In another lifetime, in our old American Jewish day school, the first-grade teacher would assign her students a special project to commemorate the 100th day of the school year.
Each child was tasked to bring a piece of construction paper laden with 100 items, all of one kind and glued to the board, in an attempt to give the children a sense of what 100 meant.
Some kids affixed 100 mismatched buttons; others pasted things like 100 Q-tips or 100 Band-Aids, 100 sugar-crusted fruit loops or 100 feathers, bright and soft and wispy. Hung up all over the classroom, these collages made for a vibrant math lesson drenched in color and textures, mundane objects turned into art that the children displayed with pride.
Today in Israel, we parents are experiencing a very different marking of 100 days.
It seems surreal that we have reached the 100th day since Hamas’s October 7th massacre turned our world upside down. Even those of us mothers who hover in the periphery of pain are deeply drenched in it, trying to excavate moments of normalcy and even joy, when so often we are mired in loss, anxiety, and uncertainty.
It’s been 100 days since, instead of dancing with the Torah on our holiday, tens of thousands of us ran into bomb shelters with our children. One hundred days since we started to understand how our brothers and sisters in the Gaza Envelope were brutalized, beheaded, raped and stolen into a world of dark tunnels, abuse and fear. One hundred days since thousands of our sons and daughters, spouses, parents, and friends ran to serve and to defend, too many of them sacrificing their lives to protect our own.
Each home and family, from north to south, from river to sea, has its own tally of pain and despair. Here in my home, it has been 100 days since my daughter’s friend Naveh was killed defending the peaceful people of Kibbutz Be’eri, since her friend Shlomo was seriously injured in an eight-hour stand against terrorists who infiltrated his base. Here, it is 100 days since my friend Naomi and her husband Yami lost their brave son Roey, his wide grin and warm heart engraved in our town’s memory forever, since my friend Norah’s courageous and kind son-in-law Yosef, who had just celebrated his first wedding anniversary five days before, fell while defending innocent families attacked in their homes in Kfar Aza. It is an unbelievable and agonizing 100 days since more than one family we know personally had a loved one taken hostage. The stuff of nightmares morphed into our reality.
And in the 99 days since that dreadful day, we have faced so many mornings of waking up with dread as to whether and which names would be cleared for publication, of looking for shelters just in case a siren blares when we are out and about, of waiting for all our hostages to be returned. Ninety-nine more days of tears. Adding salt to our wounds is experiencing 99 days of disbelief, as we have watched our people attacked and gaslit, our history and experiences denied and erased.
Thinking back to the sweetness of my children’s first-grade projects, I wondered what collages I could imagine crafting to mark this twisted 100 days? What could we piece together to hold and reflect all we have experienced since that blackest of Shabbats?
I imagine 100 of the shoes I saw last week at the Nova Festival exhibit at the Tel Aviv expo, the Blundstones and Crocs and sneakers and Naot so common in Israeli homes, this time lined up in echoes of the Shoah. A hundred of the children’s books lying among the shards of terra cotta shingles I walked over in burnt homes and in a kindergarten in Be’eri last month when I went to bear witness to the destruction — books that saw things I can barely stand to think about. I see 100 of the blackened cars I saw holy soldiers meticulously, sacredly, lovingly combing over to make sure every remnant that was once a living, breathing person could have sanctity in death.
But then there are the collages of light, of unity, of kindness that return hope and color back into our world. One collage could contain 100 notes children have sent to our soldiers to thank them for protecting us. Another could have 100 coffee cups my friend Devorah served to the soldiers stationed near her cozy cafe, while she held her breath every day praying for her own soldier son. We could add up pieces from 100 of the countless donated winter coats collected for displaced families, or from 100 of the endless loads of green laundry done by strangers. Yet another collage could have 100 avocado pits from fruits plucked by volunteers to help save our farms.
We could also piece together 100 wedding canopies that embraced brides or grooms wearing uniforms at last-minute weddings on bases, or hang one hundred of the metal medallions worn by Jews from every sector and others around the world in solidarity with the families still waiting for their loved ones to come home, imploring G-d and the world to “Bring Them Home Now.”
In addition to these collages of our hearts, people all over the world are heeding the cry of Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh was seriously wounded and kidnapped to Gaza 100 days ago, as she has asked us all to wear the number 100 on our chests to show that she is not carrying the burden of this most horrific of milestones all alone.
While our nation and people have been stuck in the endless loop of October 7th, winter has crept up on us. The Jewish month of Shvat has begun, and Tu Bishvat, the holiday of the trees, is unfathomably almost here.
We wonder: Can almond trees bloom when it is still October?
We recite in our psalms each day that those who plant in tears will reap in joy. If so, then surely our people will have a glorious spring somewhere in our future, where we will count almond blossoms and births and not our dead, count blessings and not days that loved ones are held in the darkest of darkness, to count normal school year milestones, with no need for collages of sadness or little pieces of tape with numbers of anguish scribbled on our hearts.