I’ve been to too many funerals in the past few weeks. The day before I arrived, the murder of Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar was discovered. A month ago, I visited the tent of morning for Muhammed Abu Khdier in Shuafat. Surrounded by other Jews under a large canopy, we listened to Muhammed’s family express their grief and outrage. Our collective ability to empathize with Muhammed’s family went beyond religiosity, politics or nationality. I also attended the funeral of Eitan Barak in Herzliya. There were tear-chocked eulogies in French and Hebrew, a flower-covered casket, and weeping soldiers, friends and family. Two weeks ago, I stood on Har Herzl to pay respect to Moshe Malko. My heart broke as I listened to the wrenching cries of all those around me as Moshe’s father recited Kaddish. Later on in the week, I attended the funeral of Dmitri Levitas and was amazed at the diversity of the crowd; moved by Haredim crying and consoling one another, soldiers leaning on each other, teenage girls weeping. A couple days ago, I attended the funeral of Avraham Grintzvaig, and was profoundly affected by the tearful eulogy delivered by his girlfriend. Glancing around the crowd, I saw soldiers clutching the hands of their own significant others as they listened and wept. Yesterday, I paid my respects to Liel Gidoni at Har Herzl, and was moved by the testimonies and accompanying song that honored his memory.
I haven’t been able to understand a single word of what anyone is saying. I do not comprehend even the most basic Hebrew and navigating through Israel this summer has been a challenge. Whereas before, my inability to speak Hebrew was something my friends and I joked about, (even I couldn’t resist laughing at myself as I struggled to pronounce “chets”) this summer it has been transformed from a minor nuisance to a source of extreme frustration. For the past couple of weeks, I was grasping for something, anything to feel a greater sense of community and togetherness with my fellow Jews. Standing at these funerals, I couldn’t help but feel different than those around me who were able to comprehend the eulogies. All I wanted was understanding, a play-by-play of what was going on, a light that could somehow illuminate the darkness and provide some sort of solace and comfort.
In Ulpan, I recently experienced something which changed my understanding of what it means to be a part of the Jewish nation. My Ulpan class consists mostly of French Jews. The experiences which have informed their decisions to make aliyah are far different from those of my own. Yet we all found ourselves in the same classroom and in the same overcrowded staircase sheltering from rocket attacks. We were all refreshing the same newsfeeds, receiving the same notifications on our phones, and hoping to feel the pulse of our nation at every moment. Despite the fact that I can’t communicate with them, we all still manage to pass updates along, check in with each other and come together. Our sense of solidarity transcends the barriers of language. Towards the end of our Ulpan lesson, the staff went around to different classrooms and handed out ice cream. Perhaps they were grateful for us continuing to come to Ulpan and provide them with a livelihood. But I sensed another reason; they understand that despite our differences we are in the same boat.
The feelings of grief and desire for togetherness are palpable. Bus drivers are a little more understanding; strangers push just a little less in the streets. Friends and family hug a little tighter. But despite the fact that Israelis have been through this before, rocket sirens never become normal. The death of every soldier and civilian is a catastrophe. And what I’ve come to realize is that when words fail, hearts expand. Mourning and caring for one another is not about comprehension of words, but about being present.
With special thanks to Zach Schwarzbaum and Ilana Wernick.