Unsettling times

“It’s been very hard for mothers to deal with their inability to protect their kids.”

So said Judy Lash Balint, a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist, who several years ago published “Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times.”

While the past four years of violence in Israel has taken its toll on everyone, women are dealing with it in their own unique ways, said Balint, who was in the Bay Area recently to talk to the Berkeley-based Bridges to Israel group.

But even though the fear of terrorism would cause some people to hunker down and have as little contact with the outside world as possible, Balint said that is hardly the case.

Balint openly supports the concept of a “Greater Israel,” perhaps since she has many friends who live in settlements in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

She talked about the widow of a man killed by terrorists who threw her grief into creating a place she called the “Warm Corner” in the Gush Etzion bloc of West Bank settlements. It has become a place for Israel Defense Forces soldiers who are protecting the settlers to rest.

“She and a few of her friends decided they would turn that tragedy into something positive,” said Balint. “They set up this warm corner where a lot of soldiers come and go, and now there’s this huge cafeteria where soldiers can come for free and get food and drink, all offered and made by volunteers.”

In another instance, a group of female settlers created a theater group. They put on performances only for other women.

“People were depressed because they physically couldn’t get places,” she said. “People were going stir-crazy so they decided they needed to do something for themselves, and it blossomed into this successful theater project. It’s for women only because they wanted to keep this intimate kind of feeling.”

Though there is a lot of escapism too. Some Israelis are doing a lot of yoga and using herbal anti-stress remedies, Balint said. Others never listen to or read the news.

But on the other side of the spectrum, women are also extremely politically active. “People are finding strengths that they never knew they had,” she said.

On the far right, she said, there is Women in Green, who do things like bake cookies for soldiers to try and keep up their morale. On the far left is Machsom Watch, a group of volunteer women who stand at the checkpoints to ensure that the soldiers behave properly.

When asked how her friends in Gaza were coping with the news of the disengagement plan, she said they were living in denial.

“I have a couple of friends who are very active politically, and they’re plunging themselves into trying to stop this from happening,” said Balint of her friends who live in the Gush Katif region in Gaza. “There is definitely a level of denial. They don’t believe this is going to happen, and they’re living according to that principle.”

Balint pointed out that once there was talk about Israel possibly giving up the Golan Heights. The settlers of Gush Katif are using that as a historical model.

“They’re basically trying to keep up the morale,” she said. “One woman I know is an English teacher at a girl’s school, and she’s constantly putting on a stiff upper lip. Another one is a grandmother, and she does media stuff there. She sees her role as trying to represent them properly.”

And another friend in Kfar Darom is “extremely ideological. She has small children there and sees her role as staying put; she sees that as the manifestation of the Zionist enterprise.”

While Balint, an immigrant from Great Britain, has experienced her own share of difficulties in the past four years, she said immigrants like her are more resolved than ever to stay in Israel.

“You see people suffering on a personal level, but it’s not reflected in their national attitudes or national psychological front,” she said. “They put out a different face to the public and rest of the world than they do internally.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."