Rachel Sharansky Danziger

Forever choosing life

I'd thought pogroms and stateless defenselessness were things of the past. But if we must fight, at least we know what we're fighting for
Kibbutz Nahal Oz, on the border of the Gaza Strip, in 2015. (Amir Tibon/Times of Israel/File)
Kibbutz Nahal Oz, on the border of the Gaza Strip, in 2015. (Amir Tibon/Times of Israel/File)

“In the beginning,” we will read tomorrow in the first portion of the Torah.

Until this week, I thought we were the end. The triumphant finale of a millennia long journey, the promise, the victory, at the end of the road. The persecutions of our past, the exiles, the stateless defenselessness, the pogroms – those, I thought, were finally over. They brought us here, and we are our people’s happy ending. We are those tragedies’ definitive end.

I knew that we had problems to solve and the conflict to deal with. But I thought that those problems were minutia, the tail end of our national story’s denouement.

“In the beginning,” we will read, and I’ll know — we were deluded. We’re not done with striving. We’re not done with paying, and fighting, for our lives.

For our land.

So on this week — this horrific week — we are all Adam. We’re exiled from the Eden of our previous self-perception. Turns out that our Israel is not a done deal but an ongoing struggle. And like Adam before us, we must find the strength to start again in the new reality before us. With “worn-out tools,” as Kipling wrote in his famous poem “If”.

With the sweat of our brow, as Adam did.

* * *

A week ago, I broke Shabbat to send a message to my mother.

“We’re safe, don’t worry, please be strong.”

I knew that the siren would make her think about her children, and she’d worry.

I knew that because I was thinking about mine.

I was so, so grateful to have them right there, in my arms, in the shelter, safe with me. Where I could hug them, and kiss them, and say “we’re safe, don’t worry, be strong.”

Since Shabbat, I keep thinking of other mothers. Mothers who are waiting for messages that won’t ever come, messages from the other side of death and captivity. And other mothers, too, mothers who are holding their children in captivity, who can’t really say, “We are safe,” just, “Be strong.”

This week, we are all Eve, the mother of “all life.” We all hold our kids closer. And we try very hard to go on choosing life.

We are Eve when we choose not to sink into despair, but rather to help others.

We are Eve when we choose not to curl into ourselves, but rather to stand tall.

We are Eve when we choose not to lose ourselves in grief, but rather to grow stronger.

Faced with cruel enemies who pursue our death and destruction, even those of us who are home with our children go on fighting. With every choice we make, we fight to choose life.

* * *

It’s hard to choose life when our dead are before us. Our wounded. Our kidnapped. Elderly, middle aged, young.

This week, we are Abel, and our blood is calling from the earth of this land that we love so. The land that we care for, and nurture, and till.

The land we returned to, after millennia of yearning. The land where we built a sovereign Jewish state. The land where we felt safe, and thought that we had reached the happy ending of our story.

The land we must fight for, again, with all our strength.

Like Cain, the perpetual exile, our enemies will never grow roots in this land. Because those who strive to bring about destruction, can bring about death but can’t nurture life. Sure, their butchery might buy them some short-term bloody satisfaction. But it can’t build a true and breathing civilization.

We are the ones who build and sow and nurture and develop. We are civilization builders, and our civilization will prevail.

Because we will fight for our world of love and life and growth and kindness with a ferocity that our enemies’ fight for death simply cannot match.

And we will go on forever choosing life.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and educator who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, history, and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and other online venues, and explores storytelling in the Hebrew bible as a teacher in Matan, Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Pardes.
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