Our Boys

I was at folk dancing yesterday evening when the news broke. We were dancing to a lively song. No one was taking much notice of the large screen that usually shows the lyrics of the songs we dance to but, because of the World Cup, showed the TV programmes.

One match had just finished and the news took its place. Gradually people started to point to the screen. One by one people stopped dancing and gathered round the screen to stare at the awful words at the bottom.

The bodies of the three teenagers have been found.

For eighteen days we had been hoping, talking, writing, tweeting with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys. We knew the best outcome would be to find them and bring them back. The next best outcome would be one of those prisoner exchanges – thousands of violent criminals, including murderers, in return for our three innocent boys, two of them only sixteen years old.

But the final outcome was the worst of all. Perhaps, in our hearts, it was the one we expected the most, but it was also the one we all hoped wouldn’t be.

Why did we care so much about three boys, with faces and names the vast majority of us didn’t recognise three weeks ago? Because, although we argue with each other as much as a nation can, although we often don’t care for others as we should, when something like this happens we become one big family. Those boys become our boys, the parents our brothers and sisters.

That lively song was soon turned off. For the rest of the evening we danced to slower, sadder songs. Most people left early and the dance session ended earlier than usual.

As they say, normal service will be resumed. Next week we will dance as usual. But we won’t forget what happened to our boys.

Books Israel

Worlds Apart

My world and your world. Their world and our world. Where am I? Where are you? Where are they?

Somewhere, further down in this post, I will talk about tomorrow’s book launch. If you don’t want to read my prattle, you can go there now.

Things used to be easier in the old days. Worlds kept themselves separate. Facebook brings them all together. It’s hard.

One minute I’m reading about the topic that’s uppermost in the mind of all Israelis. Three teenagers were kidnapped by terrorists. Parents look at their children, knowing it could have been them. How can a sixteen-year-old cope with being held by people who want us all dead?

The next minute, without even scrolling or clicking, I see a joke and I try to laugh. Then there’s a beep and I have to read and comment on a totally unrelated topic. Yes, have to, because it’s part of my job of being a writer. I have to look away from my world and become part of yours for a while.

Yes, I know it’s happened to you, to. There was 9/11, 7/7 and all the rest. But when those things happened, all the worlds were feeling similarly shocked. Now, it’s just us. For everyone else it’s business as usual. Who cares about three boys?

Then there’s their world: the world of those who are euphoric over the news. I see that, too, when people post their pictures and comments, before I look away in disgust.

But I really wanted to talk about another world, one that is right here in Jerusalem. The other day, I walked into the haredi world to take pictures. But when I was there, I didn’t feel good about photographing them, even though no one took any notice of me at all.

Signs that make me feel unwelcome, Mea Shearim
Signs that make me feel unwelcome, Mea Shearim

I hurriedly snapped a few photos and escaped from another world where I don’t belong.

A street in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem
A street in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem

Esty, the heroine of Neither Here Nor There, did belong there. She grew up there. Her family and friends and everyone who knew her expected her to remain in that world for the rest of her life.

And they expected her to meet her future husband two or three times, sitting far apart from him so as not to touch him by mistake, before making a decision about whether to spend the rest of her life with him.

If you look carefully below the Old City walls that are lit for the Jerusalem Festival of Lights, you can make out the man on the left and the girl on the right
If you look carefully below the Old City walls that are lit for the Jerusalem Festival of Lights, you can make out the man on the left and the girl on the right of the bench

In my novel, I don’t make any judgements. My characters make judgements occasionally, but mostly this is a novel of discovery. The characters find out about the other world on their doorstep.

I’ve said enough for now. If you want to join in tomorrow’s festivities, which will include a competition, go to this Facebook page. You can join it now.