It’s Monday morning and I’m preparing a class that’s meant to uplift people’s spirit, but my own spirit is heavy. A young soldier named Amitay Zvi Granot was killed yesterday. I never met him, but his grandparents attend our shul. I love his father’s “Torah.” Instead of planning my class I keep checking the news as if a better picture will emerge than the one currently eating away my happiness and concentration. I scroll and scroll, and my kids don’t want to go into their Zoom classes, and I can’t remember who has their Zoom scheduled for 10 and who has one at 11…
I didn’t cook any food for anyone in need this week, I think, in between managing the Zooms and breathing in and out and throwing my phone aside for the thousandth time only to pick it up again because one of the schools sent a new link on WhatsApp and if I’m already on it, shouldn’t I check the news again? I should really bake some cookies for soldiers…
“Don’t climb on this,” I tell my son, while grabbing a nephew. I’m watching my sister’s children in the park with my father. My brother-in-law is in Jenin, and we worry, but I don’t have time for worry because “No, don’t run to the road!” is more urgent and “Don’t smear the ice cream” is important and must be followed by “Let’s find a bathroom then” and…
My children’s eyes are glowing in someone’s back yard, where she’s hosting a science workshop for Jerusalem’s children. She sets her hand on fire, and lets the kids blow sturdy sugar-enhanced bubbles, and for a moment they are blissfully happy, and we forget how odd it is that we do this instead of going to school and work like normal people. “I will do an expire (experiment) and another expire until I am an expire (expert) in science,” my 6 year old informs me as we walk home afterwards, and his whole body is lit up from within with purpose, and then he marches into our apartment and bangs open the cabinets to look for ingredients that can make “”explosions” and I say, “Wait, let’s first clear a space…”
The siren catches my 6-year-old just as he steps out of the shower after his experiments, wrapped in a towel. My husband grabs him, and down we go to our building’s shelter. The booms above are loud enough to be heard through the walls and scare the neighbors’ dog. I smile at our neighbors and pat the dog and introduce myself to another, hitherto unknown, neighbor. Hi, so nice to meet you, isn’t it lovely of Hamas to arrange this opportunity for introductions? I share funny stories with everyone (did you know that hundreds of people volunteered to milk the cows of Alumim, but when push came to shove, it turned out most of them have never seen a cow up close before?) as my son shivers near me in his towel. I will be cheerful and make this exciting for him, God dammit…
My children are curled into my sides back in our apartment, their fears rekindled. I hold them and sing with them and let them watch a Disney movie, because they need my warmth now, even though the class I must teach tomorrow remains unplanned and when on earth will I have time to prepare the sourcesheet? But they are my kids and they need me and I love them and I get to hold them, unlike…
I stand under Jerusalem’s night sky on Mount Herzl, waiting. My kids are home with my husband, but I am not alone: thousands of people stand around me. All of them are silent. All of them are still.
Soon, a beautiful young man’s casket will be brought into this silence, and the funeral will commence, and we will cry with his parents, his siblings, his fiancé. He got engaged on Sukkot, they will tell us. “Roni,” his father will tell the woman who should have become his daughter-in-law within two months. “It will be hard, it will take time, but please, choose life. Choose life.”
For now, the family isn’t here yet. We can hear their cries from a tent somewhere higher up the mountain, where they are viewing their beloved’s body one last time. Their cries are an odd island of sound in the silence, distant and raw and unbearable. I think about how usually, when so many people get together, we expect to see something. More often than not, a big screen is erected above such crowds to help us observe what lies past the mass of humanity around us. But it is so very right, I think to myself, that here and now we will remain unseeing. Amitay Zvi is absent, so we will be present for him. And that’s that.
So I don’t see anything. I don’t see them bringing the family, and then the casket. But as they lower it into the ground, I hear them wailing his name…
“We will take the energies of this pain,” says Amitay Zvi’s mother, Avivit, “and we will create, and we will build, and we will love.” We’re all crying…
“Dumbledore said,” says Amitay Zvi’s brother, “’Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.’ So I don’t pity you, my brother. I’m sure you’re in a good place. I pity them, them – the cursed evil-doers. I pity them and my heart is filled with hope, that a day will come when they, or their descendants, will be able to find love.”
It’s too much, too much, too much pain to hold in our hearts. How can we bear it? How can they? Everyone’s crying…
We inch our way with the crowd, slowly making our way towards the family and the grave. To hug the people. To lay a stone on the fresh upturned soil, amidst the customary wreaths and bouquets of flowers. The blooms look so obscenely alive through the cellophane wrapping around them. The soft earth, dug out and piled high, holds truths that are unbearable in their finality.
And then I look up, and the river of people opens before me for a moment, and I see them — one fresh grave beside another, and another, and another, as far as I can see, more and more of them, all of them piled high with too-soft earth and still-fresh flowers, all of them representing losses as unbearable as the one we came hear to be present for, all of them as terribly final final final…
And suddenly, the incomprehensible numbers we’ve been hearing this past week are made concrete and impossible at once, because this is only one grave out of many, in one cemetery out of many, and even one loss like the one we mourned this night is too much to bear…
I’m so tired.
And yet, I’m not alone here on the mountain. A friend holds me as I cry. And I hold her, too.
I spent my morning helping others, and I will spend tomorrow helping others, too.
I hold myself together, because I have to — we all do.
We’re fighting for our lives now. And what a life it is, how rich in love, how worth defending. I — we — wouldn’t feel so raw and hurt if we weren’t filled with love inside.
It is this love — our love for our family, our friends, this land, this country — that ties us to each other tightly, and it is our togetherness that helps to bear the pain.
It helps us to keep going from one painful moment to another.
And when we get up for another day like this tomorrow, we will create, and we will build, and we will love.