Abby’s Dream, My Catastrophe

The article below is a quick response to an piece headlined, “Our dream will bring us to another land” by an American citizen named Abigail Leichman. In her article, Abby, a staff writer for the Bergen Record who often writes about food, etiquette and home decorating interests, is making her goodbyes as she prepares to return to her “biblical homeland”, Israel.

She also writes for Jewish papers about Israel and other Jewish matters, including a piece on the recent ‘real estate fair” held in Teaneck to sell American Jews lands to build more settlements in Israel. Could it be that Abby was influenced by this event? The organizer’s flyer proclaimed: “Come learn how you, a group of friends, or even a community can own a home and strengthen the Zionist dream.”

My response to this article was very spontaneous because Abby’s words exposed old wounds and shattered dreams. This was a very painful letter to write but it needed to be said. More than anything else, I hope Abby will read my words. I urge you to first read the article then read my short response which I sent to the Bergen Record. Much more can and should be said but to render my response publishable, I had to keep it short. AA

Dear Editor:

Re: Our dream will bring us to another land

I wish I could be a garment in Abby Leichman’s luggage as she prepares to go ‘home’ to Israel. Even though I was born in Palestine and was nurtured by its dry sun and arid soil, I am unable to join Abby in her journey simply because I am not Jewish. Abby, who admits to not being “fluent in the local language or culture,” and was probably born in New Jersey, will be welcomed with open arms by other foreign settlers. While Abby will automatically receive Israeli citizenship, I will be denied that privilege and, if not thrown back onto the next departing plane, I may be issued a temporary tourist visa to my homeland. This encapsulates but never fully conveys the essence of the Palestinian people’s plight.

Abby’s heartwarming story may solicit compassion and ‘good wishes’ from some readers. Yet it is the tragic destiny of the other unmentioned side, the Palestinian Arabs who understandably will not throw the red carpet for Abby. I wish Abby had told her readers that her going home to Israel will mean Palestinians will have lost more of their lands and groves. This is the area occupied by Israel since 1967. As part of a final peaceful resolution between the Palestinians and the Jews, this parcel of historic Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, was supposed to become the future Palestine state which our President has envisioned since 2002.

I have no issue with Abby living in Tel Aviv or Beersheba. In fact, most Palestinians have accepted the two- state solution by ceding 78% of historic Palestine to Israel and asking for the remainder to be their future Palestine state. I do, however, have a major issue with her joining the over 400,000 other settlers who, because of ideological or monetary incentives, choose to live in stolen lands belonging to the Palestinians. These lands, through government-authorized confiscations and illegal and counterfeit purchases will be where Abby will build her home.

Abby did not share with us this little secret. Abby’s new home will mean that Palestinians will be squeezed into even more suffocating enclaves, surrounded by barbed wire, massive walls, and hundreds of checkpoints. Abby may never experience being stopped by an Israeli solder at these checkpoints, deep into the occupied West Bank, because in fact these structures primarily separate Palestinians from other Palestinians, separate Palestinians from their fields, from their places of worship and their schools

Dear Abby, you tell us that you are returning to your ancestral home to build a nation. But what about my ancestral home in Palestine, and what about the thriving nation you will have destroyed? What about my parents’ little village of Allar, wiped off the face of the earth in 1948, rendering its 450 inhabitants refugees for over five decades? My parents still hold the key to their now non-existent house, a homestead that remains vividly alive in their dreams and prayers.

It pains me, Abby that you make no mention of the Palestinian people on whose corpses you will be stomping, and the hundreds of villages destroyed and turned into Jewish-only towns and cities. These people deserve a home too, Abby – don’t they? What gives you more right to my home? Has God turned into a real estate broker? Will you ask yourself about the fate of he original owners of the land? Should they forget about their land, homes, and dreams so that you may have guilt-free peace of mind and a conscience devoid of doubts? Will you ask yourself how the Palestinians will feed their children since Israeli expansion uprooted thousands of their centuries-old olive trees? How will they learn since you have destroyed their schools? How will they treat their sick since you have demolished their hospitals?

Abby, the Palestinians will not share your worry about who will cut their hair or whether milk will be sold in bottles or plastics bags. Their worries are more basic than that: they worry about their next meal; they worry if they will survive another 1000lb. bomb dropped on their home. They worry about such things as being able to pass a checkpoint to make it in time to deliver a baby or receive a blood transfusion or to farm their fields. I am sure all these matters were left out from your glossy sales brochure as they somehow metaphysically never existed and if they do, they should not matter to you.

Please, Abby, let the world know that your new home will be in an exclusive settlement built only for the Jews, a place where Americans of different faiths may not live. Please tell the world that the roads you will travel to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv were built for Jews only and no Arab cars are permitted on them. You will know an Arab-owned car because your government issues color- coded licenses plates and Arabs will have their ‘unique’ colors. Remember the fifties and early sixties in America, when you saw “Whites Only” signs?. We have long moved on from such morally repugnant and discriminatory polices. In Israel, discrimination against Arabs is legal because your Supreme Court said so recently and because your Prime Minister once described our people as “crushable grasshoppers”.

