It felt like a knife to the kidneys, slowly sinking into my flesh, twisting to inflict even more pain when I heard the initial news reports on Saturday morning.
I didn’t know how bad the vicious massacre in Israel was, but just imagining the mass killing at the Music Peace Festival was devastating.
I have felt a love affair with my homeland from a distance since I was 13 years old in 1958. That was when the fiction book Exodus was published, written by Leon Uris. The movie, starring Paul Newman, came out in 1960. It was about the founding of Israel. Newman played Ari Ben Canaan. I vowed to name my first son Ari, which I did 17 years later.
Almost every Jew in the world has a relative in Israel. When my dad’s grandfather came to America in 1893 to work at the World’s Fair in Chicago, he came alone. He had nine brothers and sisters. Some stayed in Russia near Minsk, half came to the United States, and one sister emigrated to South Africa. The other siblings went to Palestine, settling near Tel Aviv in a swampy settlement. They carved out a living and helped build the country when it was run by the British.
Their story was not unusual. The country was built mostly by Eastern European Jews and then the remnant of Jews who somehow survived the Holocaust. Later, Jews came from Arab countries, Persia, and Western Europe. As in Europe, they were hated in Palestine, especially after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had fled to sit out the War of Independence in 1948, believing that they would return after the Jews were killed or pushed out.
The Jewish people who founded the country came mostly out of desperation. They were a tough lot.
Hatred between Arabs and Jews has simmered ever since. Israel ultimately prospered. A friendly relationship with America and the financial help of North American Jews helped. Arab countries were mostly ruled by despots. The Palestinian refugees are still sitting destitute in camps in these countries.
We had the 1967 war and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and now 50 years later, the massacre coming from Gaza.
I am sure some of my relatives were killed Saturday and others called upon to fight.
I sit and watch the TV accounts of grieving wives, mothers, and brothers and sisters. I’m sending money, saying prayers, and hoping the violence is somehow limited.
I barely care if the breach of the border with Gaza was a security fiasco at this point. I just want the killing to stop and the hostages to be released.
The last time my family was in Israel was in December of 1999. We spent most of the time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but traveled to Palestinian areas with my wife’s Uncle Ed, who had emigrated to Israel from North Carolina. He worked to learn the language and became a guide.
My happiest memory of the trip was going to the south of Jordan for a couple days, staying in a lovely tourist hotel and our entire family taking a Turkish bath, and posing for a photo in big white Turkish towels.
It was a happier time.
Now my oldest granddaughter awaits word from her friends who chose to go back to Israel from California to volunteer for the Army rather than go to college. They chose to do that a year ago.
May they be safe. May the current killing season be short.
Meanwhile, I will mourn and monitor the news.
My people deserve better.