Gail Bendheim

Listen to the women

Our social channels are aflame with opinions, predictions, assumptions, and formulations, as the talking heads dissect our impossible crisis in Israel. For many of us, it’s hard enough trying to put one foot in front of the other right now. Trying to make meaning of it all feels mostly like a task for another time. But, for me, several voices have risen above the fray. These voices are the voices of women who have met this horrific moment with bravery, faith, principle, grit, and love.

One voice is Rachel Goldberg’s. Rachel is the mom of Hersh Goldberg Polin — the young man whose arm was severed by a grenade on October 7th, and who was kidnapped and taken hostage to Gaza. Rachel calls herself “just a mom”— a loving mom on a mission to save her son. Nothing will stop her. She’s talked to everyone from the President to the Pope to Elon Musk. She has spoken powerfully and eloquently at the UN. Through 65 days of the most intense fear and worry, Rachel remains unbowed, wearing a daily badge that documents the number of Hersh’s days in captivity. She is unbearably sad, but unflinchingly tenacious.

Cochav Elkayam Levy is an expert in international law. On October 7th, she pivoted from her regular job to the task of documenting gender-based crimes as weapons of war. Her strong voice breaks as she reports on the testimonies of unspeakable brutality witnessed on that Black Sabbath. Her own personal secondary trauma will not stop her from what she views as the sacred task of exposing these horrors to an often cynical and disbelieving world. Nor will she be daunted by the vagaries of bots and trolls who have made her the victim of online hate.

Dina Guedalia is a deeply spiritual woman whose son, Yosef, was killed while saving victims in Kfar Aza on the first day of the war. Crushed with grief, Dina ended her beloved son’s funeral whispering in her still, quiet voice the phrase from Psalms: “Em habanim smecha”—The mother of the sons is happy.” In her agony, Dina was comforted by her son’s heroism, as he gave his life so that his beloved country could live and thrive. And she reached into the depths of her motherhood to say so.

A week ago, Ben Zussman — Yosef Guedalia’s cousin, and a soldier in the Engineering Corps — was killed in action in Gaza. His mom, Sarit Zussman, a brave and spirited woman, grew taller and fiercer before our eyes as she roared at us to straighten our backs and pick up our heads and fight for our survival against the despicable death cult. Sarit is a lioness who will not let even her son’s death stand in the way of her resolute determination to win this battle of good over evil.

Perhaps these women share political or religious perspectives — perhaps not. It is not their ideologies that stop us in our tracks. It is, rather, the conviction and intentionality that infuse their words. What they have in common is moral clarity and resolute conviction — and thus a voice that bears authenticity and purpose, even in the face of the harshest of realities.

At a time when we are feeling so rudderless and adrift, powerful women like these could help us steer the course. We need people in whom we can put our faith, people who can act with both empathy and purpose; people who can hold the truth of their personal pain along with other competing truths. We need people who can speak with honesty and courage — who can stare reality in the eye, bear it, and find the courage to change it.

We need to listen to these women, and to take in their passion and strength of purpose. We need to believe them, and to let them help us make our way. Perhaps they — like no others — can lead us out of this tunnel of hell.

Yosef Guedalia z”l and Ben Zussman z”l are my great-nephews. 
About the Author
Dr. Gail (Giti) Bendheim is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice.
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