Sarah Isseroff Abenaim

As the Earth Shakes


My kids are tense. They huddle on the floor, in a corner of the family room, trying to focus on a game of Monopoly, but there are loud booms every few minutes that shake our house in the Catskill Mountains and make the lights flicker. They look up at me, searching for the silent reassurance that everything is okay, that this okay, that the violent thunderstorm will pass. 

There is an onslaught of questions about the storm- when will it stop? Can it hurt us? Is our house safe? Can you die from lightening? What causes a storm? I have answers for these questions, some of which stem from a quick Wikipedia search, others which I can emphatically invent. “Yes, you are safe,” I say, and I mean it, even though at times, I too, feel very unsafe. 

Later that evening, I speak with a close friend in Israel. Our families have spent a lot of time together- I love her kids like my own, and when she tells me that the siren went off, and they are all scared, I can almost see the faces of her children, the fear in their eyes, the questions of, When will it stop? Can it hurt us? Are we safe? I can hear their whispered prayers, the thick air of the safe-room choking their words. The way a mother or father’s strong embrace, filled with warmth and security, may not be enough to silence the fear of the children. How love doesn’t conquer all that hatred. 

I’m not a fan of informing my children of the political state of affairs. I don’t want to add to their stress by explaining a situation that may be complex, and well beyond their abilities to control or fix. But this time, I sit them down. Although we are geographically distant, I want them to feel connected, to feel the concern for the safety of people we know and love, who are in the line of fire. I list specific names to them. “They should just come here,” the kids say, a look of severity shadowing their happy faces. 

“If someone tries to steal our baby, would you just give him up?” I ask the kids. They shake their heads. They would fight for him. “This is Israel,” I tell them. “It’s the baby of the Jewish people. And we don’t just run away.” They understand the mixed emotions; the love, the fear, the ownership, in a microcosmic way.

It is from the belly of a hardship that we are motivated to move. From the bottom of the earth, we struggle to climb up. When they hear of the violence and soldiers and rockets, the children are saddened, and in their sadness, they desire to pray, to transform the energy into something positive. We sit and say tehillim together. Their hearts are invested in the words, each little mouth forming Hebrew phrases, connecting them with Jewish people throughout the globe. Their pleas, undiluted, beseeching God to save our baby. 

Mimamakim Keraticha Hashem.


About the Author
Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck, NJ. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be found at