Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

Simcha over sirens

Last week was bracketed by Smachot (happy occasions). I was lucky to have two Britot in central Israel last Monday. The first was in Hashmonaim and the second in Tel Aviv proper. It was a special day. The first Bris was the first half of twins and the second was a sibling whose brother I was the mohel for two years prior. A great way to start the week. But it was the calm before the storm.

The rain of fire began the next morning before most of us were awake. The majority of the rocket barrage was in the south, but sirens were heard as far north as Tel Aviv. I always call my clients the following morning to see how the night went. However, this conversation started very differently. “Are you guys ok?” I asked. “It’s stressful, but we’re managing.” the father responded. I was thankful to hear that, as well as that the baby was doing well. But I realized if those Britot had been one day later, they very easily could have been in bomb shelters.

In the subsequent days, there were even rocket warnings as close as Latrun, 20 minutes down the hill. Most of us in Jerusalem were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I spent the time cleaning out my sons’ room because they live in our bomb shelter –– just in case.

As the possibility of using the room was high, I explained to my two elder children what may be if the rockets, God forbid, made their way to our neighborhood. These conversations are never easy. They ask questions such as, ‘What are the sirens?’ ‘What happens if a rocket lands close to us?’ ‘What do we do if we’re in a field when the siren goes off?’ And the most challenging, ‘Why do our neighbors hate us?’

As parents in these troubling times, you answer these inquiries to the best of your ability but you always feel that the responses are horribly inadequate. No one wants to shatter their children’s bubble of youth, but safety comes first. 

The day after our safety conversation, out of nowhere my eldest child asked me, “Why did God create man?” I told her about Abraham Joshua Heschel’s masterful work, ‘God In Search of Man’. I explained how just as we seek to get as close to God as we can, God also longed not to be alone. She replied, “But then why does God get mad at us?” Not bad for a 9-year-old. I retorted, “Do I love you? Do I want you in my life forever and always?” She agreed. “And do I get mad at you?” I asked. She agreed. “So, do you get it?” She did. These questions can be somewhat commonplace in Isreal’s present climate.

The stress of these attacks weighs heavily on you here, especially when you have the Red Alert application on your phone. Whenever rocket sirens sound throughout the country you are notified. And this week’s barrage of over 400 rockets made my lock screen almost nothing but red. 

Thankfully, things seemed to be calming down on Thursday with news of a ceasefire. But our enemy is like the friend you had in high school that just keeps poking and poking you until you snap. Every couple of hours, even after the ceasefire, more red alerts would come through. The last of which, on Thursday, was around 10:30 pm. My heart sank, yet again. We are lucky in Jerusalem that we didn’t have to run into our shelters every time the phone goes red. The psychological toll this takes on our brothers and sisters down south is unimaginable. And there’s a level of guilt when you breathe that sigh of relief that’s it’s not headed directly at you.

And just as that familiar depression was sweeping over me for the 400th time that week –– that’s when I heard it. People were singing. The tunes came flooding in my window as if they were beckoning me to come outside. It sounded like people were dancing in the streets. I had to find out what was going on. I needed to be part of something happy.

I wove my way through the streets until I found the source of the music. It turns out there was a L’Hayim across the street celebrating the recent engagement of a couple. Men and women were regaling the Hatan and Kallah with the traditional tune of Od Yishmah. 

     Yet again it shall be heard in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem​.

     The voice of joy and the voice of gladness,​

     the voice of the bridegroo​m and the voice of the bride.

– Jerem​iah 33:10-11

That’s what it’s like to live here. A constant longing for a better time which feels like it’s just around the corner, coupled with a resilience to press on no matter what. May the unbroken sounds of joy and gladness be heard throughout all of Israel and all of the world, soon in our days.

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel in Israel , as well as an activist, and a Jewish Educator. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.
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