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Holding our breath with their names on our lips

'A keening cry is rising up from Israel, one voice, three names'

For a brief moment when I wake up the tight-fisted clutch around my throat is absent, and for that brief moment I breathe. But then I remember they are still gone and my breath catches. The strangle hold of terror and rage, the pressure on my chest, the sharp sting behind my eyes. Even as I mime the daily motions of my life, always that grip across my throat remains.

But they are not mine. What right do I have to be stricken so deep? Their own mothers so composed and dignified, emanating faith and kindness and forgiveness and strength even as I succumb to weakness and doubt and vengeance. What right do I have to look to these suffering women for comfort? I have no right to ache, and yet I do. I have no right to look to these women for inspiration, and yet I do.

My children have stopped sleeping in their own beds. They curl up around one another in the night with the boys’ names on their lips. They recite psalms with their classmates every day, praying with the rest of our nation for the safe return of our stolen children. We light candles together and they whisper into their hands: “Please bring them home”.

Bit by bit my Facebook feed is filled with the minutiae of people’s lives: life goes on. Sunny photos of smiling children, end of year school parties and frolicking beach days. The same old bickering and boasting, but the boys are not home. They remain in the horizon of every sunset, in the crest of every crashing wave. The sly sadness in the corners of my friends’ eyes when the remembering catches them off guard; the boys are not home.

The guilt gnaws at me. I have the incredible merit of being the mother of three beautiful, healthy children who come home to me at the end of the day (bli ayin hara) while Gil-ad, Naftali and Eyal’s mothers wait day after day, fear and frustration mounting with every passing minute. They are not mine, and I have no claim to this panic, yet I feel it. We all do. We shush our own babies when the hourly news chimes, hopeful for better news than the hour before. We take on the gestures of Jews willing to make sacrifices at the altar of our God, hopeful for an answer to our prayers. We separate challah dough, light extra Sabbath candles, recite psalms, donate supplies to our soldiers, learn Torah. We invent catchy jargon and hashtags, hurl accusations and pour our souls out before one another in statuses and blog posts. Always with their names on our lips. Always with their names on our lips.

We know that this has become more complicated. We know we are at war now. We know that it may get worse before it gets subtly bad again. Beneath our tearful desperation, we are a stoic nation with steely resolve. We know how much we love our babies and we know how far we will go to bring them home, and fewer of us are willing to apologize for this. We released thousands for every one of our stolen children in the past, whether they were alive or not, and now we will capture every single one of our enemies if it brings us one step closer to security. We will send our own babies door to door, overturning every stone, crawling through every tunnel, if it means finding Gil-ad, Naftali and Eyal.

They are not mine, and I have no right to this pain, this clutching fist of rage around my throat. I wonder, like we all do, if they are warm, if they are being fed, if they have one another for comfort. I wonder if they know the unity that has sprung up like a wellspring from the scorching desert of their disappearance. I wonder if they realize that we all ache for them, how this is nothing like anything that has ever happened before. Amidst the shards of jagged bloody history littered at our feet, these boys stand before us, beacons of our hope and love and deep, deep desire for a just, lasting peace. As the rockets rain down from Gaza, as shots are fired from every corner of Judea and Samaria, as Syria brings its war to our doorstep, we know that we are alone. We know that nothing we say or do will save us from being crucified by world opinion; little by little we have stopped caring. These boys were stolen, and they are not home yet. We have nothing to say to the accusing world, our mouths cannot speak platitudes with their names on our lips.

A keening cry is rising up from Israel, one voice, three names. We will not rest, their names always on our lips, the remembrance of their missing presence among us – the shadow before and behind us as we walk through everyday life. We carry them, they are not ours and yet we do. We clutch them to our chests, letting our national heartbeat strum a soothing song. We hold them tight, our collective embrace not letting go, not even for a second. They are not mine, but their names are on my lips.

Gil-ad, Naftali, Eyal. I won’t breathe until you are home. None of us will.

About the Author
Corinne Berzon is currently getting her PhD in bioethics. When she is not reading dense philosophical texts or dancing around the house to dubstep with her three daughters, she teaches yoga, runs in no particular direction and watches inappropriate television with her husband; Corinne loves Israel, but remains deeply and darkly cynical because it is more entertaining than the alternative.
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