“Ivdu et hashem besimcha (Serve the LORD with gladness)”
I sing these words, and I feel as though they come from somewhere that goes far, far, deeper than conscious intention or rational thought. My voice swells with these depths and joins the river that is my community’s singing. And the river flows strong, eternal, enormous. It easily overflows the banks of the small space that we crammed ourselves into – a space far too small to truly accommodate our entire community.
But with the sirens blaring and blaring all morning throughout Jerusalem, safety comes first. And this small space is our community’s mamad, its protected space. So here we are.
“Come before His presence with singing,” we sing on.
My body is in motion, always in motion, flowing with the song. It’s dizzying, but I’m not alarmed. My right hand is curled around my daughter’s warm fingers, my left hand is safe in another woman’s palm. We hold each other, uphold each other, move together in a circle. The circle holds us steady even as it keeps us moving. My steps go into its motion and its motion goes into my steps, and I am myself alone but also one with my kids, my friends, my neighbors.
My people. My country.
Who are under vicious attack.
We can still hear the siren, here in this moment. It’s loud enough to penetrate even our overflowing river of song. But I’m not scared in this moment. I’m loud, I’m triumphant.
“Serve God with ‘simcha’ (gladness),” I sing, and my joy is an act of defiance. We shall not dance to the tune of these missiles. We will dance on despite it. We will dance and grasp joy.
“We knew practically nothing about Judaism in the Soviet Union,” My father, Natan Sharansky, told us last night, before this hellish day was something we could even imagine (and now there will always be a Before and After when we think of this day, won’t there?).
“But we knew that there’s a day called “simchaisorah,” and that on this day Jews get together and dance and sing Jewish songs. So we would go to the street outside the Moscow synagogue. KGB agents would be there, writing down the names of those present – trying to scare us away. But we would stay and dance anyway, hand in hand with other young Jews. The problem was that we didn’t know any Jewish songs.”
My father pauses, and his eyes smile.
“So we sang antisemitic songs about Jews instead.”
My father recalled one song in particular, whose crude rhymes decried the fact that Jews were everywhere, causing problems. “If there’s no water, it’s because the Jews drank it,” one memorable line declared, while the refrain exclaimed that “there are Jews, Jews all around.”
I think of this song as I pour myself into my community’s dance, as our voices compete with the siren, as our circle goes round and round and round. I think of my father in his youth, of his determination to grasp something Jewish, anything Jewish, despite the KGB’s frightening presence. I think of how he and his fellow dancers turned the words of their haters into an act of both hilarity and defiance, as they looked around at their fellow Jews in the circle, and sang that there are “Jews all around.” I think of how they used their enemies’ slur to describe an exultant reality and forge a moment of togetherness in a place that wished to keep them down.
We’ve come very, very far since my father’s Moscow “simchaisorah’s”. Here we are today, reclaiming our own ancient songs in our ancestors’ language, dancing freely in our own Jewish state.
But in essence, we’re still part of the same dance, the same circle. We, too, dance in defiance and triumph. We dance to the ‘booms’ of missiles being intercepted above us, and with each of our steps we dedicate ourselves to the very spirit that brought Moscow’s jews to the street outside the synagogue. We, too, choose to grasp our heritage boldly. We, too, won’t let our enemies scare us away from this dance.
After the dance, I listen as we read the last words of the Torah.
I stand with my community, my kids’ hands in mine, and say “Chazak chazak venitchazak” (be strong and grow stronger).
I never meant these words more.
Yes, we are strong and shall grow even stronger. Because we are so much more than this day of horror. We are so much more than this pain.
Every year, we read the whole Torah and finish and begin it again, in one unending circle. And we carry within us the past and the future that this endless circle represents.
We carry within us the courage of Abraham and the kindness of Rebecca and the shrewdness of Jacob. We carry within us the perseverance of the Hebrew slaves who found it within themselves to first survive and then rise up. We carry within us the promise that revived them, too, the promise that came into the world when God told a nation of slaves that they could be free and sovereign and a light unto the nations. And we carry within us the hope of realizing this promise in our lives.
So yes, we are heartbroken, but we are more than our heartbreak.
Yes, we are sad, but we are more than our grief.
We are the mother in shul who hugged her crying children after her husband was called into reserve duty, and the father who ran home to get his uniform, and the congregants who closed ranks around them all, who will go on supporting them through this hard time.
We are the girl who hugged a frightened toddler when the sirens blared.
We are the many, many people who mourn our fallen, and who will do everything we can to help our brothers and sisters down south in the days to come.
We are the people who hold each other’s hands and form a circle that goes beyond political camps and ideological divides and millennia and vast distances.
Hamas won’t defeat us, just as the KGB didn’t, just as Pharaoh didn’t.
Our circle will not be broken.
Our dance will not be deterred.