Tuesday, October 9, 2012


by Sarah Walton

There are times when I am convinced that the ONLY way a human being can truly learn is  by experience. We don’t know what’s real and true, nor what it feels like, until we actually experience it.

It didn’t matter how many “how to” books I read, there were inevitably myriad things I only learned about pregnancy and parenting by experiencing it. I can’t count the number of times I would look up and say to myself, “I wonder why they never told me this.”

The same thing applies to aging: virtually every day I think to myself, “How come they never tell you it happens like this?”

Take deafness for instance: it’s not really that one can’t hear; it’s more that the ambient noise (music, talking) gets louder and louder, drowning out human voices. But that’s not how it’s described. So I kept waiting for the sound of the crickets and the wind to disappear, when it was the voices of my husband, children and grandchildren that began to disappear!

Television has taken us all a step further removed from experience, because it gives us the “semblance” of reality or experience. We can watch the terrible devastation of a tornado, or see the ravages and violence of war -- all without actually feeling the pain, agony and terror.

Just a few days ago, I was watching one of the international television news channels, called France 24, when a headline ran across the bottom of the screen: a non-governmental organization (NGO) reported that “305 people were killed in Syria on Wednesday, and two thirds of them were allegedly civilians.”

It was so simple for those words to run across the bottom of the screen; they could even be missed if the observer was paying attention to the report on the screen instead of the “news crawl” at the bottom.

But it was not so simple for me to see those words. 

Why? Because I had listened for two days to those 305 people being massacred. 

My son and I drove to within a couple of kilometers of the border with Syria and watched the puffs of white and gray smoke rise from the outskirts of nearby New Quneitra. One shell even went awry and landed in one of El-Rom’s vineyards; that’s how close the warfare was.

I sat in the temporary Synagogue on El-Rom kibbutz on Wednesday and felt the rafters shake once or twice from cannon fire and artillery shells. I listened to the awful sounds of large guns and machine guns while prayers were said on that holiest of Jewish holy days, Yom Kippur.

But the worse of it was the nightmares. The fighting had actually begun two days earlier, and on Monday and Tuesday nights, I was plagued by horrific images as the burst of machine gun fire kept pounding away. It was windless both nights, so the rat-a-tat-tat of war sounded as if it were virtually outside my bedroom window.

Each time I heard the gunfire, images of people fleeing and children falling in ruined streets would fill my mind. The only way I could keep the images from forming was to stay awake. By Wednesday I was totally exhausted. 

The irony was that I had been listening to periodic heavy artillery and cannon fire for weeks, as tank units of the IDF conducted maneuvers up on the Golan Heights. I knew then, however, that it was not REAL; it was just pretend.

But the terrible noises of last week were not maneuvers; it was not young men and women in camouflage out playing war games. It was REAL war; REAL death.

It didn’t matter that it was potential enemies who were dying (Syria has never stopped declaring that it wanted the destruction of Israel), nor did it matter that they were Muslims and we next door were Jews. 

It was terrible, it was wrong and it was too, too real. 

I’m waiting for the terrible images to drain away, but it will take a long time.

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