Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Please help this Poor Sad Victim of Terror

***UPDATED!!!***
Okay, I know that I really should not be doing this, but I just must:

"It was horrible, not at all like the photos you see on television"

So I got to thinking, what are bombings like on television? I tried to come up with a top ten list but only made it up to three. Perhaps you would like to help me? Yes? In the interests of making this easier (not to mention more amusing), you are all welcome to consider bombings on television in all of their forms (news reports, movies, tv shows etc).

The winners of this contest will not only have their suggestion added to the list, but will have the personal satisfaction of knowing that they have aided a real-live victim of terror. (Jerusalem Artichoke --you have had a full hour to think of something already. Pony up!)

Top Ten Ways that Real Bombings are not at all like Bombings you See on Television

1) You cannot find Anderson Cooper anywhere.
2) No sad, haunting soundtrack. (Or maybe there was. What do I know--I did not hear the screams either).
3) The victims are not all glamorous models dressed in the latest fashions (lots of skirts and high heels), or rather, if they were glamorous before the explosion, they sure as hell look like crap after. (From Me and Washington Gardener)
4) Things do not happen in slow motion in a real bombing. (From Baila)
5) No heavy-heavy-handed foreshadowing, either, like scary music when the Victim mentions that she forgot to give her puppy extra treats but not to worry, she'll be back home soon. Da-dum! (From Miriam)
6) The action is not performed by stunt doubles.
7) You don't know who the bomber is before. Real-life bombers aren't necessarily any scarier-looking than other people, looking around shiftily.... (From Bas Melech)
8) In a real bombing, the effect is not limited to the victim turning temporarily black and smokey, with an annoyed grimace on his/her face. (See Cartoon Laws of Physics, Amendment C) (From Lurker)
9) On TV, you don't experience the "long" wait before the ambulances come. (Even though the wait is really less than 2 minutes). In fact, on TV - the ambulances are already there. (From Jameel)
10) On TV, you don't hear alarms going on and on and on...(not sirens, but burglar alarms from shattered windows) . (From Jameel)
11) On television, the hero jumps in to shield the heroine using only his body - which of course is shrapnel proof and both get off and then just dust themselves off and walk away - perhaps a skinned knee - if anything. (From Washington Gardener)
12) On television, people are not deafened (even temporarily) and can hear perfectly. (From Washington Gardener)
13) On television, people immediately know what happened and assess the situation accurately - within 10 seconds they can ID the bumber, their motive and exactly how they did it (From Washington Gardener) (Ed: Well, here as well, we can get the motive and the how right off the bat. The ID'ing the bomber part is a bit more difficult, seeing that she or he has just been blown up to smithereens. Luckily for us, normally the terrorist organization jumps in to help us with that part.)
14) Television bombing scenes are so much, well, orderly than in real life. Less blood. Less gore. Less blown up sh*t. Fewer people in shock and/or hysterics.
15) The problems that the victims of terror face are not resolved by the end of the hour. (From the Jerusalem Artichoke)
16) In real life, unlike television, bombing-related: religious conversions, declarations of love, sudden, brilliant revelations, swings in political views or other life-altering epiphanies, do not necessarily come at the scene of the bombing. And in fact, they may not come at all! Sometimes real bombing victims just get on with their lives!
17) For many people there are no happy endings. (From Jack)

And I think that Jack's is an appropriate ending to the list.

In all seriousness, I believe that the presentation of bombings, illnesses, and other tragedies and catastrophes in the media has had a major impact on how we perceive these events and what our expectations are in respect to these events. I cannot tell you how many stupid questions or comments I, and other victims of terror, illnesses and other assorted tragedies and challenges, have had to field from otherwise intelligent people due to these warped perceptions and expectations.

Just a thought....
The bright thing about the stupid comments is that, once you have them, they make excellent blog material.

Monday, January 28, 2008

My Moment of Fame, part II

I got not 15 minutes of fame, but a whole half an hour. I must be very, very special.
My apologies to Mr. Rabinowitz and to Haaretz for the slight revisions I am making to his lovely article.
Haaretz, April 15, 2002

‘I recognized the nail polish on her toes’

By Gavin Rabinowitz

Gila Weiss
In the early hours of Sunday morning, friends finally found Gila Weiss, 31, in the intensive care unit of Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, where she had lain unconscious [ed: YAY! Say YES YES YES to drugs! Oh, sorry. Uh, don't let your children read this post.] and unidentified since being seriously wounded in Friday's suicide bombing in the Mahane Yehuda market.

Galia Khut, a friend of Weiss, first became concerned when Weiss failed to arrive at a Friday night dinner to which she had been invited. "We knew she had not forgotten dinner as she had called and confirmed in the afternoon. She said she was going to Mahane Yehuda so we were obviously worried," said Khut. [ed: And probably a bit irritated. I was in charge of dessert. You know, do you think that this is why Galia now always asks me to bring stuff like hamutzim (pickles) when I come for meals?]. When Shabbat ended, Khut and other friends of Weiss, a new immigrant from Washington DC, began calling all the hospitals and even the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir. However, they were told that Weiss was not among the injured or the dead. "We called every hospital three times, but they neglected to tell us that there was an unidentified woman. It was only after one of us went to the hospital that we found her," said Khut. A spokesman for the hospital said the confusion had been caused by the fact that Weiss had regained consciousness briefly and told hospital staff that her name was Hila and that she was from New York before lapsing into unconsciousness. [ed: They are liars! Filthy liars! I am from DC! Not NY! I would NEVER say I was from NY. Not even if I had received a blow to my head and was under the effect of major hallucinatory drugs...well, okay, in that case, maybe I would. But I would sincerely regret it in the morning.]

