a guest post by Gevura Lauren Davis
As I was trying to fall asleep, the first message came in from my friend. “OMG, Gevu, terror attack in HAR NOF!!!” Har Nof: the neighborhood in Jerusalem we were blessed to live in for six years. Where I studied. Where we were married. Where we raised our first two children.
Our frenzy began. The frantic search for information I am all too familiar with. JPOST. TIMES OF ISRAEL. HAARETZ. CNN. FACEBOOK. Searching and searching for more information. Any information. Agassi Street. A big Shul.
Oh no, my husband says. First report of one dead and many injured. At Rabbi Rubin’s shul. The big shul that many hundreds of people pray in every morning. 12:00 the news hits all major outlets. BBC reports possibly several fatalities and several injuries, which “may be terror related.” Har Nof is on lockdown as they search for a third armed suspect. A flurry of calls and emails.
My revered teacher Rebbetzin Heller posts on Facebook please pray for my son-in-law who was badly injured. Rebbetzin Heller, mother of 14 children, whose husband died this year. No, no no. Which daughter, I wonder? Is it Chani, who has quietly volunteered to organize hundreds of visiting students to sleep overnight at the hospital with children, whose weary parents need some respite?
I’m trying desperately to call my friends and teachers, but all lines are busy.
6:30 am Tuesday morning
After trying to sleep for a few restless hours, I read that Rabbi Goldberg is among the dead. The father of Rivka, who waxed my eyebrows the day of my wedding. The husband of Mrs. Goldberg. who lived for decades in Har Nof without an oven, as they could only afford a cooktop after they sold everything in England to move with idealism to Israel. Mrs. Goldberg, who greeted me every morning in school with a smile and a hello. Mrs. Goldberg, who was the first to teach me how to make challah. Among the dead: Rabbi Kalman Levine, who grew up in Kansas City and was in the first graduating class at HBHA. Rabbi Kalman, my husband’s teacher’s study partner. Rabbi Kalman, father of nine, and grandfather to many.
I walk into my children’s room to wake them up for school. They notice my tears, and I feel compelled to tell them since they will inevitably hear from others. My sweet, precious children. Your old playground is now a graveyard. The shul Daddy took you to this summer is now covered in blood. Holy books are strewn about the floor, and bodies still wrapped in their tefillin
are now in morgues.
“Where, Mommy?” my son wonders.
In the shul right across the lookout point where Daddy proposed to me; remember I showed you this summer when we visited? Remember, I pointed out the shul where one of Jerusalem’s leading rabbis prays. That one.
“How many people killed, Mommy?” my son always asks.
Four, my son.
“How many injured, Mommy?” is always his next question.
Nine, my sweet child.
“Did we know any of them?” he fears.
Yes, my love, your teacher’s uncle, Rabbi Twersky.
And now his tears join mine in a sad, sad embrace. An embrace I personally, and the Jewish people, are all too familiar with.
You see, this is not the first time I have been involved in a frantic search for news. The first time was when I was 20 years old, and came to Hebrew University to learn more about my people and our heritage. The second week I was there, the busiest pizza shop on Ben Yehuda, Sbarro, was bombed. Several visiting students on my program went home. Emory contacted me to say that if I wanted to stay I needed to sign a document that they were in no way responsible for my safety.
Then my bus that I always took to school from the Old City was bombed. Even more students went home. Then I made aliyah the next year and the day after I visited Hebrew University, the cafe was bombed. I showed up on my first blind date with my husband with mascara all over my face. I heard on my bus ride to meet him about another bus bombing. I had to run to a payphone to call my parents and tell them that fortunately I was not on that bus. Not that time.
The terrible, painfully familiar sirens. The busy phone lines. The search for answers. For news. Each time, there is the same terrible, indescribable feeling of searching. Reading the names. Hoping and praying you are not familiar with any of them. So this time the names were particularly painful. Because they were familiar to me. And I have the faces of the widows and fatherless children crying out in my mind. But the truth is that they are always faces. Faces of people’s children. Faces of people’s parents. Faces of people’s spouses. And they are real. Lives cut short. Entire future generations cut off from this earth.
