I have sat down several times to write, but the emotions are so fluid, and the situation is constantly changing. I am writing this reflection now a month into the war. Who knows how things will be by the time you read this.
Let me relay what happened the morning the war broke out on October 7, 2023. I was getting ready to go to Kol Haneshama when we heard the first siren warning us of the rockets. It came as a total surprise. It was 50 years and one day since the Yom Kippur War began. Was this to be another Yom Kippur war? How wrong I was, it was worse. I live in Jerusalem in an apartment building that has a bomb shelter. When a siren sounds, we have 90 seconds to reach safety, a long time compared with those who live around Gaza. As we wait to hear the booms of Iron Dome protecting us, we try to distract ourselves and the young children who live in our building.
By the time that first siren was heard, the horrific pogrom at the Nova music festival had already happened with 260 dancing youth murdered. The slaughter of families at kibbutzim, and the dragging of children, women, elderly, and men into Gaza as hostages was well underway and would continue for hours. We all became, and still are, glued to our phones, including those who are Shabbat observant.
Even though that horrific morning has long since passed, my children, their friends, and all innocent people are constantly in my thoughts. Regardless of what the end of this war looks like, my girls are changed forever. Any innocence they had is now shattered. And with it, they remain in a country that will need to be rebuilt.
For me, I have found a resource that offers strength during this very difficult time. Maybe it can be of use for you, too. The Israeli poet Zelda (1914-1984) wrote a poem which I often use at Yad Vashem. You can watch it sung by Cantor Azi Schwartz from Park Avenue Synagogue with English translation at L’khol Ish Yesh Shem (Every Person Has A Name) - YouTube.
Cantor Schwartz came here and sang Adon Olam, together with the IDF cantor, at Hadassah hospital for a wounded soldier.
Each day brings more names of bodies finally identified, of those who have fallen in war, and the five hostages now free. But what about the others? I feel anxious, worried, angry, and grief as part of each day. That is after a night with little sleep, restless dreams, and multiple times checking my phone. There are also the names of those who performed great acts of heroism and those who miraculously survived. I want to read all the stories because each person is a whole world. It is just not possible, so I experience the feeling that I am not doing enough.
I have been usually doing some kind of volunteering daily, but on this day of the war, what have I done? I had coffee on the Mamilla shopping arcade with a rabbi friend whose congregation I have guided many times. He was here on a solidarity trip. We shared stories about what is happening here and how hard it is to be a Jew in the States now, especially on college campuses. As we hugged, he gave me an envelope signed “virtual tourists.” He said it was from people who had been on tours with me at some point, who knew that tourism is only a part of what this war has killed and wished that soon buses would come again.
I had already begun to think how this war will affect what I say at sites such as Masada, Yad Vashem, and Mt. Herzl military cemetery and began writing down some thoughts. I recalled the tremendous support I received from WRJ through the more than 40 virtual tours offered during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leaving Mamilla, I stopped to see if the store Chaya was open. Surprisingly it was. Her sister Ronit was there and through tears we caught up on our loved ones: who is serving, who is missing, and who is no longer. I asked why the store was open, who would shop for Judaica during these times, especially with no tourists. It gives her something to do away from TV she said, and it offers hope.
The older WRJ slogan of Stronger Together has never been so real and rings true for the current three pillars of Sisterhood, Spirituality, and Social Justice. The outpouring of support worldwide for Israel and the awareness of the hostages are a testimony to another phrase that holds great meaning during this time--Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish People live. The volunteer efforts here for those who have lost their homes, for the farmers who want their crops harvested, and for the soldiers who are protecting us, make me so proud to be an Israeli and part of the Jewish People.
The most used phrase now in Hebrew is rak besorot tovot. Only good news.
May it be true.