One of Weiss's friends went to Ein Kerem to identify her but could not be sure it was her as Weiss had been hit by shrapnel in the face, which left it swollen and covered in scabs [ed: Gosh, it could be Gila. It could also be Bozo the Clown. No, Bozo has short, curly red hair and not long, dark hair. Must be Gila then. "Yo, nurse? Hey, okay, we know her." No...wait, Bozo wears a wig. Maybe his hair is really.... "Um, nurse? Never mind then! Not a clue! Good luck! Bye!"] It was only after Weiss's flatmate, Jane Doe [ed: have not quite gotten around to telling her about the blog. I suspect that she will be quite Israeli about it.] , arrived at the hospital that they finally identified her. "She was wearing a browny-pink nail polish on her toe nails which she had come to show me a few days ago, I recognized that," said Doe. [ed: Because she hated the color so much that it left an indelible inprint on her brain. G-d does work in mysterious ways.]

Weiss immigrated to Israel in June last year and has no relatives in the country. [ed: not correct. I have cousins, though this is not the same as immediately family]. "Her brother and his wife were living here but left because of the situation," said Doe. "He called her a week ago and told her she was crazy to stay, [ed: please note that 'not the same as immediate family', at least in this particular instance, may not be a terrible thing] but she said she really wanted to be here and told him that she was careful and did not go to coffee shops or other dangerous places." [ed: BWAHAHAAHAHA! Oh, sorry. Yes, of COURSE I avoid coffee shops. Really! (snort)] "This is really indicative of problems faced by new immigrants," said Khut. "When you are here alone you have to rely on your friends, but they don't know things like your father's name or your medical history or how to contact your family," she said. "If she had not been coming to us for dinner she may not have been missed. Her flatmate was away for the weekend and may not have missed her till Sunday," she said. [ed: And maybe not even then. She might have snuck out reeeeaaaally reeeaaaallly early Sunday morning without saying anything so she could avoid the combned trauma of seeing my bare feet and ugly toe-nail polish].

"At four in the morning after hundreds of phone calls we started to search through her belongings looking for her father's phone number," said her flatmate who has been living with Weiss for only three months. [ed: said phone number was safe and sound in my planner, in the basement of the police station].

Weiss has been enrolled in the Etzion Ulpan in Jerusalem and was studying for the accountancy board exam. "She has worked so hard to be here in Israel. She was determined [ed: read "pig-headed"] to take the exam in Hebrew and not wait for the English version of the exam in November," said Khut. "She loves entertaining people, having friends over for meals," said another friend, Jonathan Levine. "She loves being a shadchan [match maker]," he said [ed: three matches down, thank you. I can be a witch for the rest of my days and I will still get into Gan Eden. Woohoo!].

Weiss underwent two operations on her eyes Sunday and is listed in serious condition.

My moment of fame

"A Moment of Silence, and Then the Screams Began"

How an eyewitness described the bombing that took place Friday, at the entrance to the Machane Yehuda Market.

By Ami Ben David and Daliah Mazor (from either Yediot Ahranot or Maariv. I did not jot down the name of the paper and now I don't remember....)


Translated by Gila Weiss

April 14, 2002

"I saw a woman try to enter the shuk (market), but apparently someone stopped her. A few seconds later, there was an explosion. There was an enormous flame. A hand flew over my head"-this was how one of the victims of the bombing in Jerusalem described what happened on Friday, at the entrance to Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda Market. She saw the suicide bomber, a young woman, aged 20, from the shtachim (territories), moments before the bomber sowed death in the bustling heart of Israel's capital. Six families lost their loved ones. One hundred and four people will be forced to struggle with injuries.

The time was 4:15, the hour prices at the shuk fall. The last shoppers hurried to the site, before the start of Shabbat. Among them walked the terrorist, a super-powerful package of explosive plastique on her body. The material is so destructive, that screws and nails are not needed in order to increase the damage. She had received it from her handlers, members of the Al Aksa Marytrs Brigades, which is connected with Fatach, itself controlled by Yassar Arafat. When the terrorist realized that everyone was being checked at the entrances to the shuk, she turned around and walked towards the nearby bus stop, opposite Hava Bakery. There, she waited a short while, until a bus arrived. When the driver opened the door, and the passengers began getting on and off the bus, she blew herself up.

"As soon as there was an explosion, it was clear that this was a bombing", sobbed Elisheva, a resident of the city who stood at the site, her clothes stained with blood. "Suddenly the entire shuk halted, just stopped. Inside the bus stop, tens of wounded had been thrown to the ground. I saw a young girl with blood flowing from her head; I lifted her up and she cried in my arms and said: 'today is my 17th birthday'. I told her: 'at least you are alive, at least you are alive".

"For seconds after the explosion it was quiet", related Yisrael Levy, 23, "but then hysterical screaming began. I saw people who were shredded, injured people shouting for help. An elderly man with nothing on his body but blood-drenched tsitist". Rachamin, 39, and a greengrocer at the shuk said, "It has been calm for a little, but now everything has come back. That acrid smell that I cannot describe. I don't know if I can go back to work". [GW-I think that he is referring here to the fact that there was another bombing at Machane Yehuda in 1997] Another woman said "It was horrible, not at all like the photos you see on television". [GW-oh, I so want to have fun with this one. But this is a serious article so I will leave it alone.]

"We heard the explosion and we raced to the scene", related tafser mishne Moshe Suissa, who was with one of his co-workers from the fire department next to the site of the bombing. "We started picking up injured people, putting them into private cars and they flew to the hospital". "There were police officers stationed at all of the entrances to the shuk, and some of them were injured in the blast", reported the Commander-Jerusalem District, Major General Micky Levi. Inspector General, Commissioner Shlomo Ahronishki, who visited the site of the bombing, said, "we are at maximum deployment, but we cannot seal every centimeter of the city".

