When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated 20 years ago, I felt disconnected from the national mourning, like my personal fate was no longer tied up with the fate of Israel. That Saturday night, November 4, 1995 was the night before we held our oldest daughter's Simchat Bat (celebration of a daughter), where we would officially announce her name to the community and celebrate. Earlier that day our first nephew was born too, about the same time as Rabin's life was taken from him.
In those pre-Internet days, those who wanted to be obsessed with Israeli news purchased short wave radios to be able to listen in to the Israeli station Kol Yisrael even from a distance. I remember gathering in our living room around the short wave radio which we placed on top of the piano we had inherited from my husband's great aunt, immediately after the Sabbath ended. A group of our out-of-town visitors and some in-town friends were listening and trying to get some facts and details to make sense of what exactly had happened and how, which was unclear and not reported on right away without the 24 hour news cycle we have now. I wanted to just enjoy all my visitors from out of town that I didn't get to see as often as I would have liked, but instead we huddled around the short wave radio as my husband and I tried to translate for the group. We were happy and excited about the lives of our new daughter and nephew at the same time we were grieving for the brokenness of a country where people kill those who disagree with them, where Jews kill other Jews so contrary to the hopes of Jewish history.
I was upset about events over there, but the demands of a newborn and my joy overwhelmed my concern for Israel -- the way these events came together seemed to show that, yes Israel is an important part of our lives, we care about that place, but life now is here in the U.S. with our families. My husband and I spent the first year we were married in Jerusalem and thought in a distant way about making aliyah (moving to Israel), at some point, somehow. Neither of us thought we could make a living in the Holy Land where the number one most Googled question is "How can I make money?" (as of September 2013, see Israel story radio show on this). It felt like our hope of moving was irrevocable, and with it the intense connection to Israel we had up that time. Our disconnect from being able to absorb the import of the killing of Rabin seemed to say in a final way, that we were not going to be part of the fate of the land of Israel.
But the ties aren't severed so easily. Though I have not lived in Israel permanently in the past 20 years, I've visited seven times since then and my husband even more frequently. On my last two visits to the country, I was at work doing journalism, listening to people and their stories and transmitting them to a wider public, giving me a sense that even living outside it, I am contributing to the country in some tangible way by aiding individuals and organizations and ideas to be known in the English speaking world. My Hebrew is good enough now that I can understand the radio and TV and have fairly high level conversations with the insertion of a few "technical terms" in English when necessary. I take a Hebrew class once a week with other students who have similarly spent time in Israel and love to speak Hebrew and our dynamic and hysterically funny teacher -- we really spend most of the hour and half laughing at the various things we talk about and then read short stories in Hebrew.
My nephew is studying Hebrew at college and just took a Birthright trip in May; he's active with his campus's J Street chapter and works at a Jewish summer camp. My oldest daughter spent a year learning in Jerusalem before college -- sadly her school, Nishmat, has been in the news as two of the teachers there have been bereaved of their sons, Rachelle Sprecher Frankel's son Naftali in June 2014 and Chana Henkin's more recently, on Sukkot 2015. Actually it was wanting to visit my daughter and not having the cash on hand to do so that spurred me to find enough journalistic stories to write to pay for a trip. When I went to visit her, I hadn't been to Israel in over 7 years; her studying there was the impetus to get me to go back.
Twenty years after I felt my own fate disconnected from that of Israel because I was too distant from the place and too involved in building my family here, I am more connected to Israel from a distance than I ever thought I would be.
Through technology I connect more with Israel than ever -- I can call or Skype people in Israel whenever I want, cheaply or free. Every day I get emails from there, from people I connect with for interviews or discussions. Not just friendship but my job as a journalist is helping people there to get their stories out, and to help Hebrew writers to be better known in the English speaking world.
In short, my life is here but I am connected there in ways I would never have imagined twenty years ago.