“A song of ascents. Out of the depths I call You, O LORD.”
My son’s voice is forming the words, one familiar syllable at a time.
Around us, the room looks much as it did minutes ago, before we turned on the phone and looked up the news. The jigsaw puzzle is still there, half completed on the floor. The beautiful day light still spills diagonally across the furniture. The smell of coffee is still wafting from the kitchen.
But this is all superficial. Inside, nothing is the same. Inside, we are indeed calling from the depths.
Forty-four people are dead. Forty-four people who breathed and prayed and lived mere hours ago.
Forty-four families will bury their loved ones in the coming days.
(When will they find out? How long will it take to identify the bodies? “The social services have been put on alert,” my social worker sister tells me. “We’re waiting to let people know.”)
Forty-four souls — 44 worlds — have departed.
And we are left in a world made darker, and dimmer, for that fact.
“O Lord, listen to my cry;” reads my son. “Let Your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy.”
We are praying for the wounded. I don’t want to think about what they have lived through, I don’t want to think about the feeling of flesh hitting flesh. I don’t want to sit here, helplessly, with nothing to do but feel and feel and question. So I do what generations upon generations of my ancestors have done, over and over again, in the face of every disaster. I remind myself that life means hope, life means the possibility of healing. And I think of those in need of healing, and I pray.
“If You keep account of sins, O LORD, who will survive? Yours is the power to forgive so that You may be held in awe.”
It’s tempting, oh so tempting, to jump straight to accusations. Why were so many people let into the compound? Why did so many people choose to go into the compound?
Who is at fault? Who should be held accountable?
(“I’ll put things on the table, I, Shimon Lavie, the commander of the Israel Police Northern District, bear full responsibility, for better and worse,” said Maj. Gen. Shimon Lavie this morning. How rare to hear such unequivocal words. Yet how impossible to assume that he alone is guilty.)
But I push such thoughts away. There will be time to ask such questions later. To ask and, hopefully, to learn and implement and avert such deaths, such mourning, in the future. But it will be later, when we will be able to ask these necessary questions in the spirit of compassion; later, when we will be better placed to use them as a means to build a better future.
But not now. Not now, when my own questions still taste of rage, of seeking scapegoats. Not now, when the dead still lie unburied, and we are truly in the depths.
“I look to the LORD; I look to Him; I await His word. I am more eager for the Lord than watchmen for the morning, watchmen for the morning.”
My son reads these words, and I think of a different Psalm, a different reference to mornings. “One may lie down weeping at nightfall; but at dawn there are shouts of joy,” wrote the psalmist in Psalm 30. But I think of a night of joy that turned into a day — this day — of weeping. I think of those 44 souls who gathered in Mount Meron to rejoice.
“Why do people think it’s ever a good idea to go there,” a friend writes, and I can practically taste her pain in every letter, every exclamation mark. “It has nothing to with the Torah! It’s not authentic Judaism!”
I share her pain. But her words…I can’t accept them. I never craved the kind of joy one finds on Mount Meron. But who are we to judge what sings, what calls, to someone else’s soul?
I pray that we will learn from this. I pray we’ll find a way to make such celebrations safer.
But I think of the people who went in search of joy and meaning last night only to stumble deep into disaster, and I know: their quest may lead them in paths where I don’t venture, but the quest is one I cherish, one I share.
“O Israel, wait for the LORD; for with the LORD is steadfast love and great power to redeem.”
Let us await God’s redemption with patience, I think. But in the meantime, we must do so much more than wait.
“Dear parents,” writes my son’s principal. “Sadly, we awakened for a morning of grave news…. As a community that is dedicated to solidarity… I wish to know — does anyone need our help? Does anyone know of someone who needs our help? Let me know and we will mobilize to help them.”
I read these words, and think — this instinct, this call, is what will carry us through all the pain to come today. Not rage. Not indignation. This. Stepping beyond our feelings, beyond our private devastation, and seeking ways to reach out, to offer aid, to offer comfort.
Even if all we can do, at the end of it all, is to tell each other: we are here. We hear you.
We are all so very human at our core, beneath our many differences and disagreements. We are none of us made to stand alone.
We need each other. We need each other’s hearts and ears and hands to ascend from these harsh depths where we have found ourselves.
“It is He who will redeem Israel from all their iniquities,” my son completes Psalm 130, and I hug him.
We sit together in this moment, in this storm.