For The First Time…

It’s 2:11 AM and I’m sitting at my computer with freshly polished nails and the umpteenth Grey’s Anatomy re-run playing in the background. I should be asleep but the urge to put my head full of swirling thoughts down on paper is much too pressing.  Since the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Shaar two weeks ago, stress has taken on a life of its own. I try not to dwell on what may be happening to them, but tonight I realized that my emotions run far deeper and are more complex than I wanted to believe.  I have found myself self-medicating with food, having an extra glass of wine before bed, not getting enough sleep, feeling like I’m in a constant state of angst, and get entirely too frustrated at news sites that don’t give me the information I want, when I want it.  Where are the updates, I wonder.  Is it good that so few have been published?  Is it bad?  Are any more coming out today?  All that said, I get to experience these things within the confines of my home, my family, my stuff, and the place I deem safe.

It’s 2:11 AM for the IDF and the young men kidnapped out of seemingly thin air as well.  While I sit at my dining room table, the IDF is working feverishly to find these boys, keep our borders safe, and fight off terrorists. It amazes me that within the first week of the kidnapping over a dozen rockets torpedoed their way into Israel proper, hitting open fields, a home, and causing various levels of destruction. And it’s almost laughable that the world is angry at us for wanting to defend ourselves.  But hey, at least they’re consistent seeing as how they’re usually angry at us for something!  Show restraint, the US says. There’s no evidence the boys were actually kidnapped, the UN says.  At 2:11 AM in the US all those big talkers and policy makers will likely be in their comfy beds, on their comfy sheets, in the safety of their comfy homes.  Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad will be somewhere unspeakable, as yet unknowable, but not in the warmth of their parents’ arms.  The soldiers looking for them and defending us will be in caves, under rocks, hiking through deserts. They too, will be anything less than comfortable.

I attended a tehillim gathering last week in the hopes that my voice, along with the voices and tears of others, would pierce the Heavens.   As I walked towards the gathering of people my eyes fell upon a teen literally weeping on her mom.  One look at her and I was done for.  We exchanged knowing, tearful glances as if to say, “Let’s hurt together.”  At the gathering, fliers with pictures of the three young men stolen off a roadside were distributed, and I couldn’t help thinking that so many days earlier they were living their lives, perhaps thinking about where they were going to hang out on Erev Shabbat. Instead, they’ve become the symbol of a country at constant battle for its very survival, their survival.  These kids are in the middle of exams and determining the course of their army service, and now they are … somewhere.

I understood the reason for my tears at the prayer session because, well, this whole thing is sad.  Sad beyond words and inescapably painful.  And then it hit me.  Slowly at first, but then WHAM!  When I lived in the US and bad things happened in Israel, I hurt, I got angry, I reacted intensely, and sometimes I could feel the reactions in the pit of my stomach.  I remember watching the news, watching the gatherings of people who came together to pray for who- knows- what- victim as if they were crying into the cameras, for the cameras. What made this week’s gathering so different?  Well, it was the first time I was on the other side of the camera lens.  I wasn’t watching a tearful face in the crowd; I was a tearful face in the crowd. There’s a different kind of visceral reaction to knowing not only of the place from where the boys were stolen, but having driven past it.  Everything happening in the Middle East is now metaphorically and sometimes literally in my backyard. No longer a spectator, a “tsk- tsk- er,” a “wow I feel sad, but I’m all the way over here- er,” I realize that for the first time, I am an Israeli.  Not an Israeli who grew up here, has a coarsely melodic Hebrew accent and physical roots in the Land. But an Israeli, as in one who’s lived here for three years, and is part of the fabric this Land is made of.  No longer an outsider to what the media blasts, I realize that I am now one of those tearful faces in the crowd, hoping and praying and begging G-D for them to come home.

I looked around at the teens in the crowd and understood that the terrorists could have taken this kid, that kid, or any kid.  And then I thought about my kids, and couldn’t so much as hear the thought through; If the Yifrach’s, Shaar’s, and Frenkel’s sons are ours, then mine are theirs too. What clicked and came together in my mind is that the problems in the Middle East somehow went from “stuff that happens over there” to “stuff that is happening HERE!” It’s a frightening, humbling, downright crazy thought that is so very real.

For the first time, I get it.  Of course folks outside of Israel want these boys to come home. Of course they understand the terms being thrown around and how dangerous this all is.  What they cannot realize unless they are physically here is what it’s like to be PHYSICALLY HERE while this is happening.  Driving down a street, hoping no one throws a rock at your car.  Anticipating war updates that may or may not come.  Being in the same spots where attacks have taken place. Talking to strangers in any store in any city and being engaged in conversation about the current situation.  I could never have fully understood the experience until now. The feeling is profound and has stolen many an hour of sleep with nary an end in sight. The not knowing is hard, I mean really, really hard. That said, I get to “not know” with my dog asleep beside me, the whir of the fan nearby, and a set of pillows screaming my name. A set of comfortable, Thank-    G-D- I- know- where- my- kids- are pillows, screaming my name.

Its 2:45AM now.  It’s time for me to go to sleep; it’s been time for a long time. Before I do though, I want to thank our soldiers for their bravery, expertise and dedication. Here’s hoping that you too get some sleep. It’s 2:45AM and we still don’t know where Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad are.  I wonder if they have beds, a place to sleep, each other.   G-D speed young men.  You are loved, you are missed, and I am so sorry this has happened to you.  We pray for your safe return for you, your families, and our people. Od lo avda tikvateinu, we have not lost hope.

About the Author
Rachel Weinstein is a medical social worker by trade, as well as an English teacher, writer, krav maga instructor, proud wife, and mom of 4+ energetic teens. She lives in Beit Shemesh, hails from Brooklyn and made aliyah from Chicago.