Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Breathe a Little

Breathe a little (Photocredits: Author)

It was Shabbat morning. 6:30 AM. I was woken up, jumped out of bed, threw something on over my pajamas, and ran out. Believe it or not, I am not referring to October 7, although all of those details happened then. Rather, I refer to this past Shabbat morning, November 18, when, exactly six weeks after that horrifying first morning of war, I was struck by the eerily similar details with which I started my day.

The striking difference, though, is that this time, I wasn’t heading to the sealed room. In fact, I was heading outside. To catch sunrise. On the beach. Because there is little that is quite as glorious as the sun rising over the breaking waves as the saltwater sprays fan your field of vision, and the sunlight first explodes across the bottoms of the clouds before dancing across the top of the water and warming you to the core as you stand there to greet a new day full of infinite possibilities.

(Do you remember when I said that I love sunrise? I wasn’t kidding.)

The point is not even about the sunrise, to be frank. (It wasn’t much of a sunrise, honestly, because it was very cloudy along the horizon.) The point is that my friends and I took the weekend to go away and find the headspace and heart-space to breathe a little. We do this from time to time, where we’ll take the weekend and find ourselves a place for Shabbat. We’re actually pretty well-practiced at what we need to bring, how much of everything we need, to the point that one weekend we got ourselves together in a matter of about four hours from when we decided that we were going until we had a place booked, all the shopping done, and were all packed up and ready to go. Time and again, we find ourselves drawn to the ocean, spending as many weekends as we can on the coast because, well, there’s something about the ocean that is peaceful and calming and watching the sun rising over the ocean is serene like almost nothing else. (To be clear, though, we do not, by any means, stick to warm. We spent one Shabbat in one place along the beach when the temperature didn’t exceed 19ºF/-6ºC. That one was brutally cold.)

This weekend was a long time coming. It’s been a hard six weeks. For me, for you, for all of us. It’s been different hard for you than it has been for me, because our experiences are not the same, but your hard doesn’t negate my hard and my hard doesn’t negate his hard and his hard doesn’t negate their hard. It’s been hard for all of us. And part of what has been so hard, at least for me, has been the fact that there’s been no time to breathe. Maybe you haven’t felt like this, I don’t know, but I feel like I have been running a marathon for the last six weeks while carrying a load that’s been weighing really, really heavily on my shoulders. And I’ve talked before about how we need to live and we need to breathe through this marathon because that is what we are called on to do right now, and how we have to find the hope in the future because that is what we are all fighting for right now, but even with all of that, it feels like every day is a week long, every week is a year long, every month is a decade long. Time has lengthened because so much is packed into it, because we are doing our best to live along the full spectrum of what it is to be human, but when every second takes an hour, you, like me, may find yourself exhausted.

So my friends and I took ourselves away for the weekend. (By the way, if you want to know how awesome my friends are: They confirmed with me that I was available this weekend, confirmed my budget, then planned the whole thing, sent me a packing list, and I didn’t know the destination until we were on our way. It was awesome.) We just needed to be able to breathe, at least for the weekend, to reset ourselves to be able to continue to handle the multiplicity of daily life. Part of what has been so hard, too, in my day to day experience, has been living and dealing with the minutiae of regular life while balancing this weight that is this war that we are all fighting. Because I can’t simply relax when my soldiers cannot. And I cannot simply be at peace when my people are not. And I could never simply forget and move on because, well, how do you forget about your heart when it is beating and bleeding 6,000 miles away? But life is happening at the same time. And life’s gotten really busy (for those of you wondering why the posts have slowed somewhat). I teach, in two schools, a total of seven different courses, which requires an inordinate amount of work simply to show up to class prepared (and for those of you who aren’t aware: Teachers don’t work full time. We work double time). I’m back in school myself, as well (some might say that collecting degrees is my toxic trait) (yes, I’m looking at you), and we’re coming up on the end of the semester which means it’s crunch time. On top of all of that, I do (believe it or not) also have a personal life. Trust me when I say I was already plenty busy in September and was pretty confident that I didn’t have the headspace to handle anything bigger than what I was wearing the next day. And then October came along and here we are in November and I found myself treading water for so long that it was all I could do to keep my head above the surface and stay afloat.

I’m not the only one like that. I know it, because I had company this weekend. We all needed to find the space to breathe. And I have a hunch that you might need it, too. So I share this with you to ask you, please, to find that space. Take the time. Do what you have to do. You’re not forgetting. I promise, I didn’t forget for a second about my guys who were spending their Shabbat in Gaza even as I spent mine watching the waves crash along the shore. You’re not losing sight of what’s going on, nor should you feel guilty for taking care of yourself, because you can only be of help to others if you care for yourself first. And yes, when I say you, I’m really saying I, because more than anything else, I know that I’ll need to come back and read this to remind myself to do what I have to do when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders again.

Because these breaks work. I know: After spending time with the waves on Friday, I slept on Friday night in a way that I had not slept, I promise, in six weeks. Of all things, sleep has been rather elusive, because to be able to sleep you have to be able to turn your mind off, which I find hard to do when things are quiet, and then when I have worry and fear pressing down on my consciousness, it becomes all but impossible. But I finally slept. Like a rock. Because, to paraphrase Shaun T from Insanity, a break will fix you. It will reset you. It will help you to recover your form so that you can keep going to be able to do what you have to do, to continue to shoulder the burden of the pain of the Jewish people while marching inexorably forward with life because time refuses to stop and so we trudge ahead, too. It’s just that every so often, we need to remember to take that break. We need to remember to breathe. We need to remember that we are only human and there is only so much we can handle and that as we fight this fight of our lives, we have to do what it takes to continue to live with our humanity.

Take that break. Remember to breathe. Find the pockets of sanity and use them as anchors to weather the storm of insanity that we are living through. Let’s all do what we have to do to maintain our humanity, to be strong for ourselves and strong for each other, so that we can make it through on the other side of this war, stronger for it and stronger for each other.

For now, though? Breathe. Take that break. Find the reset. And just breathe.

Please continue to pray for us, and for the following soldiers, especially:
עזרא צבי יוסף בן אריאלה פנינה
יעקב זכריה בן אריאלה פנינה
אליהו סִינַי בן ביילא רבקה
נַתַּן בן דבורה אסתר
דוד אלכסנדר בן דבורה אסתר
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
בועז כָּלֵב בן יפָה מרים
יצחק אייזיק בן פריידא
אהרן בן רחל ברכה
חובב בן דבורה אסתר
שמחה בן הינדא ברכה

כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם. ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם

About the Author
As a combination logophile and Israel-o-phile, Rachel's fingers itch whenever something needs to be shared about Israel, particularly as it relates to the Diaspora. Her credentials include a Master's in English and many years experience as a high-school English teacher, which covers the writing part, and being a card-carrying member of the Jewish nation, which covers the Israel part. Although she currently resides in Suffern, NY, her heart has long since been stolen by Israel herself, and her mind is constantly preoccupied with the capital of the Jewish people.
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