35 days into the national nightmare that began on October 7th, I decided that I. Simply. Couldn’t. Anymore.
Well, actually, I could. As someone who lives in a relatively siren-free zone, someone without immediate family members who had been killed, kidnapped, or who were serving on the front lines, I enjoyed the dubious “privilege” that I could more or less start sliding back into the patterns of regular life. After the initial weeks of shock and fog, I could see that after five weeks, life itself was returning. But with 240 members of my extended family taken hostage by forces of incomprehensible evil, with day after day passing without a sign of life, without even that most elementary demand of a Red Cross visit being fulfilled, it felt wrong to allow that to happen.
So, I rebelled against the return of regular life, deciding that if all of the family members of those 240 hostages had no semblance of normalcy, I needed to do something to stand by their side, and to raise their cry. On Friday, I wished my wife and children a “Shabbat Shalom” and travelled to Hostage Square in Tel Aviv. Drawing on the Talmudic story of Honi the circle-maker, I took a piece of chalk, sketched a circle around myself, and declared my desire not to leave that spot and not to eat until the hostages received a visit from the Red Cross, and my hope that other Israelis would join me in this extreme action, because desperate times called for the most desperate of measures.
For the next week, I did not leave my circle (with the exception of one siren), and subsisted only on water with some minerals added. But while I had severely limited my movement, what I did not realize when I began was that I had chosen the location with the most beautiful view in Israel at this moment in history.
From morning to night, I was privileged to watch and interact with a diverse, ever-changing human landscape, people from all over the country, and all over the world, of every type, every color, and every opinion, a constant stream of all the streams that make up Israel and the Jewish people today. From Bnei Brak and Beitar Illit, from Gush Etzion and from the Golan, from the geographical north to the south, from political left and right, from Argentina, Brooklyn, Tokyo, from high school students to senior citizens. People who had been evacuated from their homes. People who had lost loved ones on that cursed day, and in the battles since. And in all of their diversity, they all walked the square with the same look. The look of a people with a piece of their heart that had been taken hostage.
In his classic lecture, Kol Dodi Dofek, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik quoted the words of a preacher who offered a compelling parable for the test of Jewish unity.
“The Jewish people may be compared to the man with two heads, concerning whom the question was posed in the house of study: How is he to be viewed for the purposes of inheritance? Does he take two portions like a dual person? Or does he take one portion like a single, unified individual? …
The answer, the preacher continued, to the question of the unity of the Jewish people is identical with the ruling issued in the house of study regarding the question of the unity of the two-headed heir. Let boiling water be poured on one of his heads, stated the judge, and let us see the reaction of the other head. If the other head cries out in pain, then both heads blend into one complete and unified personality and the heir will take one portion. However, if the second head does not feel the pangs of the first head, then we have two personalities coupled together in one body and they take two portions.
The same holds true with regard to the question of the unity of the Jewish people. The authoritative ruling is that as long as there is shared suffering, in the manner of “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalms 91:15), there is unity” (Kol Dodi Dofek, pp. 85-86).
Unfortunately, I was not able to persist in my efforts until reaching my goal, and I did not succeed in getting others to join me in the ways that I had hoped. But for an entire week, I had the unique privilege of directly experiencing the Jewish people pass this test of unity with flying colors.
It is a test that grows more difficult as the time passes, and life beckons us back, and a test that is all the more critical in these difficult days when some families will merit to see their loved ones return, while others remain in an impossibly cruel limbo. This is the time when the greatest privilege in the world is to stand with the families of the hostages, and to become a part of the most beautiful human landscape that our holy land knows.