Israel: An absurd mix of joy and sorrow

We are a crazy people.

On January 8, 2017, Erez Orbach was murdered by an Arab terrorist who mowed down a group of soldiers who were on an educational tour in Jerusalem.

Today, not even a full year later, on what would have been Erez’s 21st birthday, his family finished writing a Sefer Torah in his memory. Apparently the money for the Torah came from an anonymous donor.

This morning, I entered Erez’s grandparents’ house not quite knowing what to expect.

In the house were tens of Erez’s friends, many of whom had left their yeshivot and their army units to attend, dancing intensely in concentric circles around the sofer (scribe), who was finishing writing the final letters of the Torah.  They were joined by family members and people from the community, anxious to show their love and support to Erez’s parents, grandparents and siblings.

When there was a break in the dancing, Erez’s father, Uri, spoke about the place where Erez was murdered.  The Haas promenade in Armon Ha-netziv overlooks the Temple Mount.  It is the place from which some think Avraham might have first seen Har Ha-Moriya on his way to the akeidah, where he was asked by God to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. The numerical value of the Hebrew name Erez is 208, Uri pointed out, the same as that of Yitzchak.

Uri thanked everyone for coming and concluded, with his voice breaking, that, lastly, he needs to thank God for bringing them to this day. A day he described as joyous. He said that twice every Shabbat, we say the words טוב להודות לה׳—it is good to thank God. Uri emphasized that there is no clause defining when we must thank Him. Thanking God, he said, is something unconditional.  It is something that is always good.  Birth and death are the two bookends of what we call life, and we must always be thankful for whatever time we have in between.

Also this morning, my husband landed in Ben Gurion Airport after a week in America.  He took a car service from the airport and got home just in time to run out and catch the moments when the Sefer Torah was danced into the local Beit Knesset.  It will be housed there temporarily until it makes it way to the hesder yeshiva in Maalot, where Erez studied before voluntarily joining the army.

As the dancing and singing came to a close and with tears in his eyes, my husband turned to me and said, “How do you know you are back in Israel?  When five minutes after getting out of the car from the airport, you are dancing with a Sefer Torah and crying from an absurd mix of joy and sorrow.”

I think you know you are in Israel when 21 year-old boys with their tzitzit flying can sing their hearts out in praise of God after losing a close friend and can continue to serve both this country and their Creator with love.

I think you know you are in Israel when young adults are burning with passion and idealism. When they are not entitled and when they feel like they are on a mission and have what to contribute to this country and to their people.

I think you know you are in Israel when you come to give strength to a family who has lost a child, and instead you leave strengthened in your faith, in your commitment and in your ability to continue living life joyfully.

I think you know you are in Israel when a community that has been through a lot can dance and cry and pray, and keep sending their children to the army, and hope and pray some more.

And I think you know you are in Israel when this is just another Friday in Alon Shvut.

מי כעמך ישראל

About the Author
Shayna Goldberg (née Lerner) teaches Israeli and American post-high school students and serves as mashgicha ruchanit in the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women in Migdal Oz, an affiliate of Yeshivat Har Etzion. She is a yoetzet halacha, a contributing editor for Deracheha: and the author of the book: "What Do You Really Want? Trust and Fear in Decision Making at Life's Crossroads and in Everyday Living" (Maggid, 2021). Prior to making aliya in 2011, she worked as a yoetzet halacha for several New Jersey synagogues and taught at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck. She lives in Alon Shevut, Israel, with her husband, Judah, and their five children.