Avital Norman Nathman and her son on a recent trip to Israel
I am my father’s daughter. That means I am incredibly passionate, equally stubborn and some might even say hot-headed. You can just imagine how my teen years went as I came into my own — lots of slammed doors, shouted ultimatums, and threats from both of us.
For the most part though, we see eye to eye on many issues now. Just the other day my father forwarded me a breaking news email from the New York Times regarding the Supreme Court’s Buffer Zone decision. My father’s cool like that — he sends me emails about abortion and supports me in my reproductive health work. What transpired was a calm and interesting back and forth about freedom of religion, speech and where one person’s rights ends and another’s begins. Somehow we can discuss certain hot button issues without devolving into shouting matches and tears.
But not all issues.
Yesterday evening, during our daily Skype call that connects us from a state away (I’m in Connecticut and he’s in Massachusetts), my father decided to zero in on me after he got his fill of my son’s day at farm camp.
“Why did you like that post on Facebook?”
I tried to come up with what it could be, but drew a blank. I like many posts on Facebook daily. Like it’s my job (or rather where I go to procrastinate from my job). I asked him to clarify.
“That article, about what’s happening in Israel. You said you liked it. I saw that.”
This felt less like an innocent question and more like an accusation. I racked my brain, trying to figure out what he was talking about. He mentioned a name of a friend, so I grabbed my smart phone to quickly scroll through her Facebook feed until I saw what he was talking about. I noticed I did “like” a post where my friend mentions being proud of her father for something he had written, but to be honest, I hadn’t read the link attached to it. I relayed this to my father.
“You shouldn’t like something you have no idea about.”
I felt 15 again, and getting reprimanded for something I did. Why does he care what I’ve “liked?” Thankfully my son popped up and distracted his saba, allowing me a second to skim the article. This op-ed discussed Israel’s shortcomings, placing blame on the country for its role in this current round of amped up violence.
While my father and I can have healthy, calm discussions on abortion, freedom of speech and SCOTUS rulings, there are some topics that I’ve learned to avoid, no matter how much I’d love to discuss them with him. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of them.
My father is Israeli. He moved to the states after marrying my mother back in the late ‘70s. While I love Israel with all my heart — the land, the people, the history — he has a connection to the country that I can never fully replicate. It was his refuge when he moved there as a young boy with his family. And he defended it beyond a sense of duty as a soldier in the Israeli Army when he fought in the Six Day War. He has a love of country and a sense of nationalism that I can only try to understand.
I don’t feel the same way about the United States. I love living here. I know I am beyond privileged to live where and how I do, but I wouldn’t put my life on the line for this country like my father has for Israel. I acknowledge that his lived experiences greatly color his view. It is with that understanding that I recognize his outrage at the op-ed I “liked” that placed some fault for the current situation at Israel’s feet. My father grew up in a different time and different place. His teen years were spent defending his country from all those around him. I spent mine reading about the history and all aspects of war, wondering how concepts like apartheid factored into this country I loved so dear. Not growing up there, it was easier to question things — to ask why Palestinians were so angry and upset that they would lash out in inexcusable, horrific ways.
I want to talk to him about how conflicted I feel about all of this. My heart literally aches for my family and friends living in fear right now. I hate that my aunt and uncle had to rush to their bomb shelter because Rishon L’Tziyon was under fire. I fear for my cousin who lives and works in Jerusalem. I tear up thinking of my friends and family with young children and how they explain it all to them as they rush to safety at the sound of sirens. I think about an old teacher of mine, a true mentor, who was killed in a terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem. I understand the pain and the fear.
At the same time, I want to talk about the innocent Palestinian lives lost or shattered because of all of the violence. We talk about peace, but it needs to be peace for all, not just some. I don’t support Hamas or the tactics they use, but I believe that there are Palestinians who also want peace and their lives are no less worthy of being protected from violence.
But my father and I can’t have any of these conversations because this is the one topic on which we don’t see eye to eye. I still recall a family dinner — one that included some distant cousins — where I ended up pretending there was something in my eye so as not to let on that I was tearing up over our disagreement. There was no thoughtful discussion this time, just powerful, loud shouts of “NO!” that shut me down in my tracks, causing me to silently fume at not being heard. It taught me to avoid this topic at all costs. That’s difficult when half your family calls Israel home.
He can’t see my point of view — citing my inexperience, my non-Israeli status — and I can’t understand why he won’t broaden his understanding of it all. But instead of a nuanced discussion, we fight — shouty, draining, fruitless fights — that bring me right back to being a teen. No longer am I 34, able to stand up for myself and my opinions while discussing things in a rational manner.
So, for now — for my own mental health as well as our father-daughter relationship — I have to avoid talking about what is happening in Israel with him, despite my entire being screaming to discuss it. Instead of being able to process together, I avoid, step around, and distract from talking about these things for fear of what may transpire. And now that I realize the close eye he keeps on my Facebook comings and goings, I’m even more wary.
The other day I posted a picture to my page of a simple green circle with “peace” written in it in Hebrew, Arabic and English. It wasn’t until my father finally “liked” it, hours later, that I realized I had been holding in my breath… waiting to see his response.