From Mumbai to Jerusalem

December 2, 2008 by

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It always starts with a phone call. “Is everyone ok? Do you know where everyone is? Was anyone there – at the site?” Terrorist attacks were all too common in the 10 years that I lived in Jerusalem from 1994-2004. Sbarro, Cafe Hillel, Hebrew University, the Dolphinarium. Each time a bomb went off, my circle of friends called to check-in. After covering all of our bases, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. That sigh was only partial though, because we knew that someone else’s circle of friends and family were shattered by the news that they had lost someone close to them.

When my friends and family, who lived in the States, asked me if I was scared to live in Israel – if terrorism created a veil of dread too heavy to lift in our day-to-day lives – I told them that my experience was just the opposite. When the edge between life and death is so narrow, living life to the utmost becomes your battle cry. Everything intensifies – your relationships with friends and family, your work, your commitment to make meaning out of the everyday. Without denying death, your life becomes more vivid.

I was used to getting those calls when I lived in Israel. I didn’t expect to be making them to my friends who live in India. It was the same call, just concerning a different continent. Over Thanksgiving, my husband and I, who have spent considerable time working and living in Mumbai with JDC as a part of their Jewish Service programs, were glued to TV and the Internet. We called our friends and colleagues there. Thankfully, they were OK. Whereas the expectation of terrorist attacks on civilian targets in Israel is an anticipated event (to the extent that some days during a relatively ‘quiet’ period, my friends and I would think to ourselves, ‘I wonder when the next attack will be?’) an attack on a Jewish site in Mumbai is altogether uncommon. In fact, the Jews of Mumbai have celebrated how safe it is to be Jewish there because India is a country with no history of anti-Semitism. A dear Indian friend, a young mother of three, wonders whether she should send her children to their Jewish school tomorrow. She’s worried about their security. The leap from targeting Israelis at the Chabad house to targeting local Jews seems not so large to make.

For some, the threat to Jewish communities worldwide is precisely what motivates Jews to come together. That’s what Jabotinksy thought when he joined the Zionist movement in 1903. Back then, it was through organizing Jewish defense leagues. Today it’s through calls of support and gatherings of solidarity. It is the thick weave of Jewish peoplehood.

What will it take for us to feel a sense of connectedness to each other outside of times of crisis? To feel the impulse to call, and connect to our Israeli friends or Jews in other parts of the world when things are going well, when the lives we live are inspired by a Jewish idea, a piece of art or literature, a shared experience, and not only when they are threatened?

Jewish teens and young adults are exposed to opportunities to connect to our brothers and sisters across the ocean. Mifgashim, or Jewish encounters between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, have become a popular component of the best Israel trips, and Jewish service programs, which require living and working in a Jewish community abroad, have become a rite of passage for many college graduates.

What about everyone else? For those who haven’t experienced these points of connection in their formative years, how can they become engaged? How can we open the lines of connection between every Jew in Israel with the Diaspora, and vice versa? Even when the phone lines are down, how can we open even deeper lines of connection?


Dasee Berkowitz is a Jewish Educational Consultant and founder of JLife Consulting, and lives in New York.

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