Monday, August 07, 2006

Direct Hit

I turned 40 today. The event itself left me strangely unfazed, except for one thing.

At lunch today my wife showed up at my office in central Israel with my two eldest kids (10 and 6) and 41 colorful balloons. It was a wonderful surprise. There they are, hanging in the air in front of me (the balloons, not the kids) making me smile every time I see them.

So after the surprise we walked up the street to a little Italian bistro (is that even possible? Italian bistro? I don't know) for lunch. As we were sitting down I saw my friend Ofir walk in with his wife. I haven't seen Ofir in ages (he travels a lot, I travel a lot) so that was a second nice surprise. So far so good. A normal day in the normal life of normal people. Onwards then! Through the looking glass, weirdly.

I told Ofir that we were celebrating my birthday and he told me that they were celebrating something as well. "It's the first time in a week or so that I've been able to actually see my wife. So we're celebrating." It's like this. On top his travels, he's had reserve duty almost every day for the last 10 days. His wife's a doctor, and although she hasn't been called up for reserve duty, most of the young male doctors in her department have, so she's had to cover for them.

"Bad time to find yourself in need of hospital care." He said. Is there ever a good time?

So we had a nice normal lunch, in a normal bistro, in a normal town. How weird.

One more thing, those ten people I wrote about yesterday... In the end the number climbed to twelve. The International Herald Tribune (The NY Times abroad) had the story under the headline "Direct hit..." and it goes on to describe how a Hezbollah rocket landed squarely on a group of reserve soldiers and ripped them apart with ball bearings. It sort of glossed over the fact that those twelve were resting in the shade of a cemetery wall. They were just sitting there, far away from the front, after spending some time inside doing what people do at cemeteries.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

War's not a race

I don't know what mental giant came up with the idea of comparing the number of Lebanese and Israeli dead as a way of analyzing the current conflict. As if suffering could be quantified, as if an equal ratio of dead would make war less bad, death less final. Such a morbid approach, saying that so many Israelis dead should equal so many Lebanese dead. But over and over that is exactly the kind of thing that I see on the news. As if the fact that more Lebanese than Israelis are dead could actually determine whether this war is just.

Life in Israel these days has a weird "time out of time" quality to it. It's a little like watching a train wreck, but one that stretches over days and weeks. So for days and weeks I cannot look away. You try that, staring at the same thing for a long period of time. It changes your perspective, it hurts you, it gives you tunnel vision.

The news yesterday reported that 10,000 Israeli troops were on the ground in Lebanon yesterday. The news reported this morning that 10 people were killed in the indiscriminate shelling of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. It made me sick.

Normalized Weirdness

On Friday we celebrated my wife's fortieth birthday. A strange time to celebrate, to be sure. But she put it best when she said that "we celebrate not in spite of what's happening in life around us, but because we celebrate life around us." And celebrate we did. It was rowdy and loud and friendly. We had karaoke there (I know, I know) and at the beginning the songs were very much what you'd expect, rhythmic, popular crowd pleasers. Slowly people started requesting all manner of old sad songs from wars gone bye. I was floored, I got up to tell the guy running the karaoke to steer away from the downers, but lo! The floor quickly crowded with people wanting to sing along. I mean, six, eight people for every song.

I didn't get it then and I still don't get it now. These are all sad songs of loss and here are all our friends singing them and having a great time! It was the weirdest normal scene I have ever witnessed. Truly normalized weirdness.