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Embrace Your Role

Esther MarcusFilmed at UJIA Sippur 2014

We all make a difference and look at how we want to make our mark on the world.  I live in Israel and can see Gaza from my window – my inspirational talk touches on the events of the summer of 2014 and how I and others made a difference during that time and how we continue to do so.

Esther Marcus (nee Blau) came on Aliya from London in 1984 aged 19. She studied social and community work at Hebrew University and then served in the IDF as a mental health officer for two and a half years. She married Stevie and moved to kibbutz Alumim in the south of Israel where their four children were born; Eynav, Amit, Eden and Tamir. She worked with children and adults in communities in the Shaar Hanegev regional council for 12 years helping them adapt to social changes, personal tragedies and the reality of kassam rocket attacks. After completing her masters in Art Therapy in Ben Gurion University, she worked with female victims of sexual abuse in Maslan, rape crisis center in Be’er Sheva. For the last few years she has been working in a boarding school for female teenagers in Kibbutz Saad, both in individual and group therapy. Esther also runs drama groups and writes and directs school plays. In 2009 she wrote the book ‘Colour Red’, a children’s book telling the story of rocket attacks which helps children ‘understand’ the situation, identify their strengths and express their emotions. During the operation “Protective Edge”, Esther wrote a blog for the Times of Israel, helping non inhabitants of the south of Israel gain an inside perspective into the way of life on the border with Gaza.

“It was that time of year again, when the colours of the rainbow got together for their annual convention. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo-Violet, everyone was there and they were really happy to see one another. It was very exciting, soon all the colours would decide who would be chosen “colour of the year” – an honour awarded to the most important colour.”

That’s how my book begins, Tzeva Adom, The Colour Red. A children’s book and if I wasn’t living in Israel the chances are it would just be a lovely story about colours.  I live in Kibbutz Alumim with my family, with our community just 3 kilometres from Gaza. From my back door you can see Gaza and if I had good binoculars as well as seeing the buildings I would probably be able to see the people as well. And as you know for 14 years we have been living through rocket attacks and so somehow we have had to learn how to cope with those rocket attacks.

Also as Michael said, I am a social worker and unlike Michael, this Michael, I have a very strong passion for drama and I run drama groups for children on the kibbutz. And 6 years ago I was running such a session for children on the kibbutz in a building that had absolutely no protection from the qassam rockets. There we were in a building and suddenly the alarm was sounded. And this is what it sounds like….. “tzeva adom tzeva adom“. The words “tzeva adom”, “colour red” in the rest of Israel just out of interest the alarm is a long siren but it takes a long time for the siren to get louder and louder. We don’t have any time because we live so close the border we have a mere 15 seconds to run to safety. We also don’t “enjoy” the defense mechanism, the Iron Dome, because there just isn’t enough time. So that’s what we have 15 seconds. There I was in the middle of this drama session with young children, the alarm was sounded, there was nothing we could do except hug together wait quietly until we heard the blast, the explosion, once we heard the explosion I knew. I had to get the children home as quickly as possible. I also made them jump, shout to release all the tension because everything we do has to try and prevent the post trauma.

We left the building, we started walking very very quickly on the path and on the way home again “tzeva adom, tzeva adom” and there we were out there in the middle of the kibbutz, the children frantically just started running obviously to get to a safe place as quickly as possible and a little girl called Sapir, aged 7, she’d started running to her house and she had recently moved to a new house on the other side of the kibbutz and none of the other children live near her. My son, Tamir, who was aged 8, he straight away spotted that and joined her, started running off with her, turned around and said to me, “Mummy, Mummy I’m running I have to be with Sapir, there’s nobody to take care of her, I have to take care of her, I have to look after her. There’s nobody around to look after her”, and then suddenly he stopped and said “but Mummy when I come back from taking Sapir home, I’ll be by myself on the path, who’s going to take care of me?” So, in that instant my 8 year old son has already defined and embraced his role in life to take care of Sapir, to take care of smaller children and in that instant I asked myself as well, “Esther, you’re a mother, what’s your role? How do you protect him? How do you? How do we adults take care of our children living in this ridiculous situation of rocket attacks?” And I knew I had to do something. Other therapists and social workers had told me how children had developed regressive behavior as a result of the attacks and kindergarten teachers had informed me that children had stopped wearing the colour red, and had stopped using the colour red in their paintings and pictures. They didn’t want to hear, they didn’t want to see or have anything to do with the colour red. I knew I had to do something and that is how my book came about. And in my story the colours come together and each colour stands up and tells what he has done during the year. Blue has painted the sky and green has painted the vegetation and all the beautiful flowers, the atmosphere is wonderful and everybody is cheerful and that it comes to the turn of colour red and we find that colour red has crept into the corner and is crying and colour red doesn’t want to be seen or heard and the other colours approach colour red and say, ‘what’s the matter? what’s the problem?’ and colour red explains, ‘nobody wants to hear colour red, nobody wants to be a part of colour red, when they hear colour red, children and adults, they’re scared they’re frightened, children scream, animals even run away and hide, nobody wants to hear or see colour red’. And then the other colours understand what is happening and they explain to colour red, “children aren’t scared of you, they are scared of the rockets” and so they should be, we are scared of the rockets, they cause damage they hurt people, we have to be scared of them but you colour red, you’re there to protect the children because when they hear that sound, tzeva adom, colour red, they know they have 15 seconds to run to safety, in the same way that when we go to the beach and the red flag is flying we know not to go into the sea because it is dangerous, you protect the children, you’re their friend. And colour red stands up and embraces his role and the rest of the colours decide that he should get the award for all that he is doing. “Colour red, colour red you are great! Looking after the children so it won’t be too late! Color Red, color Red we love you. Looking after the children in all that you do!”

