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Israel Is Not Normal

Let’s face it. Israel is not a normal country.

We cut each other off on the highway, but will help a total stranger carry her baby carriage onto the bus.

We will steal your parking space at Azrieli, but will pay for your coffee when you’re five shekels short.

We scream at our neighbor because her dog peed on our lawn, but we will be the first over with a basket of food when her mother dies.

We cheat on our taxes, but give to charity.

We litter in the park, but plant trees.

We draw lines, but reach across them.

We are cynical. We are optimists.

We can be jerks. We can be brash. We can be rude but we will bring down joy with tambourines and timbrels, and we will join hands and dance the hora with total strangers.

And remember this — today and all days: We have all grieved over someone killed horrifically and violently – a parent, or a lover, or a friend, or neighbour, or God forbid, a child. And this place is so small, so close, so fraught that even if we haven’t felt it touch our flesh, we feel it, and you can see it in our eyes when the news broadcaster announces “a bus has blown up in Talpiot.” “There has been a car ramming at Pisgat Ze’ev.” There has been a shooting in Tel Aviv.” “A young girl was stabbed to death in her bedroom in Kiryat Arba.”

And we take it very personally.

This isn’t a headline or a sound bite for us.

These are the people we sat next to on the train this morning, or jostled in line with at Aroma. They sat shivah with us at our uncle’s funeral three months ago. They danced with us at our cousin’s wedding last May.

And we keep our phones on all the time just in case, and as soon as the news hits that something terrible has happened, we call, we text and we hold our breath and our heart stalls in our chest waiting for a response.

And every time we relax just enough to breathe a little, it hurts so hard in that space beneath the ribs until we are afraid to breathe again too deeply.

And it’s like this every single time.

And it’s true, we are a strong and mighty nation, but we have never known a day of peace since we came into being – and that fear does something to us and you can see it on the roads and in our lines and in our homes and when we vote.

We are PTSD-riddled, angsty, angry, handwringing, nail biting people.

But still, we stay out all night and swim in warm sea water, or argue with our friends on crowded corners, or drink whiskey until sunrise, or dance until our feet hurt and then stop for a minute and keep on dancing. We choose life with our arms and eyes wide open.

We are full to brimming.

We are not a normal country.

We are in pain at times, but joyful still. We make mistakes and struggle and defend. But we keep on moving on that spiral through history — a beautiful and messy work in progress — and we are a miracle.


Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the new media editor at The Times of Israel and the author of “Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year in the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem.”

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