Friday evening, the hospitals had already tallied up the grim totals. Six people will not go home again. One hundred and four were injured, six of them seriously (here I am). Some of the injured lost body parts; others were burned all over their bodies. Last night, 19 people (oh, and again here) remained hospitalized in hospitals across the city.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Recent comment made by someone who heard me speak for a Jewish organization a couple years back about my experiences as a Victim of Terror:

Her: Seeing that you survived the bombing, don't you feel that you have a responsibility to those who died?

Me:

Actually--I am not going to fill in my response. Instead, I pose a question for the masses--aka-those who are reading and who have an opinion and a few minutes to respond.

As I will describe in future posts, I spent two weeks in the hospital and the next several months going back and forth to the hospital. As such:

What if, instead of my injuries being sustained in a bombing, they had been sustained in a car accident? Would I then have a responsibility, an obligation, to the thousands and thousands of people killed in car accidents each year?

What if, instead of surving a bombing, I had survived cancer? Does a cancer survivor have the right to say "Give up more time to cancer? I already gave up hours and days and weeks of my life to this disease. Enough!" Or does he or she have a responsibility, an obligation, towards the millions who succumb to cancer each year?

What if, instead of my body being effectively violated by a bomb and a terrorist, it was violated by a rapist. Does a rape victim have the right to say: "I never want to think about this again"? Or does she have a responsibility, an obligation, to those who died in rape attacks?

Are those who survived rape, car accidents and cancer somehow responsible for and obligated towards all of those who did not?

And if not, why am I different?

(As for my writing about the bombing now....the writing is for me).
****Update*****
Just to clarify, the person who asked the question is a lovely person. The question/sentiment is one that I have actually gotten from many, many people. It appears to be something of a knee-jerk reaction. I am looking at this post as a means to challenge people's perceptions (including my own!) and not as a form of criticsm.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rugellach to Die For

September 2004

I was injured at Shuk Machane Yehuda, the Machane Yehuda open market. If I had been hurt at a coffee shop, I might have chosen to avoid that shop afterwards. But the shuk is different. For a woman raised in the sterile suburbs of Washington DC, the shuk is an exotic paradise.

Even its admirers have to admit that the shuk ain’t pretty. It is dirty, crazed and crowded-a full-sized shopping mall on speed and crammed into a cramped rabbit warren. In the center of the main strip is the legless man in the wheelchair with an impressive display of sponges, scrub pads, shoelaces and other small wares somehow attached to the chair. He sort of sets the theme for the rest of the place. Forget about mannequins or window displays; the technique here is to stuff racks and shelves with all sorts of things and then sit back and wait for buyers. The stores selling housewares tend to have particularly eclectic combinations. In addition to the standard piles of cheap glass, plastic and metal goods, one finds odds and ends which appear to have come from out of nowhere: a lone set of knives in a box covered with thick dust, a couple sets of American measuring cups and random quirky appliances in new, if battered boxes cheerfully decorated with the “As Seen on TV” logo. To all of these are attached the question: where did this come from? You can almost imagine the shop owner finding the abandoned knife set along the side of the road, and bringing it to his shop to await the day its destined owner would come to claim it.

But the best thing about the shuk is the food. Ask any Israeli, and he will tell you that the best vegetables in the world are in Israel. Ask me, and I will tell you that the best vegetables in Israel are in the shuk. Fruits and vegetables appear in season, and are presented ripe and table-ready (no green tomatoes here). Bakeries, butchers and fishmongers abound. Glass-faced deli counters offer the best of local cheeses and the ultimate Israeli standard: fresh, homemade salatim (salads). My favorite of all are the spice stores. Unlike the conventional rows of odorless plastic containers one finds at the supermarket, the spice stores at the shuk are fragrant and crowded with countless sacks full of fresh spices from around the world. Sweet and spicy paprika is displayed on the counter in moist, towering, blood-red mounds next to large metal bowls full of combinations of nuts, herbs and spices one can add to plain rice-Israel’s version of Rice a’Roni. Here one also finds the huge burlap sacks full of dried beans, rice and pasta which can be such a godsend to students and broke immigrants.


The shoppers are as quirky and varied as the merchandise. Every age, every class, every religion and (seemingly) every language is represented. The vendors have learned to be quite flexible in their ability to communicate and you can ask them for virtually anything you want in any language you want, including hand gestures. If the vendor does not know, he will ask his neighbor. Someone will figure you out. One thing the shoppers have in common is good old-fashioned Israeli aggressiveness. There is no room at the shuk for good manners, and even the most well-mannered Westerner will find himself elbowing little old ladies as he tries to push his way through a densely packed little alley. There is no reason to feel bad; they will elbow him right back, and run over his feet with their heavily laden, two-wheeled shopping carts.
____________________________________________________________________

Shabbat-Friday at sundown through Saturday nightfall-is mandated by law in Israel and most businesses and services, including public transportation, close up shop late in the afternoon on Friday. I probably should have done my shopping earlier, but had to go into work. So it was that I found myself at the shuk, long shopping list in hand, a mere three hours before Shabbat. I would have to move smartly if I wanted to catch the last bus home.

My shopping list was nothing unusual. Edith and I had planned to make up a mini-smorgasbord of salads for Shabbat lunch and it was my job to pick up the ingredients: an assortment of fresh vegetables, Golan cheese and eggplant salad. Once that was out of the way the next stop was to buy my weekly spice. When I moved into my first apartment in Israel after making aliyah, I lacked two things I had in the States: a spice collection and a respectable income. So long as my salary was very low, I treated myself by buying a new spice every week at the shuk: oregano, cinnamon, zahatar, bay leaves, chili flakes and on-a taste of luxury at the bargain price of three to four shekels a pop.

