It’s three weeks since the worst massacre of Jewish people in the past 75 years, but it feels like it was yesterday, as though time stopped that day.
Three weeks later, I will still catch a couple of words in an article or said in an interview, sometimes new information and sometimes not, and I have to stop reading or listening but it’s already in my mind, and I try to ward it off and focus on anything else before I start imagining the images, sounds, feelings, emotions.
Every new detail we learn about the horrors that happened, every new victim announced or identified cuts open our wound even deeper, a wound that can’t heal as long as this is still ongoing, while 230 innocent Israelis including dozens of children are held hostage by the most brutal and evil terrorists.
It’s unbearable to think about the hostages, but of course I read the stories of some of those who were taken, and I see the photos of those sweet and pure children, pure before all this. And I almost wish I didn’t know, because there are too many terrifying possibilities for answers to so many questions, and these people just need to be home and safe with their families, the ones that even still have families.
We’re trying to cope, to adjust to this new war-time reality, we compartmentalize, we joke, we distract ourselves, but nothing is the same, it can’t be.
It feels ridiculous to say, but a month ago I was excited to see Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert movie in cinema. Now I can’t imagine being excited by such a thing. I feel like that was a different person. I miss that time, with such inane things to be excited or worried or annoyed about.
On Friday while walking in Jerusalem, I noticed how busy and bustling it had become again, it felt almost like any normal Friday.
Almost like a normal Friday. But earlier I had been crying to my husband – not because I wanted to go for a walk to get a breather from my kids, but they also needed to get out of the house and I was paralyzed by that decision of whether to take them with or not (as well as honestly, by many decisions these days that are mostly about stupid things) – but because of the guilt and self-loathing that suddenly washed over me at wanting a break from my kids, when there are so many Israelis who don’t have theirs anymore.
Almost like a normal Friday. But I ran into a cousin who is from the south of the country. It turned out she and her family had been evacuated and were staying in Jerusalem.
Almost like a normal Friday. Except as soon as I noticed how busy the street was, I thought back to what I had felt like at that same spot when I was there on a Shabbat afternoon walk three weeks earlier, when the atmosphere was eerie and it was quiet not just because the shops were closed for Shabbat.
I replay that walk in my head and I want to reverse it, along with each of the three interactions we had with different people, which was how we learned what had happened.
Our morning was interrupted that day with more consecutive rocket sirens that I’d heard in Jerusalem in the almost ten years that I’ve lived here. We knew something was wrong but, being religious, didn’t check our phones and so didn’t know the news.
After a few hours of calm, we went for a walk, me, my husband, our kids and dog. We asked a man on the street if he knew what was going on that day. What he told us, so bizarrely casually, about terrorists capturing kibbutzim and people sounded so insane that we simply didn’t believe him at all, and I regretted trying to find out anything from anywhere other than a reliable news source. A few minutes later we ran into a friend of my husband’s. He, with such sensitivity that I respect him so much for, said he had heard things but because he wasn’t sure, didn’t want to tell us.
Of course my imagination was running wild, so when we next met someone we knew – an old neighbour of my husband’s, who is secular and so would have accurate information – I had to ask. It couldn’t be worse than what I was picturing. Shabbat was already ruined.
I would even rewind to then, when she told us the death toll was at 100, and I thought that was the worst thing to ever happen in Israel in my lifetime.
The current scale of victims is hard to comprehend, but also not. Everyone knows someone who knew someone, or who is praying for someone. All around you are evacuees, survivors. You will hear people in the street or in shops talking about people they know who were killed.
Those of us who, together with our immediate families are thank G-d physically safe feel like we are in the minority. Collectively we feel like the whole country was in a sense violated and taken captive that day, in what is both a physical and a psychological war by terrorists who at a bare minimum want to ensure we can’t ever sleep, feel safe or truly happy ever again.
But they are so wrong. They will fail. They don’t understand the Jewish people. We have our faith. An army that is honoured with the task of ensuring the Jewish people and homeland’s safety and continuity. We are a nation that is never stronger and more united than when we’re under attack. We have the knowledge that we are on the good side of a war against evil, the confidence that we can bring light amidst this darkness. We will overcome our guilt that we somehow feel we have to punish ourselves with, because how dare we try to have normality when so many others are suffering. We will not be perpetually miserable and hopeless because then the terrorists win and we won’t allow that. We will overcome and we will get out of our collective depression, because we love life, that is the Jewish way. And all of that is where our safety and happiness comes from.