B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness

Humanity nourishes your Jewish soul

Last night I was honored to participate in the intown community vigil–organized by Ma’alot and other Jewish artists, rabbis,  and community leaders. It lifted a weight, cleared the fog around my soul, and restored some faith. 

Everything still feels horrible. Families wait in unbearable agony knowing their loved ones are held hostage by terrorists, knowing that the captors regard their loved ones as subhuman oppressors and would have no hesitation in taking their lives unless politically expedient not to. Their continued existence on this earth lies in the hands of terrorists and politicians. Every moment must feel like an excruciating lifetime. I cannot even imagine it. Heaven forbid anyone should ever endure something like this.

Even for those of us lucky enough not to have our direct family or friends kidnapped or killed, triggers and land mines still surround every step into the world, outside the Jewish community where the perspectives of good people are tainted by insidious anti-Jewish propaganda… even within the Jewish community where there is much painful division even as we also experience a sense of togetherness. We must all still spend too much energy guarding ourselves from ignorance and cruelty. I tread physically and virtually with trepidation, with fear of opening the wrong link or walking down the wrong street and seeing something like “Glory to our martyrs” onto the side of a building at George Washington University.  

But last night, among over 200 Atlantans gathered in a Decatur chapel for heartfelt song and prayer, I experienced an IV infusion of love and strength, setting me back out in the world more capable of navigating this difficult period in our history.

This is the gift of embodied spiritual practice, powerful even at an individual level, and amplified in an openhearted collective.

Ma’alot’s Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe grounded us to begin the evening: “We can channel our fear and care and righteous anger into action and that is necessary and important. But tonight is not for action or polemics…in times of destruction and death, our ancestors showed us how to grieve and how to heal…they fashioned rituals and wrote psalms to lead us through the pain and anger and despair.”  

In our endeavor to ensure protection of Jewish bodies, making time for heart-opening rituals is critical to nourish our Jewish souls, as CBH’s Rabbi Michael Rothbaum later described. The Jewish soul, he explained, which is commanded to open its ears to the piercing blasts of the shofar–last night blown by Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe–and within that cry, every grieving mother’s wails. 

We know that innocent human life is always lost to war, and we know that war is sometimes necessary. But we must not conflate the necessity of war (or lack thereof) with human compassion for the tragedies of war (or lack thereof).

There are those within the Jewish community who think there is a better way than war right now, and who are calling for it. There are also those who are skeptical of diplomacy. These are both justified positions. 

Contrary to antisemitic stereotypes, even when war is necessary, our tradition does not permit us to “love war.” War is an evil to be tolerated, not a sporting event. In Jewish liturgy we pray for peace multiple times a day, every day; in our holy language peace is our greeting to one another.

Our tradition calls us to make space for sorrow and compassion whenever devastation is heaped upon human beings, even for those who would not extend to us the same compassion. 

Mourning the loss of other mothers’ children is not a betrayal of Israel.

If we do not allow ourselves to validate our own pain at the death or suffering of innocents, we conflate survival with dehumanization of “other.”

If we conflate self-defense with dehumanization of “other,” we only dehumanize ourselves. 

In a world of slogans and soundbytes and clickbait, there is a lot of dehumanizing going on.

At last night’s vigil, we all let down our walls and experienced our humanity together. We prayed for humanity, we grieved for humanity, we hoped for humanity. V’al kol Yisrael v’al kol yosh vey tey veyl.

Am Yisrael Chai, and may Shalom come to all soon. 

About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.
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