Poor or no, I have to admit to a being a bit of a snob; I will not buy my clothes at the shuk. On the day of the bombing I made an exception and bought a pair of slippers. Unlike the United States, where wall-to-wall carpets are ubiquitous, in Israel bare floors are the norm, and Israelis react to people walking around the house in bare feet with the type of reaction that we Americans normally reserve for someone walking around in a string bikini in Buffalo, NY, in January. After months of suffering expressions of shock and dismay on the part of my roommate at my bare feet inside the house, I broke down and bought slippers.

My last stop was the bakery where I bought a selection of cinnamon rolls, apple pastries and chocolate rugellach (chocolate pastries) for that night's Shabbat dinner. Not only is the bakery is one of the best in Jerusalem, with particularly good chocolate rugellach, it also has the advantage of being located a few short steps from the bus stop-no small matter late in the afternoon on a Friday. My shopping complete, I hopped over to the bus stop where I anxiously awaited the bus, hoping I had not missed the last one. Unfortunately for me, my groceries, my spice collection and my roommate's sense of propriety, my shuk and my bus stop had somehow been added to a terrorist organization's list of key military targets. Some unknown quantity of minutes later, the world exploded around me.

A week or so after the bombing, former President Katzav came to the hospital to visit terror victims. When he got to me, he said: “I heard that you were injured at the bakery”. My response: “They have rugellach to die for”.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Bombing

First--I have been trying to stop by all of the blogs who have been recommending me to their readers and say "thanks". In case I missed any....Thank you!!!! I have been completely amazed/gratified at the response I have been getting. Had I known that blogging this would be this rewarding, I would have done this a couple years ago.
Okay, and now to the gore. :)
__________________________________________________________________

I really and truly do not have any dramatic memories of the instant of the blast. I did not notice anything unusual. The moment before the bombing I was standing at the bus stop, watching for my bus and worrying that I missed the last one before Shabbat and would have to waste 20 shekels on a cab. My next conscious moment I was on the ground, looking at the gore around me and at my bloody arm and thinking, “Oh, I was in a suicide bombing”. The second in between the conscious moments was a sort of clap-think of it as the physical manifestation of jumping across a few seconds. If you have ever received a blow to the head and blacked out, you probably know what I mean. One moment you are in A, the next moment you are in Z, and the intervening letters have been bypassed.

I was quite calm and in no real pain. I prayed, but without panic. “G-d, I do not care about anything else, just let me live”. My prayer notwithstanding, I did not perceive my condition as being that serious. I checked my limbs to confirm that all of them were there and ran my tongue over my teeth for any gone missing. None had. I determined, probably on the basis that I did not feel pain, that I was not suffering from internal injuries. Thus reassured, my major concerns were:

1) Keeping myself propped up on one arm because that meant that I was alive,
2) Retrieving the keys that had fallen out of my backpack and were lying on the ground in front of me,
3) That something was wrong with my eye and that the doctors would remove it and
4) That pain was bound to come sooner or later, and I would rather be unconscious for that part.

When the paramedic arrived, he had me lay down on my back. I followed instructions, though not before I instructed him to please put my keys back in my knapsack as I was going to need them. He did so. He then proceeded to wrap something around my head and check my body for injuries. More paramedics arrived, and they moved me onto a stretcher. They asked me my name. 'Gila Weiss', I told them. I asked them to please remember to bring my bag. I told them not to take my eye away from me. I believe I repeated each comment multiple times. My persistence notwithstanding, and unbeknownst to me, my bag containing all of my identification and emergency contact information was left at the scene due to security concerns. To make matters even worse, my speech was somewhat garbled due to injuries to my jaw and my name was understood as "Hila". To add insult to injury, the paramedics received the impression that I was from New York (fighting words to a Washingtonian). In any event, this combination of errors would result in my remaining unidentified for two days, until my friends managed to track me down.

Sans name, location or identification cards, I was loaded onto an ambulance. I caught phrases from the air. “Hadassah Ein Kerem”. Matzav beinuni, moderate condition. I was relieved. I was moderately injured, and I was going to Hadassah Hospital. I am a former Hadassah Organization for Women group co-president, and a big believer in the hospital. So I was going to be okay. They kept on telling me: tishari itanu, stay with us. Unfortunately, I believe that it was about this time I decided that I would rather miss the rest of the process, and wake up once I was better. Please understand, it did occur to me that I might be facing my last moments on Earth, and that I had to stay awake to fight for my life, if need be. If I were to go to sleep, I might never wake up. On the other hand, I really wanted to be unconscious. For what it is worth, I have spoken with at least one other bombing victim who had the exact same reaction. Bombings are just the type of thing one would rather miss. The bliss of oblivion beat out heroics. I closed my eyes, stopped answering questions, and waited to become unconscious.

Unconsciousness did not come, and so I spent my time ignoring the paramedics’ appeals to please, please stay with them and thinking about how I was probably not going to make it to Galia’s for Shabbat dinner. It could not be helped. She would have to understand. When we arrived at the hospital, I opened my eyes. All sorts of medical personnel surrounded me. What is your name? Gila. Again, they heard Hila. I told them I was allergic to sulfa. And then…well…at last! the drugs and blessed unconsciousness took hold. I would remain in a drug induced coma for the next three days.

With no one knowing who I was.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Perfect Day For Head Injuries

Summer 2004

Friday April 12, 2002 was a perfect day for head injuries.

I do not mean that in a bitter or sarcastic “that was the day I received a head injury” sense, even though I received not one, but two head injuries that day.

I received the first injury a few hours before the bombing. While walking to my office, I passed two yeshiva boys carrying a heavy metal rack. One of the boys lost his grip, and the rack fell on my head, knocking me down and leaving me with a small bleeding gash and a headache. I will never know for sure what caused the huge, bleeding gash I received in the bombing although my personal theory is that the force of an explosion occurring 10 feet from where I stood sent me flying, head first and at an enormous speed, into the steel frame of the bus stop.

But as I said, I do not mean that the day was a good day for head injuries in any sort of tongue-in-cheek sense. I mean it literally.

