Monday, January 12, 2009

Empty Classroom

I went to my "Streams in Modern Judaism" class today to find that there was only one other student there. This is one of my two classes that I take with Israeli grad students and usually there are six of us in the class. Where was everybody?
-Two apparently have long commutes which may be complicated by military stuff going on (this was unclear to me; are they from the South such that their kids are not in school because of threat of Hamas rocket fire? Is traffic weird in other parts of the country? I couldn't quite understand what was being said about them).
-One has been putting together packages to deliver to IDF soldiers and was busy with that.
-One is a reservist who has been called up.

So that left just me and J. J's son is serving in Gaza and she said she hasn't been able to get anything done because she just sits by the phone and watches the TV all the time.
Our teacher was saying that it was good that we were there because too many people were reacting to the war by being glued to their televisions and that, as much as possible it would be good for us to try to go about our daily lives normally.

While we were in the middle of reading Ismar Schorsch's "The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism", J's phone rang and she ran out of the room. The text was discussing the Conservative view that peoplehood and religion have never been separate for Jews and --thinking that J had just gotten some update about her son-- our teacher said sadly, "Another aspect of peoplehood in action."

It turned out that at the same time that her son is in Gaza, her elderly mother's health is failing. J's predicament was very poignant for me: this odd combination of "normal" sadness and difficulty layered on top of wartime concerns. That "life goes on" for those of us (relatively) far from the front means that life goes on in all its complexities and all its challenges. This call that J got was telling her that her mother was not doing well and that she needed to come be with her right away. I found myself feeling relieved that it was her mother who was dying and not her son and then feeling that this relief was somehow absurd.

I was the only student left in class; we went back to discussing The Sacred Cluster.

1 comment:

abayye said...

In my Israel year, the second Intifada was on and the militants were shooting from Beit Jalla into Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, not much more than a mile from our classrooms at Schechter. Every once and a while, the Israeli Army would respond with a tank shell. Every American in the classroom would jump from the boom, but the Israeli's moved not a bit. . . . . Your story reminds me of that and about two things about Israelis: a) their incredible adaptability and flexibility in crisis (your teacher was so ready to excuse the student from taking a cell phone call), and b) their incredible ability to "just continue" in the face of change and the results of violence (even though you were the only student left, your teacher just went on with her teaching according to plan). . . . . Hearing of these strengths of Israelis helps me have hope at this dark and challenging time.