A Detroiter comes to grips with her newfound attachment.
Special to the Jewish News
Mi dal HaEmek
was sitting at a local coffee shop with friends
from Project Otzma as well as friends who
had recently made aliyah from all over the
world. We were laughing and talking in a
mixture of broken English and Hebrew, looking
past language barriers and having a wonderful time.
One of my friends looked down at her phone and
immediately looked stunned. The table became
silent as she gasped at the message. There had been
an attempted hijacking of an El Al flight from Eilat
I was walking with a friend down the generally
peaceful streets of Ashkelon when we were thrown
into shock at the sound of a loud boom in the air,
so strong we could feel the impact shaking our skin.
We looked around frantically, thinking we must
have heard a bombing, and noticed that the Israelis
around us were not even stirred by the noise and
tremor. A sonic boom, we were later informed,
from planes flying to and from Gaza, just 30 min-
Driving south from Migdal HaEmek to
Ashkelon, I was writing a message on my cellular
phone to a friend, jokingly asking her to have din-
ner waiting for me when I returned home. I was
squished in the back seat with two other girls trying
to keep my mind off of the uncomfortable car ride.
The car came to a stop and I looked up to find
the air invaded with huge clouds of black smoke
and a fire taking over the entire intersection, inflict-
ing the air with bright orange flames. A suicide
bomber had blown up a bus en route to Hadera.
We were five to 10 minutes behind the bus, travel-
ing the same road at almost the same time.
So why did we, as 12 young American college
graduates, decide to leave our friends and families
for 10 months to get a taste of this life in Israel?
Why did I, specifically, a Detroit native who had
never previously visited Israel, who was far removed
from my Jewish identity during my time at college,
decide to postpone my graduate studies in creative
writing to volunteer in a completely foreign land?
And what purpose do we serve here, as Americans,
Risa Lichtman, daughter of Catherine and Rene
Lichtman of West Bloomfield, is a 22-year-old partici-
pant in Project Otzma, a work/service/learning pro-
gram in Israel for post-college students. She lives in the
Central Galilee, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit's Partnership 2000 region. She went to
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where she majored
in creative writing.
These are questions I have had to ask myself
every day for the past three months. And while I
find this to be an ever-changing thought process, a
time of mental and spiritual growth, I feel a
stronger connection to my land and my people with
every day that I am here.
Recently, our group met up with an American
rabbi who moved his family to Israel a few years
ago. He has three children, the youngest boy 8
The rabbi began to tell us of the impact the security
situation is having on his family. His children's
Risa Lichtman with Nanua, an Ethiopian child she
met at the Immigration Absorption Center in
Ashkelon. They learned Hebrew together.
friends are slowly moving back to the countries they
came from. He once came home to find his son
shaking at the window, sure that the fireworks he
heard in the distance were yet more bombs.
In spite of this, the rabbi does not consider mov-
ing his family back to the States. Is this the decision
of a martyr, a man with no priorities, or a true sup-
porter? These questions really came into play when
he relayed to us a story about his youngest son.
The rabbi and his 8-year-old were driving in the
car when the boy asked him, "Would you let me
ride on a bus?" The rabbi responded, "You know I
let you ride on buses."
The boy then asked, "How come Ima (mother)
doesn't let me ride on buses, but you do?"
To this, the rabbi did not respond. He didn't want
to throw out an answer without thinking it through,
or say something that would make the boy think his
father and mother didn't love him equally. So he
didn't say anything at all.
After some time, the boy broke the silence: "I
guess if you really, really love Israel, you're willing to
let your kids die for it."
I have tried to imagine being a parent and hearing
those words come out of my child's mouth. I cannot
pretend to have a simple answer to this statement,
just as the rabbi didn't. It is so much more compli-
cated than this young boy could truly comprehend,
and as my time here passes I realize just how much I
have to learn about the security situation, the
Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and where exactly I stand
on these most complicated issues.
One thing that has become continuously clearer
to me is my reason for staying in Israel this year. In
the States, I could be living free of sonic booms, sui-
cide bombers and the worry I am causing to my
friends and family.
Israel has become a home to me. I can go about
my daily life here without occupying my mind with
the thought of terrorism, much to the surprise of
many Americans. I can go to the beach and enjoy
the water, or I can play with a young Ethiopian
immigrant on the playground and worry only that
she isn't swinging too fast or too slow.
In spite of the current situation, life does go on.
People study; people pray; people enjoy their family
and friends; and indeed, people would love to have
more foreigners around to see the beauty of this
One fact that Americans always turn to when try-
ing to "justify" being in Israel is that there are more
deaths from car accidents here per year than terrorist
attacks. And in truth, on an average day, I am more
worried about getting in a taxi than walking down
Allenby Street in Tel Aviv on a crowded afternoon.
Having committed to the Otzma program, I cannot
pick and choose when my support for Israel will be
strong. Seeing the burning bus did not deter me
from going into restaurants or clubs; it did not leave
me considering returning to the States.
I am in Israel, and I have learned to adapt to the
Israeli mentality. I will be strong, like those around
me, albeit more aware than I might be elsewhere,
but I will live life here to its fullest.
I look around, at this land, this history, the
Jerusalem stone and the never-ending Negev, the
split view of Jordan and Egypt from my lawn chair
in Eilat, the all night fluorescent lights of Tel Aviv
and the stretch of the Mediterranean on the walk to
And when Israelis ask me, "Why are you here
now, of all times?" I give them the simplest, most
honest answer: "How can I not be here? If there is
any time to be here, it is now."