I live in Shilo. Shilo, where the Tabernacle resided prior to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Shilo, where Chana came to pray for a son -- who became the prophet Samuel.
Some refer to Shilo's location as the Shomron, part of liberated Jewish land. Others consider it occupied territory in the West Bank.
I simply call it "home."
Many people ask: What is it like living in Shilo at this volatile time in Israel-Arab relations?
In hopes of answering this question, I would like to share the following 4-week slice of my diary:
OCTOBER 30, 2000
The Sukkot holiday has ended and our family is back in routine. My fifth-grader now travels to school in a bulletproof bus. (And the world calls us the aggressors?) The five older children, ages 14-23, carry cellular phones and are instructed to call us whenever they arrive at their destination safely. I request that no one travel after dark. My husband and daughters comply. My sons do not, but are usually good about keeping in touch. I worry a lot.
There are many Israeli soldiers stationed in the area, and the women of Shilo have taken it upon ourselves to bring them home-cooked food three times a week. I am asked to organize it twice a month and agree, happy to do something to help out.
My husband, youngest son, and I load up the car with soup, casseroles, and snack foods, and head to the army base 15 minutes east of us. And are the soldiers happy to see us! They can't thank us enough for the little bit of food -- and we should be thanking them for their protection. The food delivery is a positive experience and we look forward to repeating it in two weeks.
NOVEMBER 2, 2000
The news this morning announces that Peres and Arafat have reached a peace agreement, but I am skeptical. There seems to be even more shooting and rock throwing. I am full of foreboding. It seems as if the whole world is against Israel, condemning us for protecting ourselves.
My thoughts are interrupted by the ringing phone. It is my oldest daughter, calling to tell me that she is okay. Unfortunately, such a call is a signal that there has been a terrorist attack. We turn on the news and learn that a bomb has gone off near the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
Although two people are murdered, we cannot ignore the miracle. The bomb went off early before it reached the full crowd of people. There have been so many miracles. So many bullets missing their mark.
NOVEMBER 5, 2000
Trying to find ways to relax has become a priority for all of us. For some it is increased Torah learning, others turn to music or videos, and some to reciting Psalms. I have turned to a friend who gives massages.
Coming home, totally calm, I hear the news that a car from the Jewish village of Ma'aleh Levona has been shot and two people are injured. There goes my relaxation. Ma'aleh Levona is 10 minutes from Shilo, and the children there go to school in Shilo.
I must find out who is hurt. The news is not releasing the names. I am afraid to call anyone in Ma'aleh Levona for fear I may call the family of one of the injured. I go to bed tense and anxious, knowing I will have to wait until the morning to find out whose life has been turned upside down.
NOVEMBER 6, 2000
It is not even light when I wake up. Immediately I check my e-mail and cry with relief. Despite 30 bullet holes in the van, the driver is alive. He is seriously injured in his leg and stomach but his life is not threatened. The passenger, the mother of my second grader's classmate, has shrapnel wounds in her arms and hands. She has burn marks on her scalp from the bullets whizzing by, missing her, as if the Almighty spread a cape over her.
NOVEMBER 13, 2000
It is our turn to take food to the soldiers again. This time our youngest daughter wants to come, too. We see an Egged bus traveling off its regular route. That can only mean one thing -- the main road is closed. I find myself hoping, in my heart, that it is closed because of an accident, not something more serious.
We turn on the news and learn that there was a shooting halfway between Shilo and Ofra. Three people are hurt. Immediately, I do a mental inventory. My children are all accounted for. What about my friends and neighbors? I want to hear the names and at the same time I am dreading hearing them. By the time we finish giving out the food at the third hilltop, the news reports that three Jews have been murdered.
Our oldest son is waiting for us when we arrive home. He has more details. Two of the murdered were soldiers. The third was Sara Leisha. Sara is, I guess I should say was, the girls' sports teacher here. Sara was a favorite teacher, beloved by students, parents and teachers for her special smile and her way of always greeting us with something positive and friendly.
Before I can put my thoughts together and deal with the shock and grief, the phone rings. It is my 14-year-old daughter calling from her high school. It was just the beginning of September that we took her to The Ulpana, a girl's high school two hours from Shilo. She was so eager to be meeting girls from all over Israel. Now she is crying. She has already heard the news about her former teacher. My heart aches that I cannot comfort her. I calm her as much as I am able, but I know that she and the other girls from Shilo are probably going to make each other more hysterical.
I must get a hold of someone from the staff of the high school, but the switchboard is closed. Finally I reach the rabbi. I stress that the girls need a mother to put her arms around them and tell them that everything will be alright -- even though nothing will ever be the same for them again, now that their lives have been touched by murder.
Everything feels so heavy and overbearing. My husband and I try to relax by going for a walk together. We hear gunshots and learn that Arabs are shooting at cars coming into Shilo. In one of these cars is Sara Leisha's brother.
In spite of my terror, I remind myself that for every car getting shot at there are dozens more that leave and come into Shilo daily without any problems. Statistics tell us that are chances of being killed in a car accident are far greater than in a terrorist attack.
Relatives from America tell us we should move. Our rabbis tell us we should keep on with our normal lives.
I can't imagine leaving Shilo. My father ran from Nazi Germany. I ran from American assimilation. If we run from Shilo today, where will we run from tomorrow? Where is it safe for Jews if not in the Land of Israel?
