The night my father died suddenly I didn’t want to go to sleep. I cried to my husband saying that while asleep I’ll forget what happened and then when I wake up I’ll have to relive that nightmare moment of realisation again.
These last few nights I cried that same cry, only this time it’s not my personal pain, my personal loss, my personal shock but the shock of an entire nation, an entire people, an entire country. This is a nightmare. In our wildest dreams I don’t think we could have imagined this scenario. For me personally, the worst image is of mothers and children kidnapped and taken to Gaza. My entire body goes into spasm just thinking of that scene and I feel nauseous. I am that mother; my children are those children; we are one. Only I’m safe at home and they are in an unknown place, experiencing what only God knows as the worst possible living nightmare.
There are moments in the history of a people where things will never be the same again. In the short span of our recent history, it’s the Holocaust, the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and now at this moment we are living another – the War of Simchat Torah. When I look at my Facebook feed from before and after it seems almost comical. Any post written before seems banal, irrelevant, so completely and utterly unimportant. I think about what I was concerned and worrying about then and what concerns and worries me now. The chasm between the two is so great it is impassable.
Our sense of being is a carefully constructed narrative of order. Our identity is the story we tell ourselves: who we are; where we come from; what has formed and informed our persona and our values. There are moments in our lives that can threaten that narrative – if we experience a deep betrayal or our faith is ruthlessly challenged, or our health is at severe risk. These are moments of deep chaos and trauma, the result of which will force us to either desperately cling on to pre-existing narratives or, over a period, be forced to create new ones.
Today our national narrative has been deeply and profoundly fractured. The carpet has been brutally pulled from under our feet, leaving us in a deep and cataclysmic shock. But we are in the moment of trauma which means we are in a state of survival. There are many stories of people severely wounded who continue to run without feeling the pain until they reach safe ground. That is where we are. We are running and fighting and cannot, MUST NOT allow ourselves, as a nation, to drown in our pain at this moment. We must gather every ounce of potential strength and resilience and continue running until we are on safe ground. There will be time to process, time to mourn, time to reframe our narrative and understand how we can rise up again from this.
Although we are in survival mode, we still need to answer our children and our internal dialogue. What do we say to them and ourselves? I told them that we came here 20 years ago, leaving the comfort and safety of our families in London to be part of the bigger story of Jewish history. I told my daughter, just a few short months ago when she became a soldier, that for this we bought her as an unborn child to this country. To protect us. To be part of our national history, destiny, story. I told her that there is no army as strong as ours. There is no country that protects its citizens better than ours. I told her that when our grandparents were being slaughtered in the forests of Poland they could not have dreamed of the kind of State we have today.
And today, after our children, teens, mothers, grandmothers, soldiers, young and old, fighters and civilians were slaughtered in cold blood, captured, paraded in enemy territory before our eyes I am asking the hardest questions I have asked in my life. Today I question whether all I said to my daughter was simply an illusion. I am petrified that the story we have carefully woven over the last 75 years is being ripped apart at the seams. That the story of strength and power has become a myth built on illusions of grandeur. I am experiencing a profound challenge to the ordered narrative I have lived by for most of my lifetime.
And I am crying. Every ten minutes. And I am wiping the tears and cleaning my house because that’s all that calms me. And baking brownies for the soldiers. And taking clothes and supplies to collection points. I am screaming inside and putting a smile on for my kids outside. I am mourning and I am pleading. I’m on the brink of despair and I’m desperately clinging at any small word of hope from someone who might see things clearer than I. I am searching for the right words to say to myself and my children, how to reassure them that no, in the words of Dara Horn, not all “People Love Dead Jews”. But the truth is that however much I wanted to believe that things are different, that maybe now we are strong and resilient and the Abraham accords had created a new vision of the Middle East, ultimately that story, that narrative of loving dead Jews is still very much alive and kicking. Indeed, everyone does love dead Jews. Once we have been massacred and kidnapped and slaughtered, it’s easy to love us.
What, however, will happen tomorrow when, please God, we are strong once again. When we have created a stronger, more resilient, hardened State that will protect its citizens even at the cost of the lives, welfare and humanitarian demands of our enemies. Will the world love Jews who are alive? And the greater, more important question: What will become of our internal narrative? How will we return from this moment of fracture, of disillusionment? How will we rebuild our own sense of identity and our own sense of national being? How will I integrate this moment of despair and disillusionment into my own national identity and story of my people?
A mere week ago (it feels like a lifetime) my family camped at the foot of Masada and at dawn we climbed to watch the sunrise at the mountain top where King Herod built an exquisite palace and where Jewish martyrs killed each other so they wouldn’t be slaughtered by their arch enemy, the great empire of Rome. As we watched the sunrise and told the story to our children, one of them turned to me and said “wow! – they camped at the bottom of the mountain for almost two years just to kill a few Jews”. Yes, my dear child, yes – there are millions of people throughout the generations that have metaphorically camped at the bottom of that mountain, waiting patiently, against all logic and rationale, even risking their own life, to slaughter a few Jews simply because they are Jews.
Today as we run into battle, wounded, our hearts bleeding, our narrative challenged, I am thinking of the moment at the top of that mountain just a week ago. The moment when I had tears in my eyes as I recalled the history of our people, the bloodshed, the despair, the hatred, the hope, the resilience, the morale, the heart-wrenching decisions made and the uncertainty of a future unknown by my ancestors. Of the creative abilities of those surviving on the top of a mountain for years alone, of their unity and will to live. And for single instant I am able to breathe once again. I am able, in the midst of total internal chaos, to reconnect to my people’s story.
I am part of an eternal people who, even at the peak of the worst evil and most horrific trauma, has never given in to despair and has always chosen life. I know that we WILL rebuild, reframe our narrative, our story, our national life. I know that our children and grandchildren, like the generations that preceded them, will weave this moment into the fabric of our national identity. It will be frayed and feel rough to touch, but it will be softened at the edges by the patches of strength and resilience and the colours of joy and life that are already stitched in. Intersecting with the existing painful and raw patches, it will join this national quilt laced with pride and royalty to be used when needed as a covering for safety and comfort. This moment, as cataclysmic and devastating as it feels today, will be absorbed into our tumultuous history. As our forefather Jacob left the battle with his nemesis at the river’s edge, the sun rose but Jacob was limping. Trauma, battle, facing the worst unimaginable reality means we will never be the same. We will be left with a scar, we will walk with a limp. But the sun will rise again. As Jacob received his new name – Yisrael – he was promised: “you are destined to struggle with man and God but you will PREVAIL”. We will prevail. We HAVE to prevail. And only then, after we are safe and strong on the other side of the river, having faced our enemy and processed our unbearable losses, only then can we sew together the patches that have unravelled and add the new ones we have reluctantly created out of this unimagined reality we are experiencing.