So as I mourn with the rest of the Jewish people and the entire world, that rabbis, fathers and sons, are once again murdered in Israel’s capital, the city of gold we have been praying for two thousand years to return to, I am forced to ask myself. How can we go on? How can I make any sense of this horrific tragedy? What lessons can be learned? What comfort is there?
The answers are not simple. And they are not forthcoming. They are different for everyone. I wanted to share my own personal meaning. The morning of the murders. While the pain is still so raw and so fresh.
Of course, we need to continue to invest our resources and efforts into organizations that actively work towards supporting the victims of Terror like One Family and the agencies of the Jewish Federation who do so. We also need to strengthen organizations like AIPAC who continue to try to protect Israel’s interests and security. But the painful reality is that there is no easy solution to the problem of terror against Jews. Higher fences. Looser Borders. More security. Land for peace. Peaceful non-coexistence. It is painful, but the reality is that the political solution does not seem to be forthcoming. Arm everyone? Revoke citizenship? Build more walls? Leave Israel? That’s the worst part. The paralyzingly realization of no livable solution foreseeable or available to us .
My answer is that I can’t live my life the same way. Many of us are familiar with the famous idea by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov “The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is to be strong, and to have no fear at all.” It has become a BBYO anthem and a favorite camp song. This morning, I am sitting here crying in the JCC watching images on CNN of prayer books strewn about the floor and blood flowing through a synagogue. And I am painfully reminded of the blood that flowed through the halls of this JCC only months ago.
This is not the first time Jewish history that we have been murdered for being Jewish. There were the Greeks who rose up against us during the Chanukah Story, the Persians during the Purim story, the Spanish during the Inquisition, the Cossacks in the Ukraine, the Nazis in Europe, and many modern day tragedies still. We continue to mourn.
The Jewish people have a unique destiny. The Torah tells us that we will endure many national tragedies. We are told in the Torah that we will suffer terrible misfortunes as a people and as individuals. But the Torah also tells us that we are to be Holy Nation, a light unto the other nations of the world. It seems sometimes for me like I forget this fact. I like to live my life like everyone else, carefree and relaxed. Enjoy sports and food, and live as though I am no different from my neighbor. But then I have moments like today, when my fate, the destiny of the Jewish people is blaring painfully in my face that we are different.
As I sit here typing in the JCC, I know that I will soon go home and continue my day. But my brothers and sisters in the land of Israel do not have that luxury. And suddenly everything has so much more meaning. The stupid fight I am having with a colleague seems so insignificant. My concern for my daughter’s broken collarbone so trivial. As orphans are now burying their fathers, and wives are by hospital bedsides crying their eyes out for a miracle. And I remember. Our unique purpose is to bring light into a dark and barbaric world. This means living as a holy people, dedicated to our unique destiny. The world reminds us that we are indeed a separate people. Yet it is so easy to forget. Let’s try to remember, though. I am sure that already by tomorrow or next week my feelings of rededication to live my purpose in life will be slowly fading. But today I want to remember.
The Jewish people will fight on. The Jewish response to darkness is to bring more light into the world. Please consider doing a mitzvah today in the merit of those who are injured and in the memory of those who were extinguished. The Torah teaches: “Ki ner mitzvah v’ Torah ohr, for each Mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is a great light.” Possible ideas include doing kindness for others, saying prayers, particularly Psalms or any other words in your own language to G-d; giving tzedakah or charity to a worthy cause, forgiving someone and making peace among people, doing a kindness for another. Every heartfelt tear and every single deed has the potential to illuminate the world. And we need much much more of that right now. We don’t understand G-d’s ways, we can’t and we won’t. We know one thing, that G-d blesses us with the ability to choose good for every precious moment we are blessed with. We just never know when it will be our last. Let’s live our lives with this knowledge, and become better people for those who no longer have that opportunity.
12: 00 noon
As I write, my hands are shaking in grief. It is my heartfelt prayer and eternal hope that I will never again be searching the news for names and information. It is the hope of our people. That we may one day live as a free people in our homeland in peace. Am Yisrael Chai.