NOVEMBER 14, 2000
At Sara Leisha's funeral in Jerusalem, scores and scores of girls are making their way to say goodbye to their teacher. It is so crowded that I cannot even step inside the funeral home. And still more and more people come.
How will I find my daughter? I don't. She finds me. She is "cried-out," but we hold each other, both of us realizing that it could have been our family which was torn apart.
NOVEMBER 19, 2000
Today is the yahrtzeit of my neighbor, Rachela Druke. She was murdered nine years ago by guns that were smuggled into Israel. The guns that murdered Sara Leisha last week were given to the Arabs as part of the peace accord.
I walk down to the Shilo cemetery for the memorial service. It seems that our crying is more intense than in past years.
NOVEMBER 20, 2000
The news is horrible. A school bus has been bombed in Kfar Dorom in Gaza. Two killed and many injured. Children have lost legs. How can we keep going?
The phone rings. My daughter is calling from high school. Again she is crying. I start to comfort her, but she interrupts me.
"They murdered my roommate's mother!" she screams.
I feel as if I have been punched in the stomach, as if my heart has burst out of my chest and fallen on the floor broken into tiny pieces.
"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," I sob over and over again. Then I remember I am the mother here and need to be strong. I take a deep breath and try to get a hold of myself.
"I love you so much," I tell her. "I never wanted you to have to deal with this. Sometimes I feel like I want to grab all of you and run away. But I don't know where to run. I don't know where we can go."
"No," she cries even harder. I hear other hysterical girls in the background. "I won't let you take us away. We have to stay here. This is our home."
"I'm putting my arms around you," I tell her as we both continue to cry. "You can't feel my arms, but they are there."
We calm down a bit and talk practicalities. The funeral is scheduled for later that day in the village of Ofra, and her entire class will be attending in a bulletproof bus. I decide that I must go and see my daughter. I get a ride out of Shilo, my heart racing the whole way to Ofra. I find my daughter, give her a hug, listen to the eulogy by Chief Rabbi Lau, and then return to Shilo on the last bus before dark.
NOVEMBER 21, 2000
A young man is murdered as he drives between Kfar Dorom and Neve Dekalim in Gaza. My 17-year-old son was traveling in the car behind him. I cannot cope with this thought and push it to the back of my mind.
NOVEMBER 22, 2000
I am walking in Jerusalem and pass an appliance store. My eyes catch site of several TV screens, all bearing images of emergency vehicles on an Israeli street. A bus in Hadera has been bombed. The Ulpana is very close to Hadera -- but surely my daughter wasn't there. (?) A call to her cellular phone assures me that she is safe.
NOVEMBER 25, 2000
After a peaceful Shabbat and much introspection, I finally feel capable of writing a letter to my daughter. I sit down at the computer and pour my heart out.
My dear daughter,
These past two weeks have matured you by leaps and bounds. You have experienced things I never wanted you to experience. We are going through hard times now and we must be very careful not to lose our faith in God, or to become overpowered by our fears, or to become bitter.
Years ago when your older sister almost drowned, I wrote that faith in God does not mean believing only good things will happen; it means believing that whatever God does is for the best. It took me quite some time to work that through, and I constantly have to rework it again and again. How can it "be for the best" that our neighbor Rachela was murdered? And now that your sports teacher and your roommate's mother have been murdered, too? I have no answers, but I know the Almighty's ways are often hidden and not clear. Someday we will see the answers. But not yet.
The fear is very real now, and yet we must try and overcome it. As it says in Psalms that we sing every Shabbat: "Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, because You are with me."
When I was pregnant with your little sister, the doctors wanted to do a test to check for Down's Syndrome, and I refused. We are taught that the Almighty never gives a test we are incapable of passing. If the Almighty had decided to give us a Down's Syndrome baby, then we would have been able to deal with it. It would not have been easy, but we would have done it. And so it is with our fears about safety on the roads. I pray constantly that we will all be safe. If we won't, it will not be easy, but the Almighty will help us to pass the test, if we let Him.
As for becoming bitter, that only hurts us. It is easy to hate the media, the politicians, the Arabs, and so forth. But our hate doesn't do anything to them. It just makes us smaller people and makes us more impatient with those we love.
I am writing these words as much for myself as for you. I think I should reread this letter daily because there is so much truth in it and it is easy to forget what I have written. Please take it to heart, and let's both grow from these difficult tests that God has given us.
I love you!
As I seal the envelope, I know there will be more hard times in the future. I will have to deal with the shadow of terror anew every time the Shilo bus is shot at. I will agonize over the decision whether or not to take my children on the roads when we go away for Shabbat. I will identify with Jews who were murdered at spots I travel by every time I go to Jerusalem.
But I also know that time will pass, and I will be able to look at my husband and say, "In spite of all the tension, the fears and the pain, I am happy." He will agree with me, and so will my friends. There is a deep happiness, coming from the knowledge that we are doing what we are supposed to do, as unpopular as that might be, and that we have put our full trust in the Almighty.
As I look down at the site of the ancient Tabernacle, I remember how Chana came to Shilo to pray for a son. Her prayers were answered. Please, God, I pray, let our prayers be answered, too. Please bring the redemption of our people. We need it so badly.