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Thursday, June 26, 2003

Naomi Ragen, on the accumulation of horror


Friends,

Something just snapped in me the last two weeks. It was an accumulation of horror, I suppose. For the first time in the last thousand days of horrors since Arafat decided to show these idiot peacemakers his true colors, I couldn't watch them put the bodies into bodybags in the center of Jerusalem. Couldn't watch the reporters interview the victims in the hospital. Couldn't listen to the politicians say what politicians always say...I turned off the television. Stopped reading newspapers.

But of course, information trickled through. The seven year old girl shot in the head in her parents' car on Israel's main highway on her way home to Haifa. Briefly, flipping by CNN, catching their description of it as a "shooting of a settler in the West Bank." And then, someone e-mailed me the news about the American father killed a day after his son's wedding...I felt something weaken when I heard that. But I suppose it was the information I read online from Maariv: that Colin Powell had transferred $300 million directly to Muhammad Dahlan, Abu Mazen's "security chief" (responsible for blowing the legs off children in Kfar Darom in a terrorist bus attack) to buy equipment to "fight terrorism" that finally tore my heart in two. According to security sources quoted in the article, the Americans were giving Dahlan three months to prove himself. How many weapons could be purchased, how many suicide belts, how many terrorist cells rebuilt, restaffed, with $300 million in three months?

I never thought much about the phrase, to "tear your hair out." Until I sat down and wanted to do just that. The interesting thing, though, about falling apart, is that you can't. Not really. I'd promised my grandson's teacher I'd come to Rechovot and give the fourth graders a lecture on literature. So I washed out my red eyes, put on a nice linen suit, and went to Rechovot.

There I was, led down to the bomb shelter which serves as a meeting room in my grandson's State religious school. There I was, in a sweltering room faced with the beautiful little faces of Israeli ten year olds. Little girls with ponytails and shining eyes; exquisite Ethiopians, little Russian blondes, big, lively boys...And here I was, and they were all looking at me. Suddenly, I forgot about everything else. I suddenly didn't want to disappoint or bore them. I wanted, suddenly, to tell them how, in second grade, I had a wonderful teacher who showed me the joys of expressing your imagination on paper. I would tell them about the joy of writing, and reading and being published.

In the heat of an Israeli summer, those fifty kids and I forgot about the world around us, and talked about the future, where each one would be free to learn, create, and perhaps even publish. They asked a million questions, and suddenly I found my heart whole again, if not quite uncracked.

A day later, I went to the Bat Mitzvah celebration for the daughter of good friends. Sitting next to me was a woman who'd lost her wonderful son in the army only six months ago, defending the State of Israel. She was surrounded by her other children. And when the music began, she was the first one to get up and dance. She danced with the mother of the Bat Mitzvah girl, and the girl herself, stepping to the Jewish music as the stars shone above us in Jerusalem's hills, twinkling as they do, night after night, as they did during the battleafor Jericho when we Jews came out of the desert to claim our inheritance. Twinkling as they did above the Holocaust survivors in '48 when they came straight from concentration camps to give their lives to build a Jewish State. Twinkling above the heads of the fourth graders in Rechovot as they dreamed of becoming artists and writers, and policemen and dancers in the Land of Israel, when they grow up...when they grow up, safe, and well, and beautiful, into Israeli adults.

And as I saw her dancing, I felt a few more cracks begin to heal. And I too, got up, to dance.

Every blessing,
Naomi