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Shayna Goldberg
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Not looking away

In Nir Oz, I met a man who, in his pain, does not simplify his suffering. He isn't even grieving, not yet. For he is wholly focused on his vanished relatives
A flower in Nir Oz. (Yael Rockman)

In Nir Oz, I met a man whose humanity touched my heart.

A man in pain. A man in tension. A man of authenticity. A man of deep humility.

A man who held the door to his safe room as it was shot. Who survived terrorists entering his home three separate times. Who heard the sounds of rockets, gunfire and death.  A man who experienced the worst of humanity.

A man who has lost his house, his home, his community. Whose friends and neighbors have been murdered. Whose close family members are being held hostage. A man who is bereft.

Sometimes when we meet a man like this, we want to look away.

It is too hard to see the pain in his eyes, feel the emptiness in his being, hear the dryness in his voice.

The awful words he is saying don’t match the lack of emotion he is displaying.
Something doesn’t fit together.

This man told us that for him, it is still October 7th.  He has yet to grieve for his past and for all that he has lost. He has no thoughts about his future and about where he will go from here. Right now, there is no room to give energy to anything other than his relatives who went missing without a trace.

When the kibbutz took stock after that long, dark day, 100 people, a quarter of their 400 members, were gone. His relatives are assumed to have been taken hostage, but only by process of elimination. They were not among the dead. No bodies or blood stains have been found. But there are also no videos or eyewitnesses of their capture. And they have yet to receive any signs of life. 115 days of total uncertainty and worry.

As he walked us around the kibbutz, we passed the Bibas home, where Shiri, Yarden and their two little boys lived before they were dragged into Gaza. We saw the house of Tamar and Johnny Siman Tov, which was burned to the ground with their three children inside, after they had already been shot and killed. Every home in Nir Oz, except for three, was entered by terrorists. Every home has a story to tell.

The houses are shells of what they once were. Trashed, looted, shot, burned.
And yet, the sun still shines, the birds still chirp, the cats meander between our legs.
The grass is as green as ever, and the blooming flowers are bright and cheerful.

Sometimes when we see a scene like this, we want to look away.

It is too hard to see the natural beauty amidst the destruction and devastation.
So much life and so much death all in one place.
Something doesn’t fit together.

As humans, we like to simplify things so that we can organize them into clear-cut, understandable categories. The world makes more sense when we imagine it the way we want to, the way we wish it were. It is easier to look at a world that fits neatly into our preconceived notions. Where things are simple and line up.

Sometimes when we are faced with complexity like this, we want to look away.

We want to give explanations for why some were saved and some were not. We want to blame. We want to have all the answers about what comes next. We want to believe that we know the right way to move forward. We want to deny the tensions. We want to tell other people what to think. We want to think that there is a single truth, one clear takeaway.

In all his pain, this man refused to do any of that
There were no sweeping statements, no black-and-white thinking, no simplistic answers.

Just one person talking to others.
Letting us a little bit into his experience so that we could see him.
Really see him.
And he could see us.

There is something deeply human and genuine about holding an unorganized mix of ideas, thoughts and feelings. It is the ability to embrace complexity and live with uncertainty. We don’t get to see that vulnerability often enough.

It is hard for us as humans to stay in that space.
It is messy. But it is real. It is life.
We don’t always understand.
Things don’t always fit together smoothly.

His pain broke me, his honesty about his tensions moved me, his authenticity grounded me, his humility inspired me.

And I didn’t want to look away.

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: Womenandmitzvot.org 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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