Chaya Lester

Losing it

My imagination was surely running away with me... but were the Arabs I passed in the street secretly casing my Jerusalem neighborhood?
(Drawing by my daughter, Beriah Lester)

Day 15: Documenting “Losing it.”

Today was my day to lose it. Last night, walking home from Friday night prayers, a man in his early 20s came up too quickly behind us. What can I say? In a moment of unapologetic racial profiling, I ascertained that he could very well be of Arab background. And he certainly walked way too close and fast between me and my son, spooking us both. Why was he walking around alone at night in this Jewish religious neighborhood anyway?

But I talked the anxiety down. Until my post-dinner dog walk, around 11 p.m. Just dog and I, on an empty Nachlaot alley. Until I see another young Arab man walking the street.

Spooked again. Me and my imagination literally ran home; recalling how the terrorists cased out southern neighborhoods before the attack; documenting details of each community; noting who had dogs, who had children, who had protection. My imagination dashed to all sorts of unfortunate conclusions. Are we being watched for our weaknesses? — Because it feels like all I have are weaknesses right now.

I was shaken, but managed to shrug it off and get to sleep.

It didn’t really hit me until Shabbas morning. I woke up to a silent house. Spacious with Shabbas. No screens to distract me. No kids to feed. No Zooms to manage. Just me and my vigilant imagination, going over the scenes from last night’s encounters.

Why two guys in one night? What if this is coordinated? What if they’re planning some sort of ambush of Jerusalem? What if all of our Arab neighbors simply set out murderously into the streets? And what about the bombing on the northern borders? And the missiles from the Houthis in Yemen? And no clue what was happening in the news. What if World War III had started while we were all asleep?

I felt existentially helpless.

The tears just started gushing from my eyes. Unable to turn off this sudden faucet. Thankful most of the kids were still sleeping. I just wept at the kitchen table while my husband and oldest son watched, a bit bewildered. I insisted they go to shul. I’m fine, I said, through the unexpected wash of tears.

Luckily my husband Hillel is an emotionally intelligent man. He got to shul, turned around and came back home to find me in the same exact spot, with all those insistent tears still streaming. Did I mention I’m blessed to be married to an EMDR therapist who treats trauma? That fact is supremely handy. He gently walked me through a healing process. A protocol I have done with my own clients. But now I was the one on the receiving end. Now I knew how it felt to go through the torrent, the release, the soothing, the centering. On this side of the couch.

We talked out best practices. How can we up our vigilance, our protection? Can we get mace, a gun? What’s happening with that neighborhood patrol? How can we be more careful walking the streets? My tears are telling me I need to do more to ensure our safety. I am not helpless.

I am capable, I remind myself. I get grounded and the tears subside. Drink some water. Stretch my back. A foot rub. I am ready to be of service.

I go visit the family from the South who have relocated down our street. I take them games and food and hear their story. How they had been living only in their bomb shelter for days with no air and no space and no reprieve. How the day after they evacuated, a missile had a direct hit on the playground right next to their home.

After about an hour together, they realize their youngest son is not there. He’s a 9-and-a-half-year-old who they thought had gone out to shul. But he’s not at shul. In fact, he is nowhere to be found. They start to search frantically. Nowhere. We all join in the search effort and pull in more neighbors. One hour passes. Frantic searching. No luck. This poor kid! My mind goes back to last night’s spooking. What if someone simply swiped this dear child from off the street? My imagination is straight out of a dark Instagram reel. What if this is how the attack on our neighborhood begins?

I shudder. But then I stop and breathe, remember the EMDR, and calm myself.

Another half-hour passes full of fear and searching and breathing and prayer and more fear and more self-soothing. The guests waiting at our Shabbas table will just have to wait. The family contacts the police. We are in shock. This poor battered family! Worst-case scenarios keep encroaching on me. I fight to fend them off and keep it together…for everyone’s sake.
But then the news comes.

He is found. He had gotten lost and ended up near the President’s Residence. He is coming home.

World War III has not started. The child is OK.

I am OK.

And I’m not OK.

I lost it. And it’s OK to lose it.

It’s totally appropriate to have a mid-morning weep.

To lose it…and to pick it up again.

I am strong.

….And I am soft.

I got lost.

And I got found again. Just like this kid.

Just like all of us have these last two weeks…and all of us will, again and again.

Stay strong, and stay soft, my friends.

About the Author
Psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, wordsmith, performance artist & Co-Director of Jerusalem's Shalev Center. Chaya lives in the heart of Jerusalem with her husband R'Hillel & their 4 energetic children. Read more pieces like this in real-life book form:
Related Topics
Related Posts