? You got a day school education; you already know all this stuff.” “What?” I thought out loud: “The day I think I know ‘this stuff’ well enough to stop learning about it and studying with others from different backgrounds, is the day I die.” I was nonplussed also when queried about my volunteering initiatives. The truth is I don’t remember volunteering for anything – I just didn’t say “no” much whenever people asked me to help. When I could help others excel by removing the obstacles they faced and help unleash their significant strengths, good things usually resulted. The Wexner Heritage Program encouraged further learning, helping me refine the art of the question and cultivate the willingness and ability to respond positively when called upon. Those qualities have remained lodestars for everything going forward.
I don’t know what the future holds. I’m 55 years old and still building my skill-sets. I passed the Israeli bar this year. I continue to maintain my United States based life insurance practice. I also do a lot of online legal editing.
One thing I do know: we need more North Americans, here, to stay. Praying for Israel is necessary, but not sufficient.
In true Wexner spirit, I am also giving back to my new community and helping build a website (Aldurah.com) to thoroughly de-bunk the al Durah incident. The al Durah affair remains a potent symbol of what happens when the media believes its own stereotyping — and gets it all horribly wrong. In short, 12 years ago (September 30, 2000) at the very beginning of the second Intifada, France2 broadcast a selectively edited video under a minute long purporting to show a Palestinian boy shot by the IDF while huddling in the arms of his father. The event was a carefully staged hoax that became iconic and went viral. Its power was positively mythic. Twelve days after the France2 broadcast, two Israeli reservists who lost their way in Ramallah and were lynched — in revenge. Bin Laden used the footage in his recruitment videos and the fanatics that cut off reporter Daniel Pearl’s head on-camera featured images of Al Durah prominently in their video. The largest square in Mali is called Al Durah square.
The work continues.
Elihu Stone is a Wexner Heritage alum from Boston II. He is a member of the Massachusetts and Israeli Bar and also a member of original team founding the Jerusalem office of Innodata-Isogen Israel Ltd. When Elihu lived in Boston, he served on the Executive Board, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston; co-chaired the Ethiopian Jewry Committee, traveling to Ethiopia, and briefing Israeli government officials; and served as Trustee, JCDS (Boston’s Jewish Community Day School); Chair, Flexible Tuition Committee; and as President of Young Israel Congregation. Since making aliyah to Israel Elihu has also been working on the evidence section of the website aldurah.com. Elihu can be reached at email@example.com.