It is not every day that I cry at work.
But this past Monday I cried.
And then I cried again on Tuesday, on Wednesday and on Thursday.
It is a weird feeling to sit in the same room four days in a row and cry…and know and feel that you can cry deeply in so many different ways and for so many different reasons.
During this week between Yom Hashoah and Yom Haatzmaut, I was privileged to hear from a spectrum of speakers who came to Migdal Oz, the post-high school midrasha where I teach, to share their stories, perspectives and dreams.
On Monday, we heard from the grandmother of a current student. A woman who was 9-years-old in Hungary when her mother sent her away to live with non-Jews in Budapest. She never saw her mother again. She described feeling forced to eat a sandwich with pork (so as not to reveal her identity) and the feeling she will never forget, of it burning her insides as she made herself swallow it down her throat. She told us about the time she thought she was about to be murdered and said “Shema Yisrael” and she depicted the joy she felt when she arrived in Israel and felt that she was finally at home.
I cried in pain.
Pain for the loss of her family, pain that arose as I tried not to imagine my own 9-year-old, and pain hearing about the challenge of building a healthy family despite the terrible wounds and overwhelming questions.
On Tuesday, Moshe Moskovic, an original inhabitant of Gush Etzion in the 1940s as well as a key founder of much of present day Gush Etzion (and Yeshivat Har Etzion) graced us with his presence. Sitting in the presence of “Moshko” is always inspiring. Moshko is a dreamer. And when you come into contact with him it makes you want to dream. Dream with your eyes open, as Moshko likes to say.
I cried in appreciation.
Appreciation because Moshko is a 92-year-old man who still comes to work every day and still has lots of big plans he is working on for the sake of Medinat Yisrael. Deeply humble, never resting or sitting back in satisfaction, Moshko gives every minute of his life to advancing the development of Gush Etzion. I cried because he lived here with no running water, happy and content, in a tent with his wife and newborn, and 69 years later, I now live in a beautiful house (with running water!) in an established community — happy and content.
On Wednesday, Sara Beri came to speak in anticipation of Yom Hazikaron. Unfortunately, she is doubly qualified, having lost her husband in the Yom Kippur war (when she was a young pregnant wife with two little kids) and then her oldest son in Lebanon 20 years later. Sara shared many stories about her son Moshe and the different things he stood for and accomplished in his short life.
I cried in recognition and awareness.
Awareness of what it means to raise children in this precious yet blood soaked country. Recognition of the amazing fortitude of spouses and parents…and brothers and sisters and children of soldiers, both male and female. Awareness of the very active choices people make to go on living and smiling and singing even as we mourn and remember.
On Thursday, we commemorated the second yarzheit of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein. As we sat as a beit midrash (hall of study) and listened to reflections about his life, we were reminded that Rav Aharon worked just as hard on building his own character as he did on preparing his shiruim. He saw G-d before him always and held himself to the highest standards of ethical behavior.
I cried with longing.
Longing for figures who encapsulate greatness. Longing for a man who changed the trajectory of my family. Longing for role models that inspire me to demand more of myself.
The tears that streamed down my face each day came from a very deep place. They felt raw, they felt uncontrollable, and, each day, they felt a little different.
But in truth they were also very much the same.
I cried in awe.
In awe of the human spirit and awe of the capability of people to be resilient and to channel their experiences and emotions into something positive.
In awe of the power of dreams, the power of hard work and the power to change realities.
In awe of the prices we are willing to pay, the causes we devote ourselves to and the distances we will go to for the things we deeply believe in.
In awe of the great heights human beings can reach and in awe of their ability to motivate others and affect generations to come.
In awe of this little country and the larger than life people it contains. In awe of the passion it brings to the surface, the idealism it inspires and the sacrifice it demands.
And in awe of Avinu She-ba-Shamayim, the Rock of Israel and its Redeemer.
May He continue to bless this land and watch over its people.
הודו לה׳ כי טוב כי לעולם חסדו
Yom Haatzmaut Sameach.