War, personally

I usually don’t share  personal observations and reactions.

So many of my friends have asked, however, that I feel I must describe  the latest developments here in Israel.

After years of  Hamas bombing  our southern towns, villages, and kibbutzim, to our collective relief,  we  responded mightedly by air.

This was not enough.

Since we left Gaza  in 2005, instead of building hospitals, factories, and other things to improve the life of their people,  Hamas has been building warren-like underground tunnels.  At first, these facilitated passage of  foods, medicines, goods.  In time, however, they were transformed into fortified war-tunnels– conduits for smuggling arms/missiles  in — and conduits  for clandestinely  entering Israel for attacks and kidnapping.

After a massive national draft,  and  hundreds of rockets reaching as far as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa (80% of the country– think from the East Coast to Colorado)– as well as  an agreement for  a cease fire WHICH THE HAMAS BROKE–our ground forces entered Gaza.  Because the area is so small– and so densely populated– we expect  many battle casualties.  But no country would agree  to live under rocket fire.

Our soldiers  are our children, our brothers, our uncles, our cousins. our husbands.  Gilad, a 39 year old father of 5  who serves in the Engineering Corps, is taking  apart bombs and  booby traps.  Gabi, a 19 year old  far from his home in  London,  is a battle medic  also under fire…. just two examples of thousands  Religious or not, they were sent with a prayer: you are fighting for your home, your family, your fight is holy. God bless, amen selah.

And on the home front?   We  endure bombs, one-after-another  (depending on where we live) many times a day.  It  becomes routine.  You  cook,   you shop, you drive, you linger in a mall or  in an outdoor café– but your ears are tuned …. just in case.    There’s no mistaking a siren.  It cuts your soul,  throbs like a heartbeat, danger! danger!

What do you do? You panic. You turn off the gas, you grab your keys,  you pull your car over to the side of the road, you  run to a shelter. If you have one.  If you have enough timeOr you lay down, cover your head, and pray.

You have

15 seconds if you live along the Gazan border

30 seconds if you live a bit   farther, then 45, 60, 90, and  3 minutes….. not enough time to think, barely enough time to react.

And us?

We share a shelter with 2 other families.  We rarely go there, instead preferring to lie on the floor at home, hands over our heads.

N, in Jerusalem, has no shelter.  She sits in the bathroom, one without tiled walls or mirrors– which would injure  her  from explosion or implosion.

E, who  works in Tel Aviv where rockets often fall,  has access to a  bomb-proof area. But he gets to work by electric bike, 20 minutes each way.  Outside.    When need be, he ducks into  the nearest building,  crouches by the nearest concrete wall.

He, his pregnant wife,  and their  1 year old, live in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv.  They either sleep at his in-laws, who have a bomb shelter at home ( required in all recently built houses)–  or  they  go outside, downstairs, and cower under a stairwell.  While holding the baby—-awake or asleep.

The baby spends 9 hours a day at day care, where there is no shelter at all.  The kids just lie down.




But  how can you make a baby–just beginning to walk–stay still?

Want to learn more?

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WAZE, the user-friendly, Israeli GPS, has not only served me well throughout the country,  but also steered me straight from Dallas to Durant, OK and back again.  But yesterday, when I set off  from Jerusalem, it routed me through the bowels of the city, to streets and alleyways that I never dreamed existed– nor wanted to visit.  Then  it plunked me down behind a long line of unmoving cars/trucks.

Finally, an hour later–after long, hot minutes in standstill– it announced “a traffic accident ahead.”

WAZE  navigated me to a traffic accident!

When I turned around however, (setting off a flurry of other turn-arounds, enough to stop me in my tracks for a while), it snapped into action, re-routing me out of the city.

I reached Ramat Gan  faster than the speed of light, hot and sweaty, to make up for  losing my way(ze).

Damascus Gate–alight




Jerusalem Light Festival – The Cardo

Photo: Ron Peled


Last night we stopped by  family who live in Jerusalem’s Moslem Quarter, as we often do for Havdala– the  weekly ceremony that separates Shabbat from the rest of the week– that marks the end of Shabbat.  We customarily enter via Damascus Gate, which, dark, forbidding, and dirty, is mostly thronged with  locals selling  fruit, greens,  as well as discs, knock-off shoes, cell phones, and the like.  Last night was different.

The Jerusalem Municipality (which oversees both East and West Jerusalem) presented   “a spectacular, outdoors [city-wide] light festival presenting light exhibits, sculptures and artistic structures in combination with onstage and street performances, light and sounds, in various locations in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

At the Damascus Gate, the  amazing collage of scenes ranging from arabesques,  stones rising, stones falling,  even flames superimposed on its imposing walls.  The crowds– Arabs, Jews, Christians alike–seated along the amphitheater-like entrance  to the Gate were  entranced.  So were we.

According to Nir Barkat,  mayor of Jerusalem:

“This is the fourth year of the light festival in Jerusalem, revealing every year its beauty and magical sites. Jerusalem is a massive mosaic of people and communities, views and sites, smells and tastes that can all be found in the Old City. Millions visit it every year: tourists from abroad, visitors from all over Israel, and of course residents of Jerusalem. With that, the festival allows us to witness the sites of the Old City with advanced technological means, showing us the city in a new light. The festival manages to surprise us every year, hosting local and international artists that present to us their professional and fantastic work”.

Experience it  here and here.



Who Killed Pauline: dateline Durant, OK

I’m just back from Durant, OK, where I  investigated the murder of my cousin, Pauline Amsel, age 14, in 1914– and

to meet the Duranters who, have  so generously shared their time, experience, and memories.


One hundred years ago the murder of a 14-year-old Jewish girl at her Durant home shocked the community. Now a relative is digging up the past to try to close the century old case.

Melody Amsel traveled all the way from her home in Israel to the town where the crime occurred to share what she has learned and hopefully find new information about her cousin’s death.

For a century the question has remained unanswered, who killed 14-year-old Pauline Amsel? Her second cousin Melody Amsel has tried to solve the mystery for the past ten years. What she knows for sure, is that Pauline was brutally murdered in Durant on November 11th, 1914……


Read more here–


Hello, Pauline

Celia and Pauline Amsel
Pauline Amsel, left. Her mother, right.

I spent 5 years researching  the life of Pauline, my 14 year old second- cousin, murdered in Durant, OK  in 1914.

Her murderer was never found.

Though I had  found relevant census records (some from Oklahoma, Indian Territory), personal remembrances, court and realty

records,  school records, and statewide newspaper accounts of her gory end,

I found   neither death nor coronary records.  Nor  did I find a photo of Pauline.

Pauline died in 1914–a hundred years ago.

All of Pauline’s immediate family have long since passed.

Today,  many  of   her  distant cousins  do not even know of her existence.

No one had a photo.

I became absolutely obsessed.

Many a time, I imagined  her life–a young, pampered only child, the only  Jewish girl  among

Gentiles in this small town, daughter to a  Slovak immigrant father and a Louisiana-born mother with roots in Alsace-Lorraine,

living in a huge house, studying piano and home economics, well on her way to becoming an exemplary young woman of the time.

I  imagined her death– slit across the throat, bleeding to death in the dark of night.

But I couldn’t imagine how Pauline looked.

Then, yesterday– 10 years after  my initial research–  a Dallas cousin, cleaning out her attic, came across this photo.


An aside: a woman who had later grown up in Pauline’s house– in her bedroom,  in fact– revealed  that the  girl

had “visited” her time and again, explaining the circumstances of her death.  On seeing a photo of  ME, she said,” That’s her.”

God works in mysterious ways.