Huts can be durable
It’s confusing to love something dangerous. It’s overwhelming to be so certain that as a Jew, Israel is my home and yet so pained by the wars that arrive to my doorstep every season. The hostilities between neighboring nations rip apart worlds in the tradition of hatred. The distance wedged in between us, ancient cousins instead of reaching out across this little strip of land perpetuates the accessibility to animosity. The damage is our reality.
Two weeks ago, shopping with a friend in Jerusalem, my phone buzzes. I read the news that two parents were murdered with their children in the backseat and I wince from the ache in my chest. Later my phone relays the message from my school that this is the son and daughter-in-law of our beloved Rabbi and Rabbanit Henkin and the ache in my heart erupts in pain. My mind instantly races between imagining them receiving the news, about the four children witnessing the indescribable trauma and the warped theological crisis that I’m holding in my hands. My brain just can’t wrap around the hypocrisy that these spiritual leaders now exist only in memories. It’s a cry of frustration, of sadness, of torture. It’s feeling helpless and embarrassed that this is the world that we live in. It’s the paradox of all this happening during the holiday of Sukkot, when it’s commanded to be happy.
Sukkot, my favorite Jewish holiday, celebrates our love of G-d. After the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, we leave our homes for a week to just be in His presence, to just sit under the palm frond roof and elevate time with the holiness of family. The huts we Jews sit in remind us of the 40 years lead by G-d in the desert on the way to the Land of Israel. We were dependent on Him to show us the way to walk. Perfectly planned for harvest season, this holiday shakes its head to pride of material belongings and hugs us into an understanding of our humanness, of our lack of control in this world.
As I join my nation tormented and grieving, my shambled pain transforms into the conviction that Rabbi Eitam and Na’ama Henkin were murdered during this holiday that embodies how they lived. They were brilliant thinkers. EItam was expected to become a leader in Jewish law as well as historical matters, bringing together religious educators with academia. Na’ama was an incredibly talented artist and poet, a creative graphic design entrepreneur as well as leader in their community and teacher of Torah. They harvested stalks and fields of accomplishments, miles and miles of expertise and inventive vision. They produced radiant children and gathered remarkable joy in their relationship with the world. And with all this success, they teach us that although our physical time in this world is temporary, the heaps of powerful living continues to bring forth fruit.
Just like the Sukkah, the temporary hut, our lives are about integrity. Vulnerable, yet built mindfully, our bodies and our Sukkot have the opportunity to create worlds of elevated time. Eitam and Na’ama will continue to live on through their children and through their accomplishments. If the terrorists were planning on shaking our identity, they were doomed to start. Eitan and Na’ama are going to continue living through stories and memories. Sitting at Shiva, the weeklong intense start of the mourning process, people from all walks of life come to grieve with Rabbi and Rabbanit Henkin. Jews, non-Jews, religious, non-religious… the room is packed in with voices and tributes and tears and so, so much strength. The weak walls of the Sukkah aren’t as fragile as expected.
The smile on Rabbanit Henkin is a constant. Her eyes twinkle with every expression and every word is formed in between an ever-expanding grin. Sitting where no parent should ever sit, she asks directly compelling questions to visitors, welcoming stories and remarks, supplying fortitude to all that came to give strength. Other parents of terror attacks contribute words of support. “It gets better.” The crying baby in my arms will never know her uncle and aunt and the four children confused by the sudden pizza and sweets will be the proof that actions of terror simply don’t work on us.
Claiming that the Oslo Accords are not applicable anymore won’t change reality, and to affirm to violence is childish. To profess nobility in knife attacks, stone throwing and shooting does not prove that one’s case is right. It proves the case to be lacking in humanity. As I look around the room to see how my nation mourns, I am filled with the honor of being a member of this family, that these are our traditions. I do not hate Palestinians. I feel sympathy for their political and humanitarian plight. I feel contempt for some of their actions that end up speaking for the masses. I feel hurt by our lack of coexistence and the fact that one of us is always pinning the other as inhuman. I sign in heartache. We can’t even take a breath of response to one act of terrorism before the next one hits the news. The pattern of horrible news every few hours is throbbing with bitterness. I sigh in relief reading the news that it was “just” an attempted suicide bombing. We can breathe out only when the stabbings are “just wounds” and not fatal. Every step in a public area has to be of caution. The sunny days tease us from the heavy atmosphere of carrying on with life. The nation of Israel is answering back with self-defense classes and pepper spray clenched in preparation. We are waving Israeli flags and baking cakes for policemen. We are going to weddings and bars, going shopping and volunteering. Life continues. Harvesting my resolution to find comfort in a world out of my control, I am blessed for the non-material and material fortune surrounding me. That I am still and always will be in a temporary hut that is fortified by traditions of warmth. Together, focusing on the lives of the individuals in our family, we will strike back with persistence to live. We will continue to believe in the fruition of the temporary.