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In the face of terror, we’re a rooted tree

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or taken the path of sinners, or joined the company of the insolent; rather, the teaching of the LORD is his delight, and he studies that teaching day and night. (Psalms 1:1-2)

Earlier this afternoon, I didn’t think about these words, about this psalm – though I did think about the company we keep, and the kind of things that gather nights and days into one unity. The daylight was slowly dying out around me over the Judean hills, and its softness lay across the the gathered company, bringing out the hidden tenderness in every face. A bride and a groom stood between us, embraced by this generous illumination, by the love that brought us all together to this place and moment, by the gentle green of spring that hugged the slopes around us, fading in the distant into nightfall’s haze.

I stood there, with nothing to weigh me down but the very real possibility that my toddler would try to join the couple underneath the chuppa (he did) and that we’d have to stop him (we tried). I felt at peace, I felt at home, I felt warm and blessed within this moment’s sweet communion.

I didn’t know then that soon blood would stain the streets of yet another Israeli city, that soon my friends in Tel Aviv would have to shut their doors and pray for safety, that soon the night would witness senseless death.

The terrorist who perpetrated the attack did know, of course; It’s odd and unsettling to think that he must have driven through the same twilight, carrying his gun, as the gold air shimmered and then faded slowly into black. It’s odd and unsettling to think that as we sang, and clapped, and cheered the groom for stepping on a glass to remember Jerusalem… the terrorist was on his way to kill.

“Let us read a psalm,” I told my tired daughter once we got home, after driving through the darkness and the onslaught of news, all the way back to the very Jerusalem grooms and brides remember with their feet, with shards of glass, with songs. “To pray. For the safety and healing of those who are facing this attack right now.”

I read through the first verses of the very first psalm. It felt right, somehow, to start in the beginning.

“He is like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose foliage never fades, and whatever it produces thrives,” I went on reading, and I thought of the bride and groom in the twilight, rooted here in our homeland, rooted in the moment, in their love and ours, in each other. “Not so the wicked,” I read on, thinking of the terrorist that killed and wounded later in the evening. “Rather, they are like chaff that wind blows away.”

But is that true? Will that terrorist, and others, will their commitment to our destruction, blow away?

This anxiety only lasted for the duration of the short silence that followed my own words. For then my daughter’s voice rose, concerned and alert despite her sleepiness. It echoed each of my words, and each syllable was like an amen, like a “hinneni” – “here I am.”

Here I am, Mother, with you in this worry. Here I am, Mother, with you in this prayer.

I can’t pass judgement on the tenacity of those who hate us. I can’t predict whether their rejection of our presence here can be softened into something that will allow a compromise to rise. But my daughter’s voice tells me that we can withstand their pressures; it shows me that we are the Psalmist’s tree, standing strong and tall.

With every action we take, with every choice we make, with every word we utter, we pass our loves and hopes and cares to our children. That they pick them up means that we – what we believe in – won’t just blow away. My prayer echoes those who prayed before me; my daughter’s means that our legacy will go on shining past today.

I am sad tonight. I am sad because there are people out there who were alive to see the golden twilight, but are no longer here, and will never see the light again. I am sad  because their loved ones are, and will remain, in pain. My sadness, like my daughter’s voice in prayer, says – I’m here, my brethren. I’m with you. I’m bearing witness.

But despite this sadness, I feel confident and strong. Our enemies may hate, attack, and hurt us, but we drink from deep streams that run well past their reach. Our roots go through millennia of history, generations of faith, countless parents and children. We remember, and we carry the memory forward. We live, we love, we build homes.

The sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride, goes on ringing over the ancient hills of our homeland. Children go on finding new ways to use the same old words. Our very life calls out an “amen” to all that came before us. And this “amen,” on our children’s lips, means that this ancient tree will go on bearing fruit.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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