I tell myself it will become easier. Just days ago, it seemed impossible to focus on work, yet now it can be a useful distraction. Every so often, the news catches my eye and I am drawn back in. Then, slowly, I pull myself away, and once again work is a welcome distraction.
Today I was shaken back to reality by a text from a cousin. Although we have spoken a dozen or more times since the onset of this war, this time her text was different. She was asking for help, as a mother. Her son’s unit, positioned in the north, was in dire need of equipment. I wrote back, asking if there was anything specific I could try getting. My heart sank upon learning they need something as vital as ceramic vests.
More than 12 hours later, the day has passed in a blur. Springing into action, I contacted Yehuda Segal from Eretz Hakodesh. Since the war began, Eretz Hakodesh, with the help of Rav Nechemia Malinowitz has managed to protect hundreds of chayalim. Now, with many others doing the same, their focus has shifted to caring for the thousands of families displaced by the war. From giving out hundreds of packages for toys, to thousands of meals,. they have not stopped for even one second.
Yehuda’s swift assistance was a godsend. He connected me with a supplier who had vests available, and I was able to purchase one. By G-d’s divine planning, my cousin was home today on his first leave since October 7th. Instead of waiting for a delivery, he was able to get the vest in person, which was a relief, since he can be called back at any moment.
Suddenly it struck me. Here I was, proud of my prayers and charitable deeds, yet for weeks I had overlooked the needs of my own family. The possibility dawned on me that if this one cousin, from an elite unit, was lacking gear, others might be too. I had to act.
While learning in Jerusalem over a decade ago, I created an extended family Facebook group. Then, between the advent of WhatsApp, and my leaving to the states, it went dormant. Today it came back to life.
Once again, I was unable to work.
The rest of the day became a flurry of coordination. A firefighter cousin needed vests for his department, another required knee pads, watches, and a vest for himself. My efforts to find these items and raise funds from family and friends consumed all my attention. I went from call to text, speaking to different people on three different screens, all at the same time. With such a shortage of supplies already in Israel, I knew that each second wasted meant less of a chance to find what was needed.
Now, my question in the initial aftermath of October 7th, “How can I work?” has transformed into “How can I sleep?”
With Shabbos approaching in Israel, to sleep now in New York might mean a chayal is left unprotected as they go into Shabbos.
I tell myself I am well versed in the current situation. After all, within each of us is a mini prime minister, adept in all matters of state and conflict. Then another cousin sent me a video of a rocket, billowing smoke after having made contact on the side of the road. She explained that it had fallen at the entrance to Efrat. Her 10-year-old daughter was home alone when she heard the sirens and she went into their safe room. “The boom was so loud that she literally thought it fell in our house.” I could not (and still can not) fathom how she must have felt. She would not come out of the safe room until someone came home and told her it was okay.
The boom was so loud that she literally thought it fell in our house
How can I sleep knowing my cousins, for almost a month, have stood so close to the front lines, so poorly equipped? How can I rest after learning that the best protective gear goes to the older reservists, leaving ‘newbies’ like my cousin, with outdated protection?
I am left questioning my own detachment. How could I have not thought to ask my cousins about their essential needs? Sure, I called to let them know I would be praying for their wellbeing, but it never crossed my mind to ask if they had the right gear to ensure their safe return home. Home, where their families wait each day. Home, where some have babies, to little to understand why abba never seems to be home anymore.
Home to their (great)grandparents, my aunt and uncle.
My uncle, Rabbi Shubie Spero, cherishes each of his descendants, counting them as one might imagine G-d counts His beloved flock. Each Chanukah, he and my Aunt Iris invite over every child, grandchild, and now great-grandchild, to receive “dimei chanukah” and inscribe their name in his ‘book of life’.
A month has gone by, and the war has moved into its next phase. The entire nation has unified in the effort to help — and so have I, or so I believed.
Now, I find myself in a race against time. Our duty to our Israeli brethren is undeniable, but the obligation is even greater towards our own relatives.
In the face of such stark reality, how can anyone sleep?
(May the G-d who never slumbers or sleeps (Psalms 121:4), protect Eretz Yisrael and our brothers and sisters who are defending our land.)