BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel

A Love Letter to Israel on our Sixth Anniversary

Penny S. Tee Article

Happy Sixth Year Anniversary Israel! This is a very personal anniversary between you and me. You may not remember me, but I’ll never forget you! Being Jewish, keeping you in my thoughts would have been true even before our fateful trip. As we Jews say in Psalm 137, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning,” is deep in our psyche.

Eilat

Eilat

These past couple weeks, our 2014 trip to Israel has been on my mind. Exactly six years ago was our fateful adventure and what was the catalyst for me to write my book, “BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel.” Think seeing incredibly beautiful and sacred sites in between running to bomb shelters, with your tween in tow. It got my attention.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

It was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime―not a vacation in a warzone. We arrived in Israel on July 4, 2014 and the bombs began bursting in air―only these were Palestinian missiles and my new B.F.F., Israel’s Iron Dome, was blowing up the rockets in the sky before they could land and do their intended damage. Even so, as we stood in bomb shelters, you could feel the percussion of the exploding missiles against your skin. The smell of humans in hundred-degree weather, close bodies, and fear, filled the air.

We had hoped this trip would solidify our son’s bond with Israel, but not this way. Oy. I must admit it worked. Still to this day, he hangs Israeli flags in his room.

I know you may have heard me say or write that I am still trying to get over the Jewish guilt of taking my son to war for his bar mitzvah present―but it is true. Guilt in this Jewish mom’s heart dies slowly. Of course, maybe I should use another word other than dies, with COVID brutalizing the world, including Israel. I definitely do not want to be on the list of the fallen.  May their memories be a blessing.

Our escapade in Israel changed my life and I unexpectedly found what I believe is my life’s purpose. Friends, reading this, have you found yours? It is important to find whatever that is. Look around, the world is a mess. We need your help.

I have spent a few days rereading my book. Why? You might ask. You were there. Because frankly, I enjoy it. It puts a smile on my face to remember our trip to Eretz Israel. Our excursion was one of the most impactful episodes of my life. It took me five years to write, rewrite and publish my book. That is lots of self-reflection, hours of writing, research, and learning. After all, I had never written a book and that took much more time than I expected. I am grateful to my writing class taught by the award-winning Maralys Wills and for my editor, Marla Markman. Ultimately, the impact of being human targets made me want to work on Peace, and while writing my book I realized that I had been working on Peace all my life, but it had been internal.

It was important for me to write what happened as clearly, and hopefully as entertainingly, as possible. On one hand, I wanted to give people an idea of what Israelis contend with. On the other, I was writing what my rabbi calls my ethical will for my son. My rabbi said do not think just because we live in a certain way, that the role model we are trying to set is clear to others.

The most important people we want to understand us are our kids and families. Many nuances will not necessarily be picked up, life is too complex and communication is difficult. When our children are young, they do not have enough life experience to understand, especially dealing with contradictions.

Teens often are arrogant; they need to be discovering their own strength and crave independence. They frequently reject our opinions at this age. It is part of their schtick.

Then there are adults, how good are your observation skills? Frequently I find myself wanting to interject before the other person is finished talking, and too often do. Ask my husband. So how well was I listening? Maybe you do not have that problem, or even do not realize that it is a problem. Trust me, it is.

Remember the last serious discussion you had with your spouse when you were mystified why she or he was not getting it? You might have thought in frustration, what is wrong with them? It is obvious. Nope, it is probably time to look in the mirror. You might just find out its you not being clear enough. For instance, so many times when I write, I am surprised to find when I review a paragraph, I’m so familiar with the topic in my head, that it didn’t quite make it to the paper even though I thought it had. Oy.

Today, I am an author and speaker. My life changed significantly after I had time to reflect, and years to hone my new crafts.

Gan Hashlosha National Park

Gan Hashlosha National Park

So, what did happen in Israel? Imagine seeing gorgeous and interesting sites, interspersed with being terrorized in bomb shelters―which was absolutely not found on our itinerary. Lucky us―it was the first time in eight years Jerusalem had been bombed. But that was only our first time cowering in a bomb shelter. Believe me it was nothing I wanted to

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center

get used to, but at times in Israel, it seemed like many Israelis had.

You are told to wait for ten minutes in the bomb shelter after Iron Dome blows up the missiles in the sky, so you do not get hit in the head by falling shrapnel. You did not have to worry about us leaving early. But after all these years of Palestinian bombs, not all Israelis feel the same. I witnessed the impatience of an Israeli businessman who left the bomb shelter before the obligatory time had elapsed. He had places to go and people to see; the constant bombing was mundane, a nuisance. It made me ask, what does that do to people?

This momma bear was angry. They are trying to kill my son and the rest of us Jews! IDF, make them pay! I could not believe my own thoughts. This is not me! I began to understand the primitive need for revenge. My unbridled fear demanded a warped sense of justice. In that moment, it seemed like meeting might with might was the only legitimate answer.

Is this how Israelis feel? That is how I felt after our first attack. Israelis have been tormented with terror attacks for years. How have they been changed by seeing their loved ones die and with fear constantly permeating their bones? We were only there two weeks, but it was long enough to change my life. The experience impacted me to my kishkas (guts).