Have you ever had one of those days, or weeks, or months, where you are so damn miserable, that you wish that you could go to sleep and just stay asleep for a while? Not suicide, nothing so drastic or final as that, but rather just an opportunity to turn off your brain and not think for a little while. For me, Friday April 12, 2002 was one of those days.

I will admit that many people would have been happy to be in my shoes. My aliyah, by most objective standards, was going well. I had a job in my field and was enrolled in night school where I prepared for the Israeli CPA exams. I had built a small but close circle of friends: Debbie, Yael, Galia, Nomi and Edith, who I could count on for some measure of support and Shabbat meals. I had a decent apartment with a non-demonic roommate.

Even so, life was not like it was in the States. At 31, four years out of college and at a time where my friends back home were furnishing their starter homes with elegant furniture, I was living like a college student, my room full of random, cheap, throwaway pieces of furniture picked up second or third hand or even off the side of the road. Between work, night school and homework, I had virtually no free time at all and often found myself fighting off terrible feelings of isolation. Worst of all, my romantic life was a complete, unmitigated disaster. I had met a guy. I completely flipped over him. I was sure that he had flipped as well. He did-but…over my best friend. She flipped over him.

They were in love.

Incidentally, this was not the first time that this had happened to me. To be honest, this happened to me frequently. To be painfully, brutally honest, every single time I fell for a guy, he would proceed to fall for whoever was my closet friend of the time. If my closest friend changed, he would fall for each of them, in succession. Usually I was able to grin and bear it, give up on the guy, and keep the friend. This time, I found that I simply could not.

Maybe it was because I had thought that this time, I was going to be the lucky one. And maybe it was the realization that I had turned my back on a good job, a large group of friends, financial security, physical safety and had moved all the way across the world to Israel… just to have my bad luck follow me. Whatever the reason, I broke. All during the week leading up to Friday, April 12, 2002, this pain was fresh and raw and pounding. I was quite simply in agony, to the extent that I would comment to my friends that maybe I would get lucky, and a bus would blow up with me on it.

And so it was that I found myself standing at a bus stop at Machane Yehuda , at 3:45 on Friday, April 12, 2002, my head aching from the blow I had received earlier, and just wishing that I were anywhere but there, and anyone but me. Why had I made aliyah if I was just going to be single, lonely, depressed and just generally the world’s biggest loser? What was I doing in Israel? What was I doing with my life? How could things possibly get worse?

Oh. Yeah. That.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Self portrait

Many thanks to Jameel at http://muqata.blogspot.com/ for the lovely, lovely photo. Really. It captures me exactly! Aside from the hair color. I mean, I used to be blonde. I have also had black hair, various colors of brown and the like. Right now I am at a sort of streaky coppery brown.
I love dying my hair. I consider it to be one of my hobbies. Up there with writing, bike riding and eating chocolate.

But, anyway, aside from that, very nice likeness. :)

Maybe I will put it on Jdate?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why I Made Aliyah

A little background might be helpful here....
Summer 2004

Thirty is a dangerous year for single women. Not precisely 30. Sometimes it is 31, sometimes 32. On occasion, a particularly proactive woman might start to become dangerous at 29. But normally, it is the years starting with the number three.

Thirty is the year a single woman wakes up and sees that one of these things is not like the others, that one of these things doesn’t belong…and that the renegade thing is she. Her friends have married, started popping out the papooses, bought houses and are settled down while she is still…well, what IS she doing?

That is why thirty is dangerous. We decide to search and figure out what, exactly, it is that we are doing. If we are not settling, it stands to reason that we should be doing something else.

Married women will tell you that thirty is dangerous for them as well. They will speak passionately about how they feel old, how they have reached the end of their youth, about how…oh, was that the baby? Their passion is reduced to a subdued whimper and they scurry off to do what settled people do. Do not get me wrong. Married women do get dangerous. But they get around to it later-say forty or fifty, once the kids start having lives of their own.

But we single women? We are dangerous now. And we act on it.

Jennifer picked up and moved from Maryland to California. Renee picked up and moved from California to Maryland, and bought herself diamond earrings to boot. Amy entered the Reconstructionist rabbinical school and Rebecca entered an ultra-orthodox women’s seminary. Jennifer K. decided that 30 was saaaassy, and bought a house. Diane quit her job as a lawyer, sold her house, and traveled around the world. When she came back, she started on a new career in public radio.

What did I do? I moved to Israel.

Home
To be honest, I had planned on aliyah for years before I got a kick in the butt from thirty, and finally made the leap. In August 1995, I arrived in Be’er Sheva, Israel to study for a year at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. By the time the program ended in June, I knew that Israel was where I belonged.

Israel is comfortable. Israeli is home. Life in Hebrew both calms and excites me. I like being in a place where being Jewish is completely normal. I like being in a country where a rock concert in Hebrew is just another rock concert and an Israeli Independence Day Parade celebrates Israel’s independence, as opposed to being special events to help the kids learn about their Jewish heritage and Jewish responsibilities, respectively.

As relatively non-observant as I was raised and I am, I have always felt my Judaism as this giant, prominent aspect of myself, like a huge birthmark. This has been the case ever since I was a small child. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed in 1979, when I was in fourth grade. My teacher talked to us about this historic event (it should be pointed out that I went to a public school) and had us reenact the signing of the treaty. She asked me to be Sadat. I refused. I had to be Begin. I was Jewish. How could I be anyone else?

This level of awareness and pride feels somehow out of place in the US. You can be Jewish, but could you please be quiet about it? Have a Hannukah bush, celebrate Christmas as a “secular” holiday, maybe marry a nice goyishe boy or if I do marry a Jew, have the good taste to do so because I happened to fall in love with a Jew, and not for a some disgusting reason like actually wanting a Jewish home. Watch Keeping the Faith with an understanding smile and an “oh yes, my mother was also funny that way”.

