A grandmother lives face to face with terrorism

A grandmother lives face to face with terrorism

Leslie Nassau, at left, approaches the separation wall.

The face of terrorism in the Middle East is a 60ish grandmother and her 9-year-old grandson.

Before I left on my first trip to Israel with the Washington Township YJCC in 2008, my son said, “You’ll be surprised at your response to the trip. It will change you.”

Many readers of this newspaper have grown up with an ingrained sense of responsibility to aid Israel, both financially and in spirit. We regularly read about the terror of the rockets and the suffering of the border cities. As a Jew, I feel that as long as Israel exists, we are safe here. That is the big picture.

But I am not a big-picture person. I am a microcosm person, most involved with my immediate family, than my larger family. My involvement ripples out from the family, like the ripples from a rock thrown into a pool of water. Eventually the ripples touch the entire pond. That’s where Roni and her 9-year-old grandson come in. They are now part of my small picture.

Is this the face of terrorism? Ronit lives in Netiv Ha’asara.

Our group’s visit with Roni was one of the “home hospitalities” that were an integral part of the YJCC trip. Although I kept it to myself, I didn’t see the point of 20 Americans drinking coffee with an Israeli. My mistake. This stranger opened her home and her life to strangers from New Jersey.

We nibbled cakes and coffee in Roni’s living room while she talked about her life in Netiv Ha’asara. It is a moshav, a cooperative community, composed of small farm units, about 400 residents. Two of her five children and their families live there, too.

In the 1970s, Roni and her husband lived in the Sinai. He was an agriculturalist, teaching Israelis and Egyptians how to grow bigger and better crops. When Israel withdrew from the Sinai, Roni and her family left their home voluntarily, and they resettled in Israel in 1982. “This was the price of peace,” she said.

Their “new” home – of 27 years – is only 30 miles north of the old one, but the weather is cooler, the soil sandier, and the water supply more limited, all major challenges for farmers. Her husband continued to teach agriculture. “There was only sand when we came,” she said. “Now, trees.”

In 2001 the missiles started falling. Her moshav, her resettled home of 27 years, is located on today’s Israel-Gaza border, approximately 300 feet from the northern border. You can see the separation wall and the barbed-wire fence at one end of the community. You can’t see them from Roni’s house because trees block the view.

You can see her safe room. It’s reinforced concrete, about the size of a large laundry room in your home. When there is a signal of a rocket attack, you have 20 seconds – 20 SECONDS – to get into their safe room. Even when Roni is walking outside, she says that a small part of her consciousness is always calculating the location of the nearest safe room.

Her grandson is 9 years old. He also lives on the moshav. When he watches TV, someone has to sit on the couch next to him. When he goes to the bathroom, someone has to walk with him and wait outside the door until he comes out.

I also have a grandson. I have seen him when he is frightened. His face contorts and his body stiffens. To make his fear vanish, he needs only a hug.

How do we stop the rockets.? How do we reach individual Palestinians and start talking? Not at them but with them. I don’t know. Maybe you do. Or you could tell this story to someone who does know. Then we can begin to create ripples of change without the harm of the rocks.

Before I left for Israel an acquaintance gave me a dollar. “It’s for charity,” he said. “It’s only a dollar, but it’s a symbol. You give it and then you come home safe. When you return, you have to tell the story.”

At Passover we read the Haggadah every year to tell the story of the Jewish people and our quest for freedom. We read it to make us feel as if each of us had been redeemed from Mitzrayim, from a place of narrowness. This is another story about Jewish people and freedom. I am asking you to tell it so that we can create a different future and not need to retell this story next year.

Then this 9-year-old boy can come home safe.

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