Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author

A Thinking Heart in this Waking Nightmare

Photo courtesy of Ghadir Hani
Photo courtesy of Ghadir Hani

It was hard to get out of bed this morning, with the news that peace activist Vivian Silver’s remains had been identified in her home in Kibbutz Be’eri. The thought that she was in captivity in Gaza was atrocious enough, but the knowledge she was murdered at the hands of Hamas terrorists is unbearable. Yet, I still have two kids at home who need to catch the school bus in the morning, so I forced myself up.

After the kids were off, I posted in my Spirit of the Galilee interfaith leadership group about the news of her death, suggesting we dedicate our Zoom meeting today to her memory. A dear friend in the group, a devout Muslim and a staunch activist building a shared society of Arab-Jewish partnership for many years, wrote to me privately that she was still in bed, could not get up, could not breathe, had enough of “this game,” was starting to lose hope.

I wrote back to her that I, too, am tired of this shameful game of death our so-called leaders are playing, with us as their pawns, how I am beginning to despair they are perhaps succeeding in instilling in enough of us so much hatred for the other, that they may win. I wrote that the only thing that gives me hope now is being in shared society gatherings, where we all still believe in our togetherness, and where we actually live it into reality every day.

I had been with this same friend just last night, at an event of our local Standing Together chapter, where we all, Arabs and Jews, painted banners with messages of Arab-Jewish solidarity to hang on bridges above major roads in our area, declaring to the world the importance of this solidarity especially in these darkest of times. I reminded her of what she and I had both said in our circle the night before, that no matter what the bigger picture is around us, knowing we can rely on our commitment to and love for one another in our little part of the world, is a source of great strength and hope.

She sent me back a big red heart.

And then I wrote the following poem:

Photo courtesy of Haviva Ner-David

“That is what I want to be… the thinking heart of an entire concentration camp.”

-Etty Hillesum, October 3 ,1942, Westerbork concentration camp


I am Anne Frank,

Believer in the good heart

of every human,

that faith and courage can prevent

a miserable death,

that sitting in nature with God alone

can bring comfort and hope.


I am Etty Hillesum,

Believer in God and in man,

In the ability of inner peace to bring peace,

Of the surrender to death to ease all death,

of the wide horizon and the rose-red cyclamen

to nurture hope.


I am Vivian Silver,

Believer in people,

in peace alone as the path to peace,

That extending a hand will receive a hand,

That women’s voices can end this hell,

That having friends on the other side of the fence,

Can make a difference.


I am me, sitting in despair

when the body of the last of these women

has been found cremated,

yet this time without the mercy of gassing her first.

And I wonder what Anne and Etty were thinking

when they marched into Auschwitz.

What Vivian was thinking

as Hamas terrorists opened the door to the closet

where she was hiding.

Or did they not find her and simply burn her house

with her in it,

hoping she was in there somewhere

so they could slaughter

another Jew?


With all the words my soul sisters left me,

I will never know their thoughts at that moment in time,

their feelings as the worst was happening to them.

I can never know what they believed as they faced

pure evil.


I am left with only my own thinking heart

in this nightmare humanity has dreamt

for itself.

Photo courtesy of Haviva Ner-David
About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two novels, three spiritual journey memoirs, and the first and only children's book on mikveh. Her memoirs include: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual companion (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. Her debut novel, Hope Valley, is available at: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, is available at: Yonah and the Mikveh Fish is available at: Her new and second novel, To Die in Secret, is available at: Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, is slated for publication in 2024. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.
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