I do not do any of this well. I was always explaining, announcing, displaying, fighting, defending or doing something regarding this giant thing—my Judaism. Keeping the Faith made me furious- how can you portray a rabbi, (a RABBI!!!) as only wanting to marry a Jew because his mother wanted him to? The movie was bad, but the credits were worse. All those Jewish names.... How could you do that to us? Did your parents give you no Jewish pride?

But in Israel, I do not have to fight. My Judaism just is. Here I can let it be. Here I am comfortable. Here I am normal.

I believe that it has always been has been my destiny to be Jewish in a complete way. I could have ended up ultra-Orthodox in Crown Heights and it would have been just as natural a progression. Instead, I ended up here, living my day to day life in Hebrew, and dwelling in a city where people use Christmas lights to decorate their Sukkot, and think that Santa Claus is the Lubovitcher Rebbe dressed up for Purim.

Nuuu, so what is holding you up?
I had decided to make aliyah by June 1996. I arrived as an olah in July 2001. What happened in the meantime?

Originally, my intent was to make aliyah immediately after I graduated college, in December 1997. To that end, I spent the summer of 1997 in Israel as an intern at a non-for-profit business development organization through a program run by the Jewish Agency to help potential immigrants taste real life in Israel. At the same time, I met with accounting professionals to gather information on the field in Israel. Everyone told me the same thing: get your American CPA first.

I decided to take their advice, but not without a lot of agonizing thought. In the summer of 1997, I was 26. If I waited until I finished my certification, I would not make aliyah until I was 30. And what if, in the meantime, I met a nice guy? What if I got married? Because, you know, most nice Jewish girls do get married by 30. Why would I be any different? And then I would be trapped in the United States. One of my friends pointed out to me that many people who are trapped get that way because they want to be. He had a point, but still it seemed to me a big risk.

I debated for weeks, and in the end, fiscal prudence won out. I returned to the United States, finished my degree, got a job at a DC accounting firm, and left Delaware for the Washington Metropolitan Area and a new life. Unlike my college days, which had featured full time work, full time studies and no life whatsoever, my new life soon featured lots of friends, an insanely active social life, a brand-new Honda Civic and a fun job.

Of course I was still going to make aliyah! No question! It was just a matter of finishing my certification, maybe saving some money… But of course I was going to make aliyah. Maybe in a year. Or two.

This internal battle between my desire to make aliyah and my desire not to make aliyah got so intense that by the middle of my 29th year, I simply could not bear to think about it anymore. So I stopped thinking about it. I did other things. I learned to swing dance. I updated my wardrobe. I went on a two and a half week solo road trip to Canada. I turned thirty.

Life gets dangerous.
I turned thirty, I took a look around my life and I found myself in a rut.

Professionally, things were great. My job was fantastic, my bosses loved me and I was progressing. Friend-wise, I had literally never had it better. In my entire life, I had never had been popular and here I was, popular! I was earning good money, getting my spending habits in check and doing pretty well financially.

But there was the dating thing. To be more precise, there was a pronounced lack of dating. I had not had a boyfriend in years. Here I was, a nice, Jewish girl, in her 30’s, and not married. My friends were all settled or settling and making little contented noises. I was different. I did not belong.

It was time to do something dangerous.

I wish I could say that I moved just for the adventure. I wish I could say that my attitude toward my single status was healthy: if I was going to be single anyway, why not have fun with it? Why not have some adventure? Excitement? But of course the reality was, whether I would admit to myself or others or not, that I was counting on the old Yiddish maxim "change your place, change your luck" to spring into effect. Some wonderful Israeli would sweep me off my feet and I would live happily ever after.

As you will see, things did not quite work out the way I had planned.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Commenting

I changed the settings to allow annonymous comments. Apparently the default is to require a Gmail account.

Helpless

There are days when I feel like I am such a disappointment. Everyone wants to know what it is like to be blown up, and I have nothing to give them but a simple timeline comprised of three seconds. Second number one I was standing. I lost second number two. Second number three found me on the ground, conscious. I woke up stunned, but calm, and stayed that way. That is the whole story. But people persist in wanting more. I am questioned thoroughly. Surely I left something out:

“Did you notice the bomber?”
“No. Apparently she was disguised as a pregnant woman. Pregnant women are not an unusual sight in Jerusalem.”
“Well, didn’t you have a feeling that something was wrong, or a sense….”
“No, only that I had missed the last bus.”
“A premonition? Ominous dreams? Crows screeching and waking you in the dead of night?”
“Hmmm…let me see…dreams, birds…. No, I do not recall anything of the sort. There are lots of cats around, and they are noisy, but I do not think that this is the same as a black bird”
“Okay, okay, I am with you. It was a complete and utter surprise. So then you heard a boom?”
“No. I really did not hear anything.”
“Oh, but you must have felt something: the white-heat of the explosion, the shrapnel ripping into your body?”
“Ummm…no.”
“The searing smoke ravaging your lungs?”
“No, sorry.”
“Life passing in slow motion before your eyes?”
“Oh, there was no time for that!”
“The eerie silence followed by heartrending screams and cries for help?”
“I suppose there must have been but I did not hear it-my eardrums were wiped out.”
“And then you lay there racked in terrible pain….”
“Actually, no, I wasn’t. I must have gone into shock from the blow to the head. Lucky me!”
“You must have been terrified though.”
“Not at all. I was very calm. I even asked the paramedic to put my keys back in my bag and remembered to tell them about my drug allergy.”

Generally, at this point, they give up, though I suspect that they do not fully believe me. I can see them, chatting with friends, and attributing my rather boring version with some post traumatic stress disorder. The real memories, the riveting, dramatic, CNN-ready memories are either buried in my subconscious or consciously suppressed by poor, traumatized me. Even some of my closest friends refuse to believe my account of things, and insist that I told them that I heard a boom and must have buried the memory since.

