For Whom I Would Lay Down My Life…

The Pictures on My Wall….

When my wife and I left Forest Hills this past summer after forty-two years, thirty-seven of them in the same home, the challenge of making a new living space truly our own was daunting. The good news was that we had plenty of room within which to be creative in our new home in West Orange, New Jersey. But where and how does one even start to do such a thing after living in the same space for so long?

We are still a ways from meeting the challenge, but one decision that we made quickly, as you can see from the above image, was to create a visual gallery of family photos (all done using “mixtiles,” an online company based in Tel Aviv!) on a wall very near the front door. It’s pretty much the first thing that you see when you enter the house.

In addition to my wife Robin and me, the people in those photos are our children and their spouses, our grandchildren, and one of our children and his very lovely significant other. Some of these images hung in our previous home, others are new, and still others are placed strategically around the house. But invariably, when people visit us for the first time, they pause to “look at the gallery.” If you are at all familiar with our family, the images on the wall, each in its own way, is resonant with meaning and memory. Like the proverbial maxim, each is worth a thousand words, and tells its own story of who we are, and who our family is as well. Those pictures are there because they people in them are the foundation stones of Robin’s and my life together, a constant reminder for us of what is ultimately important.

Since the horrific events of October 7, I’ve come to have a deeper appreciation of those pictures, no doubt because of the ubiquitous presence of pictures of the hatufim– those men, women and children who were brutally kidnapped in Israel on that terrible day and remain, even now, held against their will by Hamas, in Gaza.

As the title of this piece says, I appreciate in a way that I never allowed myself to consider that the people in our little gallery at home are those men, women and children for whom I would lay down my life to protect. The mere thought of someone, or some group of people, holding them against their will and making them fear for their lives would make me lose any inhibitions that I might have about my own well-being. I could imagine no eating, no sleeping, no semblance of normalcy until the threat to them was resolved. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do, or take a chance on, to redeem them from the horror that they might be experiencing.

I have watched, with a combination of awe, admiration and compassion, the brave family members of the hatufim as they struggle, amidst their own private desperation, to keep the awareness of their loved ones’ dire situations front and center in the world’s attention. Across the vast distances that separate us physically, spiritually we have learned to feel at one with them, to identify with their enormous burden, and to pray for the success of their efforts. To identify with Israel’s struggle is to accept that each and every one of those hatufim are their families’ “pictures on the wall.” Since that awful day, they have known no rest and no respite from their all-encompassing sense of dread. Our hearts ache with and for them, as they leave no stone unturned in their efforts to “bring them home.”

And further to that point…

The ubiquitousness of the images of the hatufim in Israel- they are everywhere, always, in every medium- has also served to create the much larger sense that they are the “pictures on the wall” of every Israeli, of every persuasion. The “family of Israel,” which has known so much fracture and division over the past year and more, has found common cause by recognizing the hatufim as their own family. The war that they are fighting is for their family, which they know is in great peril. They are completely identified with the hatufim. There are precious few families in Israel that have not been personally touched by the death of a loved one, or a friend, or a friend of their children, either on October 7 or in the battles beyond. The individual and collective trauma of the people of Israel is incalculable, and their fear for the future is real. This is an intensely personal battle for them, penetrating into every corner of Israeli society. 

All of this I think of every time I walk into my house and look at the pictures of those for whom I would lay down my life. If, God forbid, the situation warranted, no one person or group of people would be able to tell me that I needed to cease my efforts to redeem them. On a scale so much infinitely larger, Israel deserves the same understanding- and much more.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.
Related Topics
Related Posts