It’s a terrible deja vu. I’ve written this article, and variations on it, too many times; written on the surreal aftermath of the ripping of young fledglings from their nest, of the brutal murder of innocents, on my pathetic attempts to process these atrocities from the mundane Midwest.
Horror. Sheer blood-stained horror. It’s hard to think of words without sounding trite and banal. A sweet 13-year-old girl, a dancer. Sleeping soundly after her recital. A typical young teen bedroom, fluffy pink throw pillows, bleached wood bunk bed, colorful rugs scattered on the floor.
It’s innocence forever shattered as the young girl’s blood soaks the mattress, splatters the floor.
Sweet serene sleep turned nightmare; a family devastated.
By brutal wanton blood lust hatred.
Hallel, sweet girl, your name means praise, praise of G-d. Maybe there’s a miracle story surrounding your birth, maybe your parents just intuited that you were a special soul in the way no child should ever have to be, meant to be a kodesh, a holy one, killed in your innocence, for one reason only, because you are a member of this beleaguered tribe, persecuted tribe, holy tribe.
Early this Thursday morning I sat down to drink my coffee in my cozy Cincinnati kitchen, the sparrow busily building her nest right outside the window. Learned with my early morning chavruta by phone, then checked the email. My stomach lurched as a tweet outlined your murder.
On to the Israeli news website for the awful details.
And…next…….. on to my surreal day?
Many experience this bizarre dislocation when terror is unleashed. How to process, what to do with oneself after absorbing such news? It feels slimy and selfish to go back to one’s routine, even if a routine of good things, mitzvot even… but life continues.
After praying, giving tzedaka, I clicked and posted and forwarded and called out media bias on several posts and websites. My political action muscles flexed a bit, indignation competing with raw pain. I paused. Now what?
That gory bedroom, those strong and broken parents, that lovely young woman dancer child accompany me through the rest of the day.
I go to a Torah class. We learn about the spies, and their hesitancy to leave the womb of desert life and shoulder up to the task of making a dwelling place for G-d in this very difficult world. Difficult indeed.
On to my painting session. Want to express darkness and pain and blood. I have been doing a series based on a dove nestled in a crevice at the Kotel. As I drive, I envision the dove’s tail dipped in blood, broken, fractured, but still trying to find a safe cavern in those ancient rocks. Those rocks that have seen this story unfold too many times. Too many painful deja vu enactments over the past months, years, decades, centuries.
I have written this article before. This pain, the impotency, the frustration as chatter and shopping goes blithely on. Just two summers ago I was eating pizza with my father as the discovery of the kidnapped boys’ bodies was broadcast, blaring banally on the ticker on CNN. And this murder. And that attack. And knifing. And bus bombing. And on and on.
I painted the rocks, the gold, rust and brown veined, tired, majestic, patient rocks, with that grey and white dove, she, like the eternal hope for peace and a better world, just won’t be extinguished, blood-stained as she may be.
Later in the afternoon, I sit in the mall typing these rambling thoughts, as my teenagers shop for their upcoming travel camp to Israel. It’s a happy, oblivious, shiny glossy American place, the good life incarnate. Terror? Nah. Just a news story. What’s on sale?
They shop and pack and plan and it’s so surreal. Going to Gap to buy just the right shirt for flying into the storm. Yesterday–Turkey’s airport was bombed; today–a sweet Jewish girl was murdered. My girls will be touring and getting a glimpse of our tiny little sliver of wondrous land, intensely packed with spirals of history and spirituality and creativity, a magnet for passionate devotion, for boundless hate. Magnets are like that. They don’t leave one passive or neutral, they draw out what lies deep within us.
I want to live there so badly. My soul cries in this abundant emptiness. But how does one live there? My son, his two sweet Sabra daughters, and his lovely wife do. What do they think as they kiss their little ones goodbye and leave them at gan, what do they think as they tuck them in at night? How can the heart not explode, or break, or become numb as a survival mechanism?
Where am I going with this diatribe? I want to scream, to shake up the world. I want to shake up myself, sitting here trying to feel connected but doing nothing of great importance but typing nice words. But what am I trying to say?
I could get political. The incitement and hatred has got to stop, as does the international support and blind eye towards the PA’s evil duplicity. Israel has to stand proud and strong. I remember how the Rebbe screamed and cried at farbrengens during the Camp David negotiations, his broken voice haunting, “ Concessions lead to more terror and murder.”
But beyond a political call for action, I feel the need to find some kind of thread of meaning. Desperate? Pathetic? Perhaps. But that’s what we do.
Hallel, your brave mother said it. “I taught my daughter to love. You, the terrorist’s mother, taught him to hate. I did my part. Now G-d, I give her to you.”
Hallel, today, Jews around the world recite the word your song, Hallel, the portion of psalms for the 24th day of each Hebrew month. Today is the 24th of Sivan. Among the many verses that express so much, that seem tailor-made for this excruciating day: “Grievous in the eyes of Hashem is the death of His righteous ones.”
Faith doesn’t mean sitting with folded hands. We have to speak up, do what we can on the natural, political, level. But at the end of the day, G-d’s day, because, it’s hard not to despair looking at the events solely through natural eye; love will prevail. Good will prevail. Light will prevail. G-d we’re trusting you to make this right, to save and cherish every drop of this holy blood, every agonizing mother’s tear.
At the end of her searing, beautiful book, The Blessing of a Broken Heart, Sherri Mandell talks of the bird’s nest. The Kabbalah explains that beyond this broken shadow of a world, G-d has a nest, where the soul of the Messiah, of Moshiach, is hovering, waiting. And in that nest, are the precious chicks, the souls of the kedoshim, the children torn from their nest too soon, too soon.
We don’t like this plan and beg for a better one; the Rebbe says we have to cry out and demand revealed good from Hashem. But somehow, in a way beyond what our conscious minds can grasp, that nest is holy and pregnant with the new world of light and truth that is somehow being woven through these feathers and tears and whispered words of psalms; whispered words of Hallel and praise, hugs and sighs of consolation, broken hearts shattered and shining as they reflect a light too delicate, too laser strong for this world, just yet.
That sparrow diligently building it’s nest, day after day; that blood-stained dove, still loyal, like us Jews–still loyal, still singing Hallel, with our exhausted,raspy breath, even as our eyes burn with tears, as our hearts break. We beg and demand and wait impatiently and try to push this impossibly stubborn world towards justice, and wait for G-d to heal our broken hearts and help us see the blessing.