You’re walking home from school.
You’re coming home from work.
You’ve lived here since the day you were born.
This is where you grew up.
This is your community.
This is your home.
As you’re walking home, suddenly, you hear a siren.
You know that siren deep in your instincts.
You don’t think. You run.
You have twenty seconds.
Luckily, a shelter happens to be across the street. Within seconds you are there, surrounded by people you know.
Children are screaming.
Women are crying.
Men are crying.
You hear a whistling sound.
A deafening explosion.
The entire shelter shakes.
Slowly, people calm down.
Slowly, people come out of their shelter.
Slowly, they look around for the destruction.
They try to forget what just happened.
Until the next time.
Because you live in Sderot.
In the 1950s, Jewish refugees who were forced to leave their homes in North Africa, just because they were Jewish, poured into Israel and many were assigned to a little shantytown that was, somewhat ironically, called Sderot, which means “avenues” or “boulevards”. These immigrants started from scratch, fought for everything they had, literally built the town and their livelihoods and spurred the town’s growth. In the 1990’s, Sderot doubled in size as immigrants came in droves from the former Soviet Union.
Sderot is now a city in Israel that looks like most modern, progressive cities in Israel. It is a beautiful town in the Western Negev in Southern Israel. Sderot can be a wonderful, peaceful, quiet place. In fact, a little too quiet. For a city so large, there aren’t that many people around. The streets don’t have as many cars as you might expect.
Sderot is close to the border, only minutes away from Palestinian-controlled Gaza. It has been a target for sustained rocket attack by Hamas since 2001. The people of Sderot live life under rocket fire.
No one else understands how anyone can live there. Rockets fly and there are still weddings and Bar mitzvah ceremonies and people just trying to live their lives.
In many ways, Sderot is a microcosm of Israel. Most of the world is indifferent to the unbelievable reality that Israel lives in every day.
And Sderot is a kind of metaphor about the resilience of Israeli society. One of the most beautiful and amazing things about Sderot is that people are incredibly resilient, and Israelis are as resilient as anyone in the world. The people in Sderot make music and continue their lives despite everything.
There’s a documentary film called Rock in the Red Zone. It was directed and written by Laura Bialis. She had made an award-winning film called Refusenik, documenting the 30-year international human-rights campaign to free Soviet Jewry. Bialis came to Sderot at the urging of people in Israel who spoke of a humanitarian crisis in Sderot that the media were ignoring, namely, the many thousands of rockets that were hitting Sderot all the time.
But what the filmmaker finds, to her surprise, is a prolific rock music scene that revolutionized Israeli music. She learns about the personal lives and music of Sderot’s diverse musicians. The film chronicles the town’s trauma and reveals its enduring spirit. Bialis discovered that Sderot had earned the title of ir hamusica, the City of Music. Moroccan-Israeli musicians from Sderot created a new genre of Israeli music by merging traditional North African melodies with contemporary rock.
She says: “The idea was to suck the poison out of them; to let them scream … to let it all out.” Major Israeli singers came to work with young protégés, turning music into a potent outlet for their feelings. The music was called Sderock.
“I’d always heard that good music comes from hard places,” she narrates in the film.
Think about that sentence:
Good music comes from hard places.
Good deeds come from people who have gone through rough things.
If you’ve ever really gone through grief, you are sensitive to those in grief.
If you’ve ever had physical pain, you relate to anyone in physical pain.
If you’ve ever been afraid, you understand fear.
So if you’re ever in a bad way, and the bombs are blowing your world apart, and you’re scared, and someone asks how you are doing, tell them this: I’m rocking in the red zone.
What we have gone through in the last year cannot be compared to living in Sderot.
But the Red Zone is something we hear about every day, an area where the virus is killing people.
Some of us have felt like we have been living in a war zone.
We have been scared for our very lives.
Each of us, in one way or another, has had their life disrupted and it has been extremely difficult to cope.
Before all this, the business world saw “disruption” as a good thing.
Think about Amazon
Think about a phone you can carry in your pocket with a camera and email
Think about email
Think about Vegetarian meat
Think about Zooming
Think about Streaming
What do Airbnb, LegalZoom, Rent the Runway, Square, SiriusXM, Uber, Lift, Doordash and Venmo all have in common? They are “disruptors” of the status quo of business. By the way, they were all started in the midst of a recession.
They responded to bad times by adapting and being creative and being attuned to new realities.
When our daily lives are disrupted, it is scary and depressing. But we have to make music in the red zone; we have to rock in the red zone.
We were hit by a disruption.
We went through fear and depression.
We could not do things in any of the usual ways.
What we had to do was deal with the new realities.
It took a while to understand what the new realities were.
When your life is disrupted, how do you react?
One choice is to avoid the issue, pretend like it hasn’t happened and it will go away quickly. You talk happy talk and tell yourself it’s almost over and then things will go back to normal. You disregard the facts. We all know about people like that.
This reaction gets you nowhere and you lose very valuable time because you are not even beginning the process of adapting to the new reality.
You know the joke: Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
My new version is: Denial is a river that overflows its banks when you pretend it’s not there.
I’m talking about making music in a zone of fear. Now think about Fiddler on the Roof. Think about that fiddler. What is he doing? He is making music while he is precariously balancing on the roof.
What’s the music that you’re going to make?
Music in all this is a metaphor for the expressions of our souls
And for the actions we need to take
It’s not about Covid 19
It’s about what you did in 2020
So let me go back to the example of Sderot, living in the Red Zone while the rockets fly against them. Let me continue to use Israel as a positive example of how to react to the crises in our lives. Despite the threats it faces from Gaza, Israel—and the United States— have not lost sight of the humanitarian issues facing the people suffering under the rule of Hamas. According to figures from the Palestinian Trade Center, unemployment in Gaza is nearly 50 percent, and 68 percent of those between the ages of 20 and 24 are jobless. Gazans are frustrated with Hamas for its failure to provide basic services.
Yet, despite all the rockets and the bombs, Israel continues to transfer humanitarian aid and building materials to Gaza. While the United States continues to support Israel’s right to defend itself and protect its borders, it simultaneously is working closely with Israel to continue to improve Gaza’s humanitarian situation.
Isn’t that incredible? No matter what anyone does to us, we continue to try to do the right thing and try to improve Palestinian lives in Gaza.
Israel never gives up. It always hopes for peace. We should understand and appreciate are the spectacular recent news that Arab states are beginning to recognize Israel. We hope that this will be the major breakthrough it seems to be. Our hope is that the Palestinians will understand that this is the time to stop all the bombing, come to the table, and create a two-state solution.
Let me bring it back to our lives during this pandemic. We have to find ways to make music in the Red Zone. I’m not sure what the next year will be like. But if we find that we continue to have lots and lots of time at home, how are we going to make music? What are we going to do for others? And how are we going to enrich our lives through exercising both our minds and our bodies, by reading and learning and walking? My 91-year-old mother, keyna a hora, was basically locked for months in a senior residence. And she re-discovered her hobby of painting and that has been a wonderful creative outlet. That’s making music in the red zone. I hope this year will be better than the last one for all of us. But if it isn’t, let’s make it the best year we possibly can.