Diaries From Wartime: Service Amid Suffering

Photo from Wiki Commons.

Anchoring Truths is proud to bring you the conclusion of Jana Paley’s Diaries from Wartime, a multipart account of her experience in Israel in the wake of the attacks by Hamas in October 2023. Anchoring Truths Co-Founder Hadley Arkes, Paley’s one-time professor at Amherst College, provides a preface to this multipart series here.

January 2, 2024

Jerusalem, Israel

88 Days Since Hamas Brutally Attacked Israel

If you know me, you know I am telling you the truth when I tell you that when KMART went out of business, all I thought about were the real estate opportunities rather than lamenting that I would never hear the words “Attention KMART shoppers” ever again. Today, I would have done anything to have had a KMART, Walmart, or Target nearby! The Jerusalem Civilian Command Center received a large shipment of skirts of all varieties and we hardly had any hangers with clips, or “klipseem,” as they are called in Hebrew. My task was to go out, buy them, and find a future supply.

Have you ever gone on a scavenger hunt in a country where you do not speak more than ten words of the language? That is what today felt like. Everyone told me to run over to MaxStock, a store that is more like an old fashioned Woolworth’s 5 and Dime than a small department store or a retailer of home goods. On arrival, I was pretty proud of myself when I asked if they sold skirt hangers in fairly comprehensible Hebrew. Someone came out to help me, but they only had regular shirt and pant hangers. The manager came over and as hard as I tried to tell him that I needed hangers with clips, he tried just as hard to convince me that no one in the entire State of Israel sells hangers with clips, and that all we had to do was fold the skirts on pants hangers. This manager was well trained; I swear, he was not letting me leave the store without making a sale. Six regular hangers was the price of my escape.

On the street that leads to the Machane Yehuda Market, better known as the Shuk, there is a line up of shops that sell almost everything you can possibly imagine except for, of course, any kind of hanger.  There are several hardware stores and, uttering my broken Hebrew, I gave them all a try, but no such luck. Striking out at the Shuk, I decided on a different approach. A few days ago on Ben Yehuda Street, a pedestrian mall which extends several blocks and attracts locals and tourists, I had gotten acquainted with Uri, the shopkeeper of Shkalim, a T-shirt and clothing store. He had a great graphic for a T-shirt which I had not seen before featuring a map of Israel with a Jewish Star in the center and the following test: Israel, The Other Lone Star State. With one of my dearest friends now being a Texas resident and having married a Texan, I had to have two shirts made. Uri and I got to chatting and as he pressed the shirts, he gave me suggestions of where to buy other things that I wanted to bring back home. In addition to T-shirts, Uri sells plenty of other clothing, so I knew he had to have a supply of hangers.

When I explained my predicament to Uri, his response was wonderful, “give me a few moments and I will run into my store room and get you all the extra hangers I have, but you have to mind the counter for me.” Uri was not joking! He grabbed me by the shoulders and installed me behind his counter and he disappeared into the back of the store. I was incredibly thankful that the few potential customers who did come in all spoke English. He returned with about two dozen hangers and promised me that he would get more for the JCCC, but then I asked him if he might have some fellow shopkeepers along the street who would sell me excess hangers. Immediately, he wrote out a list of stores in the vicinity with the name of an owner or a manager and he wrote a personal note in Hebrew for me to show them. 

Uri’s list took me up and down Ben Yehuda Street and all its alleyways and then to Jaffa Street and back to Agrippas Street which leads back to the Shuk. By the time I made it to every store Uri directed me to, I had about 10 dozen hangers with clips in hand and promises for more in the future. Very few charged me a shekel for the hangers.

This story is not about a scavenger hunt — this became a treasure hunt in which I discovered how the Israelis have galvanized in an effort to help each other in any way they can during this time of strife. I just wonder if this could have happened in Sarasota or anywhere back home!

January 3, 2024

Jerusalem, Israel

Most of you, especially my Jewish friends, are well acquainted with the David versus Goliath stories which permeate Jewish culture. Starting with the Exodus from Egypt and the biblical story of David the shepherd boy, tangling with his giant Philistine opponent, spanning to the Middle Ages when Jews were expelled from Spain, to the modern era of Jews surviving pogroms, to the last century with the Holocaust, to the unlikely formation of Israel, and to the several wars that followed where the new State prevailed against its neighboring Arab nations, Jewish people have been underdogs who, time and again, have emerged victorious.

Though by now most of you have read or even watched the stories of the massacres at Kibbutz Nir Oz and Kibbutz Be’Eri, you may not know the real world David and Goliath tale of Kibbutz Alumim. Thanks to Linda Rosenbluth, I learned the Alumim story firsthand today when I met the Assistant Mayor of the Kibbutz, a radiant young woman and mother of five named Julia, who bravely retold her tale without hesitation, not even a flinch. Linda’s long time friend, Smadar Ronen, is the director of the six Jewish Community Centers in Netanya and when almost 10,000 evacuees from the Israeli border communities of Gaza were relocated on October 8 to her region, Smadar found herself in a leadership role to help accommodate these refugees. Over the last 3 months, Smadar has forged a relationship of deep trust with the dislocated people and she provided me the absolute privilege of meeting with Julia so I could hear what happened without varnish or edit from the media. Writing this Journal entry is hard.

