Steve and Rena were just here. Before that it was Chanan and Eve, then Ralph and Amy and their kids. Later this summer, we’ll see visits by Judy, Linda, Amanda, Michael, Julie, Noah, Jessie, Rikki, David and Aviva, not to mention some 16 members of our own family for soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old Amir’s bar mitzvah celebration in August.
After four years, where tourism to Israel has been totally decimated by ongoing terror and violence, has something changed? Why are all these people coming...now...and this summer in particular?
While no one has said it outright, I think visitors from abroad are beginning to feel safe again. Contemplating a trip to Israel is no longer so overwhelming and frightening.
You can see it everywhere. With the army reporting that terror attacks are down some 75%, the streets have returned to their pre-September 2000 hustle and bustle. There are lines outside the popular cafes again. Hotels are filling up. NATO has even invited Israel to join.
And in an article that has made considerable waves in certain circles in the last few weeks, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer declared that the "war is over," even if terrorism itself is still with us.
"There was terrorism before the intifada and there will be terrorism to come,” Krauthammer writes. “What has happened, however, is an end to systematic, regular, debilitating, unstoppable terror - terror as a reliable weapon."
And yet, the relative quiet we’re experiencing is just that: relative. If there’s anything Jody and I have learned from our now nearly ten years living in this part of the world, it’s that the cycle of life and death doesn’t apply just to birthdays, bar mitzvahs and burials.
I was reminded of this point as I went out for my morning run this week. Some background first: despite my love for hi-tech gadgets, I still use an eight-year-old tape recorder to provide my jogging soundtrack.
I usually go rummaging for some old tape from my college days, back when I used to DJ on the campus radio station. There’s nothing quite listening to obscure Flock of Seagulls and Mission of Burma songs to get you going in the morning.
But I’d gone through that pile of tapes twice already. So this morning, I grabbed something called "Jody’s Best Wishes Tape." In January 1988, right after Jody and I got engaged, I came on a two-week educational Israel study mission with the Bureau of Jewish Education, where I was working at the time.
Jody and I had lived in Israel from 1984-1987, but Jody couldn't come with me on this trip, so I brought a tape recorder to capture all our friends saying "hi" and "wish you were here" and "mazel tov" to Jody.
Most of the tape was filled with personal updates and happy-go-lucky gossip. Until we got to Myra. She took the tape recorder away from me, went into another room, and closed the door.
"Listen," she said. "You may have heard that things are pretty tense over here right now. Well, the media blows things way out of proportion. But I can’t deny it. It would be very easy to go on with life as usual, you know, 'normal.' But that’s just not the reality. People don’t feel as comfortable going out as they did before the violence started."
What was she talking about? This was a tape from 1988 not 2002. Suicide bombs had barely been invented and certainly weren’t being used in major population centers.
Myra went on.
"My roommate’s mother has been calling every night. She hears about the riots on TV and it sounds like it’s right outside our door. She’s afraid for our safety."
After having been through so much horror in these last four years, Israelis barely remember the first "intifada." And yet the language, the fears, the change in lifestyle...it was all so familiar.
That’s the way it is in the Middle East. You go through cycles of good and bad. Of course the Middle East is not unique - it’s like that in so many things in life: health, the economy. The stock market goes up, then it crashes, then it goes back up.
It's just that here everything is amplified and so much more intense.
If you assume from a good period that things will always be good, then you’re in for a shock. Yeah, I know, that’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow given that we're in a relatively "good" period right now.
But the converse is true too: if you get stuck on believing while in the midst of a “down” period that there is no hope - and that there never will be - you’d be just as wrong.
In our part of the world, that gives both comfort and concern. Two years ago, when Marla was murdered, when people were blown up in at their Pesach Seders, when there were sometimes 2-3 major bombings in a day, it looked like we would never be able to live or love again, at least not in a way that resembled "normal."
And now here we are in a "better" period – though that’s a relative term too; it’s certainly not as "better" as it was ten years ago. And with Qassam rockets raining down daily on Sderot and Israelis still being shot on the roads, calling this a "lull" quickly borders on blasphemous.
Still, maybe this period of relative calm, of ongoing but post-paralytic terror as Krauthammer suggests, will last a year, ten years, an entire generation. But it will cycle back to violence at some point.
And then, just as surely, it will cycle away again.
Does engaging in this kind of circular thinking make it easier or more difficult to go on? I suppose it depends on whether you’re a pessimist or an optimist. Is the glass half empty or half full?
As our friends and family descend on us during this long hot summer, hungrily soaking up everything Israeli, I plan on serving them a lot of water.
And I will try my absolute hardest to make sure that every glass is filled...all the way to the rim.