Last week my little toddler had an operation. I thought I would be able to cope with it, to support him and to keep my own strength, but his cries of pain and lack of understanding have brought me to the edge. My body feels like it has turned into a dark cave of his suffering, each cry echoing and echoing within me, growing and growing, with no end. The operation was on Wednesday. By Shabbat, I was near collapsing point and needed the cries to stop.
The three most important men in my life: my boyfriend, my father and the doctor, were telling me it was all in his head and he wasn’t in pain. Yet I could hear the pain. I could feel the pain. I was living the pain. And then a small miracle happened. There’s a beautiful dog here my toddler adores. He’s always loved playing with her. She belongs to a friend of ours – the first woman to publicly receive Orthodox rabbinic ordination, no less – who suggested we share her. The result was instantaneous and miraculous. He forgot his fear of the pain, even the idea of pain, and was running and jumping and dancing with her everywhere. This dog has helped to heal him. She has also allowed me to begin my own healing process. And this was the present of a mother who knew, who really knew, and understood and felt my agony.
Last night I went to a ‘sharing group’ for women. As a teenager and young adult I would have run a million miles away from this kind of thing – I didn’t like women, and spent as little as time with them as I could. They were bitchy, manipulative, backstabbing creatures who always looked me up and down as though I was a painting they didn’t like. It took me many years to understand this was to do with their insecurities (often about men) rather than me. And many more, until I became a mother, to understand women at all. Last night at this sharing group I watched beautiful women discover and nourish the courage to share disturbing and heart-wrenching stories. Stories about partners, children, stories about their roots and their search for identity. Stories about a search for inner peace. In each story I heard the same underlying plea: they needed other women who could understand what it is to give birth, what it is to lie with a man, what it is to bleed, and though their partners are all, I am sure, wonderful people, they are men.
Just as the rest of the world has been stuck inside a strange self-inflicted prison these past few months, I also have been watching the world from my weird bubble. We made Aliyah (came to live in Israel) in February and then a few weeks later I was not allowed to go to Ulpan (to learn Hebrew), let alone try to make friends. My isolation was a kind of isolation within isolation, yet still I kept calm (most of the time) and still I counted my blessings.
I watched in horror as England destroyed itself, the people there more and more confused and traumatised with the poor leadership leading to more deaths. I watched in horror how America suffered terribly, how Trump even led some of his people to self-inject disinfectant, and then refused to accept any responsibility. With horror, I watched these right-wing governments, led by men, and the path of destruction they were leaving in their wake. And then I studied other countries with fascination: New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, watched how they were succeeding with their female leadership. What is it these women have inside them which means they can deal with such a crisis?
And that led me to thinking, in the past week, about George Floyd, a mother’s son, a daughter’s father. What would have happened if the police who had stopped him that day had been female? Would a woman have kept her knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds? Really? How many women are in fact violent, compared with the amount of violent men in the world? I am not talking about race here. I am talking about gender. Even if all white female police officers in America have racist tendencies (and then, maybe are trained NOT to be racist) which I also can’t believe, there is just no way they would act the same way. Why? Because they have given – or may well give – birth to sons, to daughters. Because there is something inside of us which says: protect, save, and love, at all costs.
That’s why it’s the women of this country who are increasingly becoming the true protesters against war, the true advocates for peace. Why should we give birth to our children, only to lose our utter reason for being because of futile violence about territory? Who cares? I was not born here, but this is my country because I live and work in it and I contribute to making it flourish. You were born here; you are Jewish. You were born here.; you are Muslim. You were born here; you are Christian. You were born here; you are Israeli. You were born here; you are Israeli Arab. You were born here; you are Palestinian. Did you choose to be born here? Was it something within your control? It was within my control to come here; I chose to make it my country. But I am only doing so on the understanding it is your country too. It is the country of us all. It is not worth losing sons, losing daughters over. Life is too precious. There has to be another way.
And I think of my toddler in that hospital bed, scared, helpless, crying, and I cannot even begin to understand the pain of mothers who lose their children because of violence, because of war. That’s not why we give birth to our children!
As I watch the miracle of my son playing and laughing and dancing with his favourite dog, as the pain slowly begins to heal inside of me, I swear to myself: there has to be another way. And I know, thankfully, there are many, many, many women out here who will help me to find it.