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Reminders of Home
by Judy Lash Balint
July 29, 2002

It's hard to forget the trouble at home even 6,000 miles away. On a trip to visit family in Seattle, a city where I spent much of my adult life, a few experiences remind me of home.

I'm invited to a wedding at a country club 40 minutes east of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The Sunday afternoon drive is peaceful and uneventful--we don't cross through any army checkpoints; there are no radio reports of "incidents" on the road; I don't find myself looking up at the hills overlooking the highway, wondering "what if...?" We don't pass any bullet-proof buses along the way.

But as we turn off into Snoqualmie Ridge, the planned community where the country club appears to be the prime entertainment in town, I experience an immediate sense of recognition. I've never visited the neatly planned area carved out of the forests along the I-90 corridor before, but it feels as if I'm back in one of the "settlements" in Gush Etzion. The houses in Snoqualmie Ridge are attractive in a modern, cookie-cutter way. The neat gardens and well laid-out streets roll gently down the slopes of the hills, but the streets don't really go anywhere significant--they just stretch into another row of houses. It's clear that the area is a dormitory town for people who work in the Microsoft-dominated east side of Lake Washington.

Just like the residents of the Gush Etzion communities of Efrat, Alon Shvut, Neve Daniel and Elazar who work in Jerusalem, but choose to live in the Gush because of the cheaper housing, beautiful scenery and rural lifestyle.

But it's the history of the two places that doesn't quite converge. The Snoqualmie Indian tribe had lived on the land for centuries before the first white settlers arrived in Snoqualmie in the 1850s. Their chief at the time, Chief Patkanim, sided with the settlers against neighboring warrior tribes. It was Chief Patkanim who signed the Point Elliott Treaty in 1855, which ceded all of the tribe's land to the United States. The Americans never repaid them and never gave them a reservation. Many of the Snoqualmie ended up living in poverty on land that was once theirs.

The land of Gush Etzion never belonged to anyone except the Jews. The history of the Jews in the Etzion mountains stretches over forty centuries, from the time of Abraham who walked the hills of Gush Etzion and from here continued on his way to Jerusalem for the binding of Isaac, until today.

Jacob pitched his tent here, and the warriors of King David, the Maccabees and Bar Kochba all fought in Etzion, in defense of the Jewish people and Jerusalem. In the war for Independence in 1948, the four Etzion kibbutzim that protected Jerusalem fell to the Jordanians in a heroic battle.
In 1967, following the Six Day War, the children who were evacuated from the Etzion kibbutzim in 1948 returned. They rebuilt their homes, replanted their fields, and began new lives. Their past catapulted others into the future, a future filled today with flourishing, dynamic communities.

So I'm left wondering--who are the true "settlers?" Those Jews who have come to rebuild the land of their forefathers, and who observe the same laws, pray and speak in the same language as their ancestors, or those new residents of Snoqualmie Ridge?

* * * *

Another reminder of home was the short bus ride I took in downtown Seattle. How refreshing to stand lackadaisically at a bus stop on a main street. No mental gymnastics necessary wishing the bus to get there quickly in order to minimize waiting at a place where homicidal bombers have earlier left their grisly mark. How nice to hop on the bus without scrutinizing my fellow passengers for tell-tale signs of fanatic Jew hatred. How relaxing to ride through town gazing though the window to enjoy the view of carefree shoppers crowding the streets. How pleasant to arrive home without having to breathe a sigh of relief and mumble a prayer of thanks for getting there safely.

* * * *

Speaking of safety: Even in today's tense security climate, issues of personal safety don't play into the equation when walking around Jerusalem. Muggings and street crime are virtually unheard of in the city, and it always feels safe to walk through the streets of Jerusalem alone at night.

A stark contrast with suburban Seattle, where I spent last Shabbat. I found myself staying a ten minute walk from my Friday night dinner hosts on Mercer Island--a distinctly upper middle class area of town. Walking home from their home was a definite challenge--and far more scary than a Friday night walk through any Jerusalem neighborhood. Mercer Island has NO street lights. None. Feeling my way along the bushes of the pitch black, deserted streets with owls hooting and the rustle of racoons in the bushes on the side of the road was not an experience I'd care to repeat.

* * * *

The Seattle media has been full of news about groups of local militant Muslims with alleged links to Al Quaida. FBI investigators say members of the group have ties to a radical Islamic cleric in London suspected of recruiting for Osama Bin Laden's ranks. One Seattle mosque has been closed down, and an African American convert to Islam from Seattle was arrested in Denver. This morning, a Washington state senator said in a radio interview that she is pressing the FBI to publicize details of any known terror threats to the Seattle area.

But unlike at home, the impact of this news does not seem to affect the lives of Seattleites. People go about their business without thinking much about the fact that Seattle would indeed make a fine terror target--Boeing airplane factories; Microsoft and Starbucks headquarters; the Port of Seattle; Trident submarine base: McChord Air Force base: Fort Lawton Army base and a couple of major universities are all within range.