Please tell the world that the water with which you will quench your thirst and cleanse your body will be stolen from Arab-owned lands from which over 90% of the water is diverted to Israel. Arabs, you should know, aren’t even allowed to dig for water on their own property. Please tell the world about the wild pigs your government lets loose into our fields to destroy their crops and to insult their religious sentiments. Please tell the world about the more than 13,000 Arab homes that since 1967 your Israeli government destroyed – often at a moment’s notice.

Abby, please tell the world how and why your Israeli soldiers, armed with American-made weapons, shot dead my unarmed eleven-year brother with an M-16 rifle’s bullet which shattered his young head. How can you console and comfort my parents who were never allowed to see their fallen son or even to bury his remains? Will you endeavor to find the killers and bring them to justice? Will you help my parents bring their great loss to a closure?

Abby, before you pack up your belongings, I pray you will unpack your heart and let in your conscience. Should you decide to stay here in America, I do hope our path will cross. I suspect that our meeting will be most revealing because you will finally come face to face with the other side of your dream – my catastrophe.

Abby, please tell the world the missing chapter of your saga: Palestinians will cease to dream of their own home as you begin to celebrate your homecoming. Please tell the world – you may never have inner peace until you do.

Aref Assaf, PhD, Denville, NJ

Ed Note:
Yes, her venture is fraught with danger, fears of the unknown and unanswered doubts and questions; “Where can we find Skippy?” And “Who will cut my hair.” Abby, her family and her friends are as much the hapless and helpless victims of the same insane, radical, relentless and satanic forces which have victimized Aref, his family and their friends. I suppose I should wish Abby and her family a bon voyage, and best wishes for a happy future in her “new” home in “Israel,” but… considering the ramifications, I simply cannot.

Abbie’s Dream2
“Our dream will bring us to another land”
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bergen Record 

ON AUG. 6, my husband and daughter and I will board an El Al jet for a one-way trip to Israel. We will join our older son, who’s been there for five years.

It’s not that I was eager to leave The Record. Over the past 13 years, this has become my home away from home, providing me with a rewarding career and the acquaintance of wonderful readers and talented co-workers.What is pulling me away from my dream job is simply a dream with more pull — a dream built upon many personal and ideological layers.

I understand the viewpoint of those who doubt our sanity for leaving a serene existence in North Jersey for a sliver of land in the volatile Middle East. But I prefer the viewpoint voiced by my Aunt Sarah, who in 1966 left a serene existence in Maryland for that same sliver of land: “Israel is not yet what it could or should be. Rather than staying away because it’s not perfect, you could come live here and help make it better.”

I keep that inspirational statement in mind as we navigate the logistics of a inter-continental move. Because before we try our hand at nation-building in our ancestral home, we’ve got to get ourselves and our stuff over there.

Many of the items on our check-list are the same as when we moved from New York to New Jersey 20 years ago: Alert the phone and electric/gas companies. Arrange for new drivers’ licenses. Put in a mail-forwarding order. Decide what to bring, give away, sell or discard. Say goodbye to the neighbors. This time, we’ve had to sell a house and two cars, and find new “parents” for our cat.

But there’s more at stake now than mere logistics. We have relatives and friends in Israel, yet we’re leaving some of our closest relatives and friends 6,000 miles behind. We’re quitting jobs we love and seeking employment in a country where we aren’t fluent in the local language or culture.

We are trading dollars for shekels, miles for kilometers, 110 for 220 volts. We are trading snow shovels for solar panels, Stop & Shop for a neighborhood grocery run by a guy named Mickey.

Here, we live within spitting distance of the No. 167 NJ Transit bus to New York. There, we will live within spitting distance of the No. 174 Egged bus to Jerusalem.

We are swapping a grassy back yard for a patch of red-hued stones overlooking the Judean Desert — the same landscape Moses saw from Mount Nebo more than 3,300 years ago, minus the paved roads and satellite dishes.

Other differences

Instead of national barbecues on July 4, there will be national barbecues on Iyar 5 sometime in May. “Weekend” will mean Friday and Saturday, not Saturday and Sunday. Milk will come in plastic bags; lox and bagels will be replaced by tahini-drizzled diced cucumbers, olives and tomatoes with warm pita.

I don’t know who will cut my hair or who will give me my annual physical. I don’t know if I’ll like the family next door (they’re moving from Rockland County) or the folks upstairs (they’re coming from South Africa). I don’t know if I’ll ever stop feeling like a fish out of water.

I do know this: We already have invitations for meals well into September. Some are from generous strangers who “met” us through Internet chat groups for English-speaking immigrants.

These chat groups are invaluable sources of information. Which cargo shippers do the job best? Should we bring transformers or simply buy new appliances? For which national health-insurance plan should we register? Where can we buy Skippy and Cheerios if we get the urge?


Along with these practical nuggets come words of encouragement. Rotter, who moved to Israel last summer from Passaic, writes: “We are connected to this place and to the people here in a way that is almost tangible. Everyday activities carry a new weight — like everything we do really counts now, and everything we did in life up to now was preparation.

She’s not pretending it will be easy. She’s just promising it will be meaningful.

Abby Leichman is a Record staff writer. Contact her at [EMAIL PROTECTED] Send comments about this column to The Record at [EMAIL PROTECTED]