With great courage, Julia recounted that when the sirens went off on Shabbat morning in Alumim, which is an agricultural Kibbutz of about 120 families, she hurried her five children ranging from age 3 to 18 into the safe-room of their home as she watched her husband join a security force of only a dozen men who would patrol their grounds. Security camera feeds allowed Julia to see that her Kibbutz had been infiltrated by as many as 30 highly trained Hamas terrorists riding motorbikes, whose only goal was to seek out and murder residents. Julia told me in a stern and sober voice that the Hamas soldiers made a beeline to the area which housed a group of Thai and Nepalese workers. With great brutality, Hamas murdered 18 of the Thai nationals and one Nepalese worker and took six as hostages. By some miracle, the Alumim security detail and two brothers from Beersheba, former soldiers, who somehow came to their aid, not only held off most of the Hamas soldiers, but also killed many of them. According to Julia, as she watched the video feed and tried to keep her kids calm, one child was vomiting while another was trembling from the need to urinate, and finally did so into a cardboard box. The men of Kibbutz Alumim held the line for six hours until the IDF arrived. Though some of the men of Alumim were wounded, the only people who lost their lives were the Beersheba brothers. Almost 30 hours later, without stopping to eat or even to wash, the 450 or so members of the Kibbutz, shell-shocked and exhausted, relocated to a hotel in Netanya where my new friend Smadar awaited them with her own form of army, ready and waiting with meals.

Here is the irony: Julia’s kibbutz sits two miles from the Gaza border and its members only wanted to live in peace with the Palestinians. They envisioned that a two state solution was not only possible, but also the best way to live in harmony. Now, she does not just feel betrayed, but she used an American expression, “We were stabbed in the front.” Members of her community want to return home, but they need an assurance of safety. As I heard Julia’s story, the hairs on my arm stood at attention and I got the terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that Julia will never feel safe again. Somehow I envision her sleeping with one eye open the rest of her life. I could not help but think that American Jews who are way too comfortable ought to become more vigilant. And when you ask these refugees how to best help, they are selfless and give you two simple answers: Support Israel in the Court of World Opinion and Buy Bonds. Tonight, I went to the Wall and said a prayer for Julia and her family.

January 4, 2024

Jerusalem, Israel

Last Installment!

Please allow me to put some cards out on the proverbial table — Israel was having an annus horribilis long before Hamas attacked the country ninety days ago. After several years of snap elections where coalitions could not be formed to run the Israeli government, the country finally elected Benjamin Netanyahu with a clear majority just a year ago. After a political period that best could be described as a bouncing seesaw, Israelis hoped that Netanyahu’s government would bring stability to a teetering country. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Many of you follow the political sphere in Israel, so you know that as soon as Netanyahu solidified his government, his Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, began a move that would reshape how power and law is controlled in Israel. The Netanyahu-Levin proposal planned to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court while concentrating power in the hands of the executive. With immediacy, Israelis began a series of protests, in which most citizens displayed restraint but some, at least according to my new friends, seemed like slow burning fires. They noted that with just a little more kindling, it felt like they could erupt into major blazes. Last July, despite reservists and some IDF members saying they would refuse to perform their military service if the judicial reforms went through, the Knesset passed sweeping legislation which many considered would lead to the development of an authoritarian regime.

In truth, many Israelis that I have met across socio-economic lines, age groups, religious beliefs, and even nationalities have told me that before October 7th, Israel was well on its way to an implosion that could best be described as a nuclear submarine succumbing to the intense pressure of the deep. No one ever wants to say that war is a good thing, but what has happened since the despicable Hamas attacks, is that Israel has galvanized. Despite the political divisions that may have developed during the proposals to revise the power of the Supreme Court over the last year, there has been a re-unification across the board since the attacks. In fact, just two days ago, Israel’s High Court of Justice struck down the proposed judicial overhaul package. All of this is too complicated to explicate in a one page journal, but all of you have to remember that since Israel does not have a constitution, centering the power to make law with the executive branch was simply polarizing for the country. According to the Times of Israel, the most significant outcome of the court’s decision is that there is now “fully actualized legal precedent” that the courts have the right “to annul Basic Laws if they under-mine the key characteristics of the State of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic country.”

My new friends seem thrilled by the decision of the High Court. Many legal scholars, as well as the average citizen, felt the judicial overhaul proposed by Netanyahu’s government would mortally damage Israel’s democracy. What had been proposed would have given the executive, in this case Netanyahu and his coalition, the ability to control almost all judicial appointments and the Knesset would have lost its right of judicial review. Some have told me that referring to this as “authoritarian” does not go far enough — some envisioned the overhaul could have led to dictatorship. To put it bluntly, average citizens were scared that they were losing the democracy they worked so hard to build, protect, and defend since the birth of the nation just 75 years ago. As I get ready to leave Israel, it is wonderful to report that many people with whom I have discussed the current political climate are resting easier.

On a completely different topic, I received quite the surprise this evening. I had told my dinner companion, Bella, that the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center was hosting a concert this evening and that it would be my last night in Jerusalem. Never in a million years did I think that she would attend, but just as the everyone got seated, who walked in but Bella! And, now I know her full name, Bella Brom. Seeing her also gave me the opportunity to give some shekels in her name and in her presence to the JCCC. What a great way to bring my trip to Jerusalem to a conclusion. It has been all about meeting incredible people and I will remember them!

Jana Paley has become a leading figure in business as the CEO of Ark Properties, building “affordable work-force multi-family housing,” and Ark Ventures, becoming a “foundational investor” in such companies as PM Pediatrics, a chain for pediatric urgent care. She is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, but even before that she was a student of Prof. Arkes at Amherst College.

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