And yet I had to ask myself how did the Palestinians feel as well? What prompted them to take these actions? How desperate do you have to be to agree to blow yourself up?

There are so many paradoxes and actions that are difficult to understand in the conflict. Some could be attributed to culture and even some to decency. For instance, before Israel retaliates from Palestinian attacks, they send many warnings with leaflets, calls and texting that they will be bombing your house at 9 a.m.―leave immediately, yet they stay.

Hamas uses their men, women, and children as human shields. Beyond the pride in them from their family―being considered martyrs giving up their lives for the cause, and their families collecting the salaries for their kin from the Palestinian Authority, it still must hurt. I want to believe their parents would have preferred sitting on the couch with their kids eating popcorn and watching a movie rather than visiting their graveside.

Palestinian rockets pummeled Israel from the north to the south. Beleaguered civilian Israeli families from Ashkelon and Ashdod, who are closest to Gaza, taking the brunt of the missiles and suffering signs of P.T.S.D. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), sought refuge at the seaside resorts in the far south in Eilat. That is where we were headed at one point of our trip too. We were told we would be safe there―the missiles do not go that far–until they did.

What we discovered was a modern-day Exodus. We sat in a bizarre traffic jam of families trying to escape the insanity and mend their frazzled nerves.

At 1 a.m., 5 a.m., and 6 a.m. as the sirens blared, each time we ran to the hotel bomb shelter and rockets blew up, we learned first-hand there was no escape.

I have to admit that I nervously laughed when we were standing in a bomb shelter at 1 a.m. filled with strangers and my embarrassed thirteen-year-old looked at his dad and said, “Dad you really need to learn to sleep in pajamas!” and I glanced down and saw my husband was standing there in his t-shirt and tidy whitey jockey shorts.

After our last day of touring while laying by the pool in Tel Aviv, sirens blared and again we hurriedly followed the hotel staff scurrying to the bomb shelter. Arriving gratefully at an appropriate destination, we waited like a wet school of dripping, shaking fish.

Our last parting salvo from our Palestinian neighbors was delivered for breakfast the next day. We heard six booms this time, each one garnering its own respect and attention. I tried not to imagine the scene if we had been here before Iron Dome existed.

Ignited by fear and driven by empathy for Israel and life under fire for both sides, the missiles compelled me to understand more about the conflict. My new awareness―paying attention to my thoughts and feelings, living in the present through meditation and studying with spiritual teachers, opened my eyes wider, seeing what I had been blind to before. I began to awaken. Facing death makes you take note. Ultimately, I discovered myself.

The difference between what I experienced, learned, and saw portrayed on the news confused me. The terrorist attacks continued through the years since with car rammings, shootings, stabbings, suicide car bombings, fire bombings and incendiary kites. But I had to ask myself, why?

The anti-Semitism often presented as anti-Israel incensed me. The PA payment of salaries for terrorist acts outraged me. The B.D.S. movement on our college campuses threaten our next generation with attacks and trying to harm Israel. The caldron of inconsistency and the search for understanding forever changed my psyche, my heart, and my life. What I knew for sure is that I wanted to work on Peace. Both Israeli and Palestinian parents deserve to send their kids out to play and return home safely.

I have grown to believe the timing of our visit was meant to be―an alarming pointer to my life’s purpose. Today you would never recognize my life with what it was before our trip. From stay-at-home mom to author, writer, speaker, and Peace activist. I am also in the Jewish National Fund’s Speakers Bureau. Wow, has my life changed!

With each article on Israel that I write, I hope a small step toward compassion and understanding is made. I have met amazing grass-roots Israelis and Palestinians facing the challenges, trying to move Peace forward. You do not have to wear a red cape and tights to be a hero.

I have written about my favorite apolitical Peace group, Roots/Shorashim/Judur many times. They have Israelis and Palestinians listen to each others’ narratives―sometimes at great risk to themselves. Their neighbors or government leaders do not necessarily agree that striving for Peace is how they should spend their time. But how will this ever get better if we do not try to understand the other? Examining each other’s festering wounds is painful and can only be seen through brave and honest, open eyes―first looking within, for undiscovered prejudices and misunderstandings.

I also have met other Peace organizations like “A Land for All,”  and “Anahnu.” Each with their own philosophies, strives to work on Peace. In the states, we do not usually hear about these heroes, but their existence can give us hope. If only the leaders of both sides would set aside their political goals and work on saving lives. Beyond the extremists, day-to-day Palestinians and Israelis have dreams too, of normal lives and family time without living in fear.

I am sure you are relieved to know that I do not believe facing death is a requirement to have a fulfilling, happy life. Finding your life’s purpose, though, is key for you and the rest of us.  Let me ask you, what is it that you love to do? It is why you are here―to share your gifts. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Create the new You! Be grateful, try something new and dream big! Please take the leap of faith. I hope by my next anniversary with my beloved Israel, that you have taken the challenge. When you work at what you love to do, you will never feel like you are working a day in your life.

May You Live in Peace, שלום, سلام,

I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…

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