Colour red had embraced his role in the same way that Tamir, at the grand old age of 8 embraced his role. I embraced my role to find some way to help children deal with everything, our kibbutz embraces our role, to remain where we are carry on functioning, carry on growing and not be put off by the terrorists who want to try and make us budge and indeed the whole of embraces its role by providing a homeland for all of us. And you here in the diaspora, you have your role and we felt that this year in such a huge way because as you know this summer was the worst it has ever been. I find it difficult to describe it and even difficult to go back and remember it. As you know it began with the kidnapping and the murder of three boys and our soldiers were out looking for the boys and the rockets started coming in. As I say it’s difficult to describe, to understand what that means. Constantly tzeva adom, ten minutes later tzeva adaom, ten minutes after tzeva adom, one after the other, so we were barely able to leave our homes. Our kibbutz had to make a decision do we stay where we are or do we evacuate which other kibbutzim had done so. But we decided to stay where we were. We didn’t judge other kibbutzim, they had suffered casualties, they were possibly that much closer to the border, that much more exposed, but we decided to stay where we were. The message was sent out that it’s legitimate if anybody wants to leave the kibbutz that that’s ok nobody would judge anybody, that was ok.  But we had to do everything to try and maintain our way of life. And within hours the army had arrived and we became a military zone, in our fields, the tanks, jeeps, the paratroopers arrived, the Golani regiment they were all with us, living with us and then we had a new role to embrace. These soldiers had come to take care of us; we were going to take care of them. I say soldiers but we are talking about children aged 18, 19. My own daughter was serving in the army at the time in the tanks regiment; her friends were going into the army. My friends children maybe some of your children or your friends children were going into Gaza to fight for our safety, for our protection so we knew we had to do everything possible to make sure that these soldiers had what they needed just before going in and most certainly when they had come out, which could have been after a couple of weeks. That they’d have hot showers, ice cold water, food and most importantly an ability to phone home because when they go into Gaza they had to give up their mobile phones. So the fact that they could immediately phone home and reassure their own families of where they were. And while we were taking care of them, we made sure that we as a kibbutz we stayed strong; people were still able to go out to work. We couldn’t use our shul because we had these beautiful large glass windows and it’s obviously not a safe building. We moved to a small building, but it was protected, we could carry on davening, we could carry on learning and having shiurim and we took care of the children the whole time making sure that they were occupied. And then incredible things happened, Jews both in Israel and the rest of the world were sending support, love, affection. We received invitations to go out for day trips, it’s amazing that when on your normal day to day life, when you’re hearing tzeva adom and rockets that to go out to a water park is suddenly a piece of haven, we could relax there and not at home. At home our senses were on full alert the whole time, listening out the whole time for the alarms, checking with our eyes to see where we have to go. Listening again to hear the bomb blast, we could tell whether it had fallen in a field nearby or possibly the kibbutz next door. And then, coming out, finding out what had happened, had there been any damage. So as I say, the fact that organizations came together, has us go out for the day, that was fantastic for us to be able to breathe. People showed up giving supplies to the soldiers, underwear and deodorant. People came and made barbeques, a community in Beit Shemesh in Israel; they arranged to give us flowers for Shabbat, just anything that would make us smile, that would be able to help keep us going. It was absolutely fantastic, it didn’t matter if you were religious not religious, what organization you belong to, if you were right wing, left wing whatever you followed. Everybody came together and formed this incredible link which is for us the Jewish people, everybody embraced their role supporting and helping as we went along. What was also very difficult for me on a personal level was to watch the foreign news because all of a sudden in the foreign news I had become the baddy. I was feeling a victim but I had become the baddy because I was hurting others, which is something I would never want to do, I would never want any of this to happen. But what encouraged me so much and helped me was seeing the rallies and seeing the demonstrations following on Facebook all the groups speaking out and people going and saying, you know we have to be there we have to speak for Israel we have to do our thing. As difficult as it was and it was incredibly difficult that is what helped keep us going and just when we thought we had reached our absolute levels of how we could deal with fear and with living in such anxiety, a new ,a new fear crept in and that was the fear of the tunnels. One night we were at home, most evenings we were at home and we received a message on our telephones, telling us to stay inside under no circumstances to go outside, we had to lock our doors. Which may sound completely normal here in London and obviously when you’re in your house you lock your door, where we are on kibbutz we don’t have to lock our doors inside, we had to stay inside, turn the lights down low because there was a fear that terrorists had come through a tunnel and could potentially be inside our kibbutz. Just the idea was impossible to fathom, it was just overwhelming. Once again I stepped outside of my comfort zone, I am not somebody who generally shares my emotions with other people certainly not on Facebook but this time I felt it was really really important to get that message outside to people of what we were going through and once again I received a huge amount of support and encouragement. I had stepped outside of my comfort zone and was comfortable doing so. To this day we don’t know as a community if we did make the right decisions staying where we were exposing our children to the dangers, we have to just hope that we did the right thing. As I mentioned during the summer it was extremely extremely difficult and what really helped us was stepping back and seeing that link and embracing those roles that we had to take. With the children that I worked with, I converted my book into a play and the children acting in the play each took on a role blue, green, yellow and we talked about understanding what it is like to have a role, what it means, what it means to live where we live. They all embraced their roles and at the end of the story they all come together to form a rainbow and for me today that’s the metaphor of us, of us the Jewish people. I ask you, I encourage you to embrace your role. It might mean stepping out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be something heroic, you don’t have to be faced with danger but ask what is your role? Embrace your role and then we can come together like the rainbow which for me has now become a metaphor in the real hope that we will one day have peace.

Thank you.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License