“Are we in a war now?” my seven year old sister asks me. She looks down at a white shoe box that she is elaborately decorating as a home for her stuffed animals. It’s Sunday; the cold and dreary weather has forced us inside. I’m scrolling through the news, searching anxiously for updates. Israel. Beirut. Paris. Kenya. How can I begin making sense of this mess?
“Well…” I stop and think of how to answer. The obvious answer is yes. But it’s much more complicated than a one word response. How do you explain “war” to a seven year old? What can I say to her without shattering her innocence?
“Do you know that an abba and his son died in Israel?” she tells me.
Hevron. Friday morning. On the way to an aufruf. Days before a family wedding.
My mind swirls with the information that it has been fed. Where did she learn this information? Did she hear my parents talk about it? Did I accidentally discuss it in front of her? Immediately, my mind floods with waves of emotion. How can I protect her from the world? How can I make sure that she stays a child for just a little bit longer in a world that is forcing her to group up too soon?
I can’t. There’s nothing I can do.
“Well, Chana… “ I begin again, but by now her mind is elsewhere.
“Can I show you all of the stuffed animals I’m going to put in this box?” she asks. Her eyes are wide and curious. She has moved on to happier things, more immediate things. I sigh and look back at the screen; if only things were that easy.
What does the world look like through her eyes? What did the world look like through my eyes when I was a child? Where did that perspective go?
I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I was nine. It was a foggy morning in San Francisco, and I was fast asleep under the security of my blanket. Everything was blissful. Only ten more minutes until I had to get up for school.
And then my twin sister barged into my room, shouting something about school being canceled because of a plane crash. I sat up in bed, said Modeh Ani, and then quickly muttered a prayer to God:
“Hashem, please protect the people in the plane!” I bowed my head and climbed out of bed to join my family in front of the TV. That’s when I saw it.
Airplanes. Smoke and ash. Indestructible buildings crumbling to the ground. Thousands of voices shrieking. People running for their lives. Blood. Chaos. My mother and father sitting there in shock, tears streaming down their faces.
My innocence evaporated that morning. I hold onto whatever I have left of it to this day, though there is nothing much to show for it now. What have I not cried for? Who have I not cried for? How many more times will the news of destruction pierce my heart?
I think of my sister now and what her breaking point will be. Has it already come? Has the endless string of violence the world has seen this year broken her down? Is she even a child anymore? But then I see her playing there with her toys, lost in her own world of make believe, and my heart settles for a moment. There is still a spark of innocence left within her.
Somehow, even as the world continues to crumble around us, she has hope in humanity — she has faith. I want nothing more now than to hear her thoughts, feel her feelings, experience the innocence that I have long lost. In my sister’s eyes, I see all that I long for.
And so, as I sit here trying to make sense of it all, I pray that I too find the courage to hope and have faith that the world has not failed. I pray to see the good in the darkest places, the sparks within the rubble. I open my lips, close my eyes, and make a plea to God with the same childlike innocence I possessed fourteen years ago: Hashivenu Hashem Elecha ve-nashuva hadesh yameinu ke’kedem. Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.