Ariella Cohen

I’ve Been Thinking…

A decorated bus stop in Jerusalem, celebrating the Jewish nation’s eternity (courtesy)

There has been a lot to think about over these past 3+ weeks.

I’ve been thinking of the people at the Nova Festival who were running for their lives for hours. We use that phrase lightly, but that is literally what they were doing. Running for their lives. For hours in some cases. Not knowing which way to go because bullets and monsters were coming from everywhere. Hiding in the bushes hoping that was better than being out in the open. In the lucky cases, escaping in cars driven by angels, bringing them to a safer place. But will the people who experienced that ever feel safe again?

I’ve been thinking about the incredible souls of Zaka who are, even until today, searching for bodies and body parts of the people who are still missing. Looking through the rubble and seeing things that nobody should ever have to see. Day in and day out. I pray for their mental and physical health. 

I’ve been thinking about the soldiers of the IDF whose job it is to identify bodies. Also seeing things that nobody should ever have to see. Working as quickly as they can, with utmost respect for the dead, to provide closure for the families still desperately awaiting a final update on their loved ones who have still not been found. Over three weeks later. I think about them as well.

I’ve been thinking about the Jews on college campuses who may be scared to go to class. Especially if they have Jewish names and/or look obviously Jewish. And even if they do go to class, they may need to walk through protests which are shouting for their death. 

I’ve been thinking about those who have by choice or by force evacuated their homes. Not knowing when/if they will be returning.

I’ve been thinking of all of those whose homes were infiltrated. Both those who were murdered, and those who were hiding in closets and safe rooms for hours upon hours without food or water. Not knowing if they would make it out alive.

I’ve been thinking of the families who have lost loved ones. Both soldiers and civilians. Whose lives have been completely torn apart. 

I’ve been thinking of the families that the soldiers left behind as they dropped everything and answered the call on October 7th and on the days since then. 

I’ve been thinking of the families of the hostages who are waiting in agony for any word of their wellbeing. Even to know whether or not they are still alive. 

I’ve been thinking about the orphaned children. Some orphaned of both parents at once. Some don’t even know yet that this is their fate. Children who might not even be old enough yet to understand what’s going on. Babies. Who will never really know their parents. 

I’ve been thinking of the horrors the soldiers must be going through. They’re being positive for us and for each other, but likely they are going through Hell. Especially those who just entered Gaza. 

This is what I’ve been thinking about. But I have not been thinking so much about the hostages. Really it’s impossible not to be thinking about them. The empty Shabbat tables set up all over the world. Their pictures all over social media. It’s not something you can escape. 

But I haven’t been really thinking about them. About what they are going through day to day. But this past Friday night, I cried for them. Actual tears. At that point three weeks had passed since they were stolen. Three weeks. 21 days. 504 hours. 30240 minutes. Close to two million seconds. And counting. 

I was in shul on Friday night, and suddenly I was triggered. By a phrase in Ana B’Koach. It’s a really beautiful prayer that so often gets sped through or skipped over entirely.

“שועתינו קבל ושמע צעקתינו יודע תעלומות.” Accept our cries and hear our screams, You who knows the hidden.

Only God knows where all of the hostages are. Hamas surely does as well, but I don’t think they are about to tell us. We pray to God to hear their prayers along with ours on their behalf. God knows the hidden. He works in very mysterious ways which are being compounded now more than ever. 

There has been so much to think about since October 7th. So many catastrophic categories of events, and I really think that each one deserves its own focus. Eye witnesses are likely having a completely different experience than those who were not on-site during the attacks. And even one eye-witness may have a very different perspective than the next.

I am trying to consider each different aspect of the tragedy on its own. Because it was not just one big attack. It was faceted. Just like it was perpetrated on land, sea, and air, it played out in many different ways which only served to expand our suffering further. 

This is relevant on the civilian front as well. Everyone has their own story about how they found out what was going on that Shabbat. And each individual is coping in their own way. Everyone is affected differently. There is nothing cohesive about what occurred that day and in its aftermath which we are currently experiencing.  

Even in general, it’s difficult to think about so many things at once. But when each category is so big and requires so much emotional energy to digest, it’s even harder to think about everything and to feel each one as deeply as I want to. So I guess maybe that’s why I subconsciously haven’t been thinking so much about the hostages. But since saying the words “יודע תעלומות” on Friday night, I have been thinking about them regularly. And hoping and praying that they are alive and will be returned to us. And sending good vibes their way. For whatever it’s worth. Because what else can I do?  

I have so many questions. Firstly, are they all still alive? Are the captors purposefully keeping them alive even though some of them might wish they were dead already? What will be with their mental state when they are released?  

Have the families kidnapped together remained together? 

Have they been able to shower in the past few weeks? Even if yes, has there been any privacy? Are they still wearing the same clothes? I somehow don’t think there are gemachs in Gaza. 

Are they in solitary confinement, or are they able to feel the love and support of other hostages? I’m sure they can’t talk freely amongst themselves even if they are with others. 

Are they scared? Have they (especially the children) been brainwashed to think that they are safe? 

Are they counting the minutes, or have they settled into some sort of routine? Do they know how much time has passed?

Are they being forced to do menial labor? 

What kind of food are they getting to eat? 

Have they been inside the spider’s web of tunnels this whole time without any sunlight?

Are they being physically tortured? Mental torture seems par for the course. 

Did they hear the loudspeakers calling their names last Friday? 

Do they have anything other than the hard ground to sleep on? Can they sleep? 

What is the state of the many hostages that are said to depend on certain medications? 

Truthfully, I’m not expecting to get answers to these questions. By now I’ve learned that in life we don’t always get the answers to all of our questions. And the answers are not going to change the situation. What is crucial here is that we need to bring them home. David Sebba, the music director of the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio, arranged a brilliant version of Les Mis’ Bring Him Home which really highlights our ultimate prayer for the hostages. It quite literally gives me chills. Bring Him Home is already a tearjerker. Arguably one of the most emotional and beautiful songs ever written for musical theater, and definitely one of my personal favorites. But this version really brings the point home (no pun intended) in an incredibly touching way. 

.שישוב. עוד היום

Bring him home. 

.בשלום. עוד היום

Bring them home. 


About the Author
Ariella Cohen grew up in Far Rockaway, NY and made Aliyah from Bala Cynwyd, PA in August 2023. She is an engineer and amateur musician with lots of other hobbies on the side.
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