I used to be confused by this stubborn persistence in searching for drama. Why, in G-d’s name, would you want me to suffer? Recently, I think I have begun to understand. You want me to reassure you, don’t you? You want me to tell you that you will not be erased without warning.

I cannot tell you that. I cannot even tell myself that.

Had I been less lucky, second number three would have found me on the ground, dead. Even the clap as I lost consciousness would have been lost, as I believe that one is only cognizant of it to the extent that there is a beginning and an end-a leaving and a returning. I would have died and never known it. There would have been no goodbyes, no final thoughts of my loved ones, nothing. Everything that was in my mind, all of my loves and hates and hopes and dreams, everything that makes up who is Me, would have been instantly and completely wiped out.

But this is too terrifying and you cannot accept it. You want to believe that, when this happens to you, you will be on notice. You will be able to fight for your life. If you see the terrorist, you can dodge. If you feel the heat of the explosion you can turn away. If you feel the shrapnel entering me, you can declare to yourself: “I will not die” and force the breath in and out of your body. Knowledge is power.

How can you possibly accept a vision of yourself as without power, as powerless? How can you accept a picture of yourself knowing nothing, and having absolutely no option or opportunity to fight? How can you just die, without even realizing that anything hit you. One moment you exist. The next you do not.

This shakes you to the soul. I know, because once I was shaken too. A couple years before I made aliyah, there was a terrible car accident in Virginia. A dump truck was cut off by another car, lost control, hit a concrete barrier and was launched airborne. It fell down on top of a family car, killing the driver and his wife instantly. I did not witness the accident, nor did I see any footage of it on TV. Nonetheless, that accident haunted me for weeks. The whole mental image of death just smashing into you from the sky, while you are rendered completely powerless, shook me to the core. There must have been other tragic accidents while I lived in the DC area, but that is the only one I remember. To this day, I cannot think of it without twisting up inside.

I understand you. I am doing to you what this accident did to me. I am forcing you to confront how powerless you are. Unlike that couple in Virginia, I was lucky, and I lived. But I could have been not lucky too. Even if you attribute my luck to G-d, you have to acknowledge that He could have decided differently. Next time, He might. This is what I think about when I sit on a bus. I have no chance. I cannot protect myself. I cannot fight. If a terrorist blows himself up next to me, there will be no warning, and there will be nothing I can do. I will live or die, but I will have no chance to influence the outcome either way. It will just be, and if I die, I will never know it.

Helpless. I am helpless.

Now accept it, relax, and keep on going.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Getting to Know Your Shrapnel

May 2002

The bombing left me with shrapnel wounds over my entire body aside from my feet. My feet were spared because I was wearing my brown leather Naot brand mini-boots that covered my feet up to right below my ankles. I bought the shoes while I was still in Ulpan. My canvas slip-on’s (purchased before I left the US for about $15) had worn out to the point that they developed actual holes in the toes and people started laughing at me, and so I gave in to the inevitable, and decided to go shoe shopping. I called my friend Galia for shoe store suggestions and asked my friend Yael to come protect me from my sense of style. We ventured downtown in search of footwear. At first I thought of buying another pair of canvas slip-ons, but then I decided to invest (to the tune of 350 shekels-about $80) in a pair of Naot, on the basis that these shoes would last for years and years and years, during which time period I would not have to look for more shoes. Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the diminishing effect that a human bomb has on the lifespan of a pair of shoes. That being said, I can tell all of you interested consumers that Naot-at least the style I had-provide effective protection for your feet against suicide bombers. This is a particularly important detail if you find yourself unidentified for two days and your face is so badly swollen that your own roommate, who has seen you even at your worst moments, cannot recognize you, and has to identify you by your toenail polish. So despite the loss of my shoes, I am nonetheless pleased with my purchase, and am considering contacting Naot, and asking them if by chance they sell leather pants, shirts, gloves, helmets, underwear, bras, and full-face masks for my future outings. I suppose I could go to a sex shop, but I don’t know that the quality would be as high.

Some of you may be asking: “Couldn’t you get the whip at the sex shop?” The answer is: “Yes, because a whip is, in the case of a suicide bomb attack, merely an accessory, as opposed to being protective gear, and therefore quality is less of an issue”. Seriously, some of you are may be asking: “What is shrapnel?” I don’t know that Websters would agree, but my personal definition is: “anything which can be hurled through the air and into your body at incredible speed if something blows up”. In my case, this includes:
  • Metal and other debris from the bomb. In all seriousness, I was very lucky. Other bombers have used homemade bombs filled with screws, nails, and other larger items. At times, the contents were dipped in poison to maximize the damage. In this bombing, the terrorist was armed with a “clean” bomb made of plastique. The bomb affected a wider area, but the pieces of shrapnel it expelled were much smaller and not poisoned.
  • Bits and pieces of metal, glass and plastic from objects damaged or destroyed by the blast. The piece of glass removed from my hand this past week could be from a bus window, or it could be from someone’s glasses.
  • Pebbles
  • Wood
  • Other random items, some of which are too gross to mention, or even contemplate (i.e. bits o’ terrorist)

Unless the shrapnel is causing damage, doctors will leave it where it is. Unfortunately there appear to be some differences between “causing damage” as defined by doctors and “causing damage” as defined by the average layman. For instance, many doctors do not define shrapnel which makes one’s face numb in parts and lumpy to the touch as “causing damage”. One doctor concluded his examination of my face with a cheerful “Zeh lo catastrof”, this isn’t a catastrophe. On the bright side, I am using this experience to force myself to pick up that essential, Israeli trait: the ability to argue with ANYBODY, including one’s doctor, even if the doctor is a neurosurgeon who might be called upon later to do very delicate surgery on one’s face. In the meantime, however, my shrapnel has been classed as “mostly harmless”, a good chunk of it is still in me and I should be setting off metal detectors for years to come. Theoretically, the average terrorist should have an easier time getting into the Central Bus Station than I will (more on that later).

But enough of the bad stuff, now it is time for what makes shrapnel fun. After it goes in (not the fun part), it comes out! All by itself! What I have learned is that shrapnel often slowly but surely works its way up to the surface and is expelled from the body. Every day I check my body for objects which, like lounge lizards slinking out late at night from a singles event, are starting to emerge. I then do the following:

  1. I examine the item, and try to guess what it is. Metal? Glass? Plastic?
  2. I brush it gently with my fingers, to see if it will dislodge. If it does, and it isn’t really, really teensy-weensy and non-impressive, and if it doesn’t fall from my finger onto the floor and get lost, I put it into my “Official Machane Yehuda Bombing Shrapnel Collection Test-Tube”.
  3. If it doesn’t dislodge, I gently feel the area around the shrapnel to check for swelling, edges, etc. This gives me some indication as to the size of the piece, and whether it is going to require medical assistance to remove.
  4. Size and/or swelling be damned, I try to remove the item myself. I jiggle it a bit, push around it like you do with splinters and try to pull it out with my eyebrow tweezers.
  5. I smack myself on the hand and tell myself to stop playing with the shrapnel and to let it come out on its own. Bad BAD Gila!!!!!
  6. If my cooler friends are around (cooler being defined as anyone who find this whole process fascinating as opposed to disgusting”), I call them over, and show them. If no friends are present, I make a mental note to show them the next time I see them.
  7. I put a glop of iodine ointment on the area and cover it with gauze and tape. The combination of iodine ointment, gauze and tape is wonderful, and has become my standard medical treatment for just about everything.

Every day is a new adventure as I find all sorts of foreign objects emerging from my body. Just last week I had two pieces removed by the friendly neighborhood plastic surgeon: a piece of glass and a piece of metal. I would not be at all surprised to wake up one morning and find a rutabaga emerging from my right kneecap. Well, yes, of course, I am exaggerating. I have been in Israel for 10 months now (May 9 was my anniversary), and I have yet to see a rutabaga anywhere. A cucumber or tomato would be much more likely.

If I may digress for a cultural note, Israelis are obsessed with cucumbers and tomatoes. During Ulpan, they were served at every single meal. I have friends who, today, months after the Ulpan ended, still shudder at the thought of eating cucumbers and tomatoes. If you were to call them up very late at night, like 3 AM, (and I am not suggesting you do so, unless you think this might be fun), and whisper “cucumbers and tomatoes”, they would start screaming and call the police. Not that the police would come. The police are too busy guarding against terrorists using metal detectors which do not detect metal.

Metal detectors that do not detect metal??? Is that trauma you hear? Anger? Bitterness? No. It is crushing disappointment. In all of the times since the bombing in which I have been swept over by a so-called metal detector, not one has beeped. This includes the time I visited the police station to collect my wallet. Now I know that I have metal shrapnel. I have seen the pieces on x-rays. The fact that I have not had to explain ONCE that I am beeping because my body contains pieces of what was once a bus, a bus stop, my eyeglass frames (got the case back, but not the glasses), and perhaps random cars which were nearby and damaged by the blast, is not only worrisome, but also very irritating. Talk about wasting a chance for a good time.

Of course, shrapnel exiting the body does present certain dangers. The first and most obvious is that the shrapnel will get confused and will move in the wrong direction, and instead of popping out of one’s neck, will instead surface in one’s jugular, spinal cord or some other sensitive area. This possibility is particularly worrisome to this terror victim, who actually has a nice little collection of shrapnel in her neck. All doctors I have asked, including my father, have assured me that this is not going to happen, but I am not so sure I trust them. Every day, I feel the little lumps on my neck to make sure that they are still there, and that the shrapnel has not departed for warmer climates.

The second danger is that exiting shrapnel may endanger others. I do not refer to random bits of plastic being ejected forcefully and at high speed from my body, and lodging itself in someone else. Unless I blow myself up (which I have seen, with my very own eyes, to be fatal and generally not a good idea), the ejection of shrapnel, like everything else related to this process of healing is a painfully sloooooooooowwwwwww process, and, in fact, likely to continue for years and years and years. Wherein lies the problem. I have been assured that, someday, in the future, over the next year, or over the next couple of years, or perhaps never and I will just have to adjust to my new reality, but anyway, as the sloooooooooowwwwwww process of healing moves forward:

  • the scars on my face will fade, either naturally or with assistance from a dermatologist,
  • my bald spot and spot-with-a-crew-cut will grow in,
  • my eye will be fixed and will stop oozing goo and I will be allowed to wear makeup again,
  • the numbness in the left side of my face may diminish and the damage to my jaw muscle will be fixed and my face will no longer feel like stiff rubber,
  • some of the shrapnel in my face will come out, and my face won’t feel so lumpy to the touch,
  • the extensive collection of multicolored marks/scars from cuts, abrasions, shrapnel entry wounds and G-d knows what else which currently decorate virtually all of my body will fade and
  • I will be able to pluck my eyebrows and wax my legs.

In short, someday, in the future, I might actually look like someone that a guy might want to date, and I might actually feel like dating. Why is this a problem? Imagine the following scene (rated PG-13-me kissing a guy):

Him: Ouch! What the hell was that?
Me: Oh my goodness, you are bleeding! (feel around my face a bit) Yes, just as I thought. Some shrapnel which has been lodged in my jaw is now coming out of my face as part of sloooooooooowwwwwww process of healing. (run to the mirror to look). Hey! It looks like part of the bus!
Him: Yeah, well, it just severed one of my arteries!
Me: Zeh lo catestrof!

********

Just like the shrapnel, the bombing also works its slow but sure way out. But it does so through words.