My current activity consists of setting off the smoke alarm at my aunt’s house. It’s a lot of fun. (Mostly because of my aunt. IYKYK.) I’m preparing chicken cutlets to be used tomorrow for sandwiches that will be packed up to be sent to the soldiers on the front lines. Behind me, in the dining room, one of my cousins is sorting through gear that will be used by one of the paratrooper units. Gear that he took his own time to find, by the way. Outside in the backyard, another cousin is sitting with her friends, splitting Tehillim (Psalms) as they continue to pray for the soldiers and the people of Israel. And what’s going on here in this one house this one evening is a fraction of a fraction of what’s been happening here in Israel—and across the Jewish world—since this war broke out, five days ago now. We are not unique in what we’ve done tonight. We are not special as individuals because we chose to volunteer our time and effort and prayer. We are, however, part of the incredibly unique and special nation known as the Jewish people, and that’s what sets us apart. Not from other Jews. From the rest of the world.
It’s hard to describe how it feels to be part of a family that is made of millions of people. But that’s what we are. A family. And we are a family that is hurting. Badly. Because over 1200 of us, at last count, have been murdered. Murdered. And that number is still rising. Thousands of us have already been injured, and we are still in the early stages of war. We have been brutalized, plundered, and pillaged. And we have gaping holes in our hearts, whether or not we know someone personally who was killed, whether or not we know someone personally who is on the front lines, whether or not we know someone personally who is in Israel right now. Because the thing about being part of the Jewish nation is that it’s always personal. We’re grieving for people we didn’t know and never knew, and if not for this horrific tragedy, we never would have known, but now that we’re here in this moment, they are our brothers and sisters, our cousins and friends. Our family.
I had a conversation with my parents and siblings in New York earlier today on this very topic. (In case you forgot, I’m not actually a resident Israeli. Yet.) My father was expressing his frustration that well-meaning people say to him, “I hope your family is safe.” My family? Safe? My family has been ravaged. My family has been shattered. My family is mourning and is angry and is in shock and is desperate and is so tired of having to defend itself from such barbarians who would commit unspeakable acts to people simply because they are part of my extended Jewish family. And it doesn’t matter if these are my blood relatives. Because that’s not where my Jewish family ends. That’s not how we operate. And it doesn’t matter if you’re in Israel or in the Diaspora, this isn’t something remote and distant that doesn’t affect you. It cuts us to our core.
The thing about this family, though, is the way it responds to tragedy. I am reminded of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is of repairing broken pottery with gold. The broken fragments of a vessel that was once whole are glued back together with gold, so the break itself becomes a point of beauty. And that’s what we’ve done. The entire Jewish world has rallied around our broken parts, coming together in ways that are unparalleled in the world at large. There are constant streams of food being sent to the soldiers who are fighting. My cousin and I went on Tuesday to try and help pack meals, but they were already done—an hour and a half early—because they’d had such a flood of volunteers. My friend and I went on Wednesday to someone’s house to pack up sandwiches, and people just kept coming because they just wanted to help. We sent 800 sandwiches that were prepared in the span of about 2.5 hours total. And we’re going to do it again on Thursday.
And it’s not just food. People are sending donations to the front lines that would never have even crossed my mind, like a barber’s set so that the soldiers can keep themselves a little more comfortable. Or yoga mats so that they don’t have to sleep straight on the floor. And it’s not just the soldiers on the front lines, because when soldiers in uniform stopped to get something to eat, they practically couldn’t pay for their own meal because so many people wanted to do it for them. Or it’s the fact that everyone is looking out for the people from the south who have been displaced, like the rabbi who called about 45 minutes after the initial call came out and was told he was too late, that it was all arranged and everyone had a place, and the rabbi asked how many families it was and it was 6,000 families that had been given lodging within 45 minutes. Or it’s the people who recognized that parents are struggling with having their kids in the house, and so they open up their home for a few hours in the afternoon for drop-off babysitting, free of charge, because that’s what they can do to help. Or it’s just the basic recognition that we are one family, with one heart, and one land, and so there are young boys standing at a street corner in Jerusalem handing out Israeli flags to anyone who passes by.
And it’s not just in Israel. It’s the man standing near the check-in counter at JFK Airport in Queens, NY with a prepaid card loaded up with $500,000 and quietly and anonymously paying the airfare of 250 soldiers who were heading home. It’s the pallets of medical supplies that are straight up donated by people who are physically distant but still need to do something. It’s the insane traffic that people are happy to sit in as they come together for a community-wide evening of prayer. It’s the entirety of the Jewish nation, answering the call, because you don’t ignore family in its time of need.
We are hurting. Badly. We are reeling. We are devastated. And at the same time, we are highlighting our pain with gold. We do not ignore the pain. We do not forget it. We cannot forget it, because how can you forget a gaping hole in your heart? But we can do our utmost to channel that pain into beauty, to work for something greater than ourselves because we are part of something greater than ourselves because we are a family.
כי אין לנו ארץ אחרת.
Please continue to pray for us, and 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
כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם
ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם