Shayna Goldberg

Just beneath the surface

Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash

Sometimes, for a few seconds, or maybe even for a few minutes, we can try to pretend that life is normal. Not so different from what it once was.

At least on the surface.

It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, the sky is bright blue, the birds are chirping, it’s unseasonably warm, and someone passes by on the street, wishing a good morning and flashing a smile.

But we already know that these few moments are likely but a short reprieve. That they won’t last too long. That they can feel fleeting. So, we try to lean in, embrace and savor them before those butterflies in our stomach return. Along with the heaviness in our chest, the tension in our neck and shoulders, and the fogginess in our head.

In Israel, October 7th is not a date in the past. It is not something that happened three months ago from which we are recovering. It is ongoing. It is the living reality of our every day. We can’t reflect on it from the side. We are very much still there.

It is true that we have settled into some kind of “war routine.” Kids are back in school, many adults are at work, stores are open, cafes are filled. But it is the gap between the way things look and the way things are just beneath the surface that can be so unsettling.

* * *

We tell ourselves and each other that everyone is doing okay. And we are.

At least on the surface.

The high school kids seem to be managing. They are laughing, eating normally, complaining about school, arguing about all the same things.

“They seem themselves, right?”

But this one announces to the family that he woke up thinking about whether he has good enough friends who could eulogize him. That one tells you she is going to the shiva house again and will be home late. This one comes to kiss you good night and casually adds that he feels good about his life. If, God forbid, he dies now, he is at peace with himself.

Beneath the surface, we are contemplating life.

The little kids are running around the playground, chatting with friends, riding their bikes. They play house, build with blocks and Lego, trade stickers, do homework, practice guitar.

“They seem fine, right?”

But at night, this one can’t fall asleep. That one wants to know what it feels like to be kidnapped, what will happen if someone in their family dies, and is the world going to end. This one twists and turns in the dark. That one can’t get comfortable. This one can’t settle down.

Beneath the surface, we are struggling to stay hopeful.

The mothers of soldiers are keeping busy. Working, exercising, volunteering, shopping, making dinner, trying valiantly to meet everyone’s needs.

“They have it all together, right?”

But this one jumps every time the phone rings; every knock on the door knocks the wind out of the other. This one is not eating at all. That one is eating everything in sight. Tears roll down another’s face while she washes the dishes. Sometimes it takes effort just to breathe.

Beneath the surface, we are imagining the worst.

The young wives are holding down the fort. They are all alone or on their own caring for kids. Paying the bills, making the lunches, filling the car with gas, taking out the garbage, breaking up fights, wiping away that one’s tears, trying to stay balanced and keep their cool.

“They are so strong, right?”

But on this one’s mind is the last time they spoke, the distance between them, her regret for the annoyance in her voice. That one ponders how and when they will build a family. This one wonders how this will affect the dynamic with the kids. That one misses him, is scared for him, cares about him and is angry at him all at once.

Beneath the surface, we are overwhelmed.

The grandparents have scrubbed in. They are carpooling, hosting, entertaining, feeding, changing diapers, cleaning up and babysitting… again. They are ready and willing to help and support in whatever way they can.

“They are the best, right?”

But this one didn’t imagine retirement like this. That one misses her weekly coffee date with her friend. This one’s relationship with her daughter is feeling strained. That one needs some alone time with his wife. This one would appreciate even one little thank you.

Beneath the surface, we are exhausted.

The soldiers have high morale. They are driven. They are collecting intelligence. They are guarding, They are fighting. They are fearless. They are singing, dancing, praying, talking and bonding. They protect us and enable us to go on living. They are sacrificing on behalf of their country and their people. They will keep going until the job is done.

“They are so brave, right?”

But this one is missing classes and falling behind in her degree. That one would appreciate a full night of sleep. This one is married only a few months and has yet to have a straight week at home. That one aches for his wife and kids.

Beneath the surface, we are wondering how much longer.

* * *

On the surface, we are managing. We are working hard. We are pulling through. We are trying our best. We are attempting to make the most of what we can. And we are doing ok.

But, just beneath the surface, it is tougher. It is vulnerable and scary. It is unstable and unsettling. It is emotional, and it is intense. It is life, and it is death. It is war.

And from those depths beneath the surface, from those places where we feel most alone and most afraid, from where we struggle to stay afloat and from where we gasp for air, from underneath the waves that wash over us and sometimes come crashing down—we call out to You.

ממעמקים קראתיך ה’ (תהילים ק”ל)
From the depths I called You, God. (Psalms 130)

See us there. All of us. Just beneath the surface.

Hear our voices. The voice of each one of us. May Your ears be attentive to the sound of our pleas.

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.
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