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Unwinding during war

In the best of times, Israel is not the world’s most relaxing country. The pace is frenetic, the people are intense, the place is crowded, the volume is loud and the geopolitical atmosphere is supercharged.

That is in the best of times. Now, however, we are far from the best of times.

So in today’s Israel — with Hamas holding hostages in Gaza, a significant part of the population evacuated from their homes, families of tens of thousands of soldiers and reservists dreading a knock on the door, and enemies gunning at us from seven different fronts — it is even more difficult to unwind.

Some might argue that it is precisely because of all the above that it is necessary to relax, tune out, detach and get one’s mind off the news.

But even if one manages to do so, even if one finds a pastoral place on a sunny day to rest for a few minutes and watch the cows graze, it is difficult not to feel guilty.

Is it right to try to relax or seek out mind-diverting entertainment when hostages are held, when one has sons fighting in Gaza, and when so many people all around are suffering and feeling unbearable pain, frustration and anger?

Rather, goes the banter in one’s brain, this is the time to force yourself to listen to all those stories of courage and tragedy on the airwaves: the tales of Oct. 7 heroism, the eulogies of the bereaved, the pleas of the hostages’ families.

What right do we have to tune out any of that or to switch channels? By doing so, are we not being callous? Don’t we owe it to the fallen to listen to brief memorial narratives of their lives?

Yes, we do owe them that. Except that if there is no escape or outlet for getting the mind off all the bad and sad news, you can simply go mad.

There is only so much sorrow anyone can expose themselves to without unraveling. For sanity’s sake, it is important to be able, at least for a little bit, to unplug and unwind, to put the news — and the personal worry it brings into your home — to the side, if only temporarily.

Watching television is one way to do this. Television is the ultimate escapist tool . . . at least it can be. But not necessarily in Israel.

Were I in charge of programming for any of the major networks in this country, I would program light, carefree fare. Nights would be full of reruns of “The Flintstones,” “Seinfeld” and “The Love Boat.”

Nothing violent, nothing tense, nothing troubling, nothing heavy. There is enough of that in real life to go around.

I’d also cut down on the news and commentary shows. Do the people of Israel really need to be exposed solely to news and commentary about war and politics from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.? Don’t we deserve a break?

As if all that weren’t enough, the KAN 11 channel has a heavily promoted treat: a documentary series called “Enemies.”

That’s right, Enemies. If the news doesn’t depress you enough, if you haven’t got your fill of Israel- and Jew-haters during the day, stay tuned after the nightly news for a special one-hour comprehensive examination of those who want to destroy you.

Season three, which started shortly after Oct. 7, has so far featured an in-depth look at these villains: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shaqaqi, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader George Habash and Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti.

What fun. You go from worrying about Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif during the day to delving into the minds of Khamenei and Shaqaqi at night. All to the accompaniment of foreboding, Hitchcock-like music. Then, off to bed. Pleasant dreams.

Since Oct. 7, my dreams — as surely as those of millions of my compatriots — have been anything but pleasant. Being exposed to so much bad news so often naturally seeps into the subconscious, which then comes out in dreams. I dream about something related to the war in Gaza almost every night. The only upside of watching “Enemies” is that it can expand my nightmare’s cast of characters.

Let’s say, however, that one night you just don’t want to curl up on your couch and listen to a madman preach about Israel’s destruction. Let’s say you want to watch something light, even happy. Well, if you have a Netflix subscription, you can go there looking for escapism. The problem is that there, too, the fare is heavy on tension, crime, violence and blood.

Are you concerned about the soldiers in Gaza? No worries, take your mind off them by tuning into a show about murder in Chicago.

I’m not the overly delicate or squeamish type, yet I rarely finish a show these days. The Wife will recommend a highly acclaimed show or movie, but I’ll turn it off in the middle if it’s replete with amputations (“The Artful Dodger”), if a main character lost a son in Vietnam (“The Holdovers”) or if a lawyer is defending someone accused of cannibalism (“Rake”).

My criteria are simple: If the show is depressing, sad, tense or I find myself covering my eyes not to see blood, violence or crude vulgarity, I’m done watching. Which pretty much leaves me with romantic comedies and Hallmark classics. The problem with those is that they are often so stupid and cornball I feel I’m frittering my life away watching them.

But there are, of course, other ways to detach and unwind as well. Conversation with family is one of them.

Last Shabbat I felt as if I had won the lottery. Two of my sons finished their reserved duty; a third was out of Gaza for a couple days. For the first time since Oct. 7, the whole family — except my son-in-law, still in Khan Yunis — sat around our table.

It was wonderful. Except for one thing: every time one of my boys opened his mouth, all that came out were war stories.

“Don’t worry,” The Wife reassured me as I winced at one tale and covered my ears at another. “After Shabbat we can unwind and watch some television.”

Reprinted with permission from the Jerusalem Post

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Herb Keinon, a Denver native, interned at the IJN before going on to a career at the Jerusalem Post, where he is a senior contributing editor.

One thought on “Unwinding during war

  1. Shelly Sperling

    Thank you for sharing the kind of issues that your family, and probably many others are enduring in Eretz Yisroel. The TV here in the states, is not a whole lot better. We have to avoid lots of “news” because many providers are not as positive about Israel as we are. My niece lives in Rehovot, and all her kids have served in the IDF. Like me, my niece was born in Denver. Although not on the West Side.
    By the way , for the record, I taught with your Dad at East High School . He was a character in a positive way.


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