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Rachel Sharansky Danziger

The day I (almost) lost my body on the internet

Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay
Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

The other day I dared to venture past the boundaries of Jewish online conversations.

And just like that, my body disappeared.

***

My fingers went first.

They’re strong, these fingers of mine. They held my children when the sirens rent their peace of mind. They baked cakes for the wives of our community’s reservists (and isn’t it a fine joke, me,— baking—willingly?). They helped me scroll down my feed back when heart-stopping “has anyone seen my son/friend/mother/wife/dear one since October 7th” posts took over it only to be replaced with death notices. And they helped me transform my anguish into written words, and bear witness to my people’s plight.

But when I sailed into the world beyond my people’s conversations, a distorted apparition took my fingers’ place. Fingers that looked just like mine dripped blood on the keyboard, the table, the pavement. “Child murderer,” strangers murmured at me, from the comfort of their lush, secure existence. “Can’t you see the blood of Gaza’s children on her hands?”

I looked at the bloody hands that the world had assigned to me. I knew they weren’t mine. They were a lie, a sham. But where were my true fingers? Did they survive the grotesque shape that my haters had imposed on me?

I couldn’t find them. There was no place for them in the world my haters created with their distorting, ugly gaze.

***

My feet went next.

They’re strong, these feet of mine. They carry in them the memory of my great-great-grandparents’ futile attempt to escape the pogrom that killed them, the pogrom that left my great-grandmother orphaned and alone. They carry in them the memory of my people’s journeys from one place of shelter to another, forever exiled and expelled. They carry an even older memory, the memory of leaving our ancestral land under the Romans’ unforgiving lash. But they also bring those memories into the steps I take in this beloved land, the one we have returned to after all those exiles. Here I am, they say, those feet of mine. I’m back, I’m back, I’m back.

My feet jolted on October 7th, when I realized that the pogroms overtook us even here, in the land we’ve returned to after our millennia away. When I realized that people just like me, whose feet carry all the same memories, had to run for their lives here in Israel, in the place that was built to be protected and safe.

But they’re strong, these feet of mine: They keep on walking. They don’t allow this resurgence of our worst traumatic memories to keep me huddled in my home. They walk, and sing defiance. “I’m still alive, I’m choosing life,” they say with every step.

Yet when I scrolled my way into the world beyond my people’s internal conversation, my feet grew harsh and cruel under the haters’ gaze. “The feet of a colonizer,” they jeered, “crushing the poor Palestinians underneath them. Look how they bring death with every step.”

I looked down, bewildered. My feet? The feet of a colonizer? How can they be, when they’re the feet of an exile returned, when they are indigenous to our beloved land?

Slowly, my true feet disappeared under the weight of those judging eyes, those lying lips, those wrongful accusations. They faded out of existence. They were gone.

***

My womb went next. The womb that hurts so much when I walk by the pictures of abducted children every morning. The womb that birthed life, and hurts when I hear other mothers eulogizing their fallen sons in military cemeteries, as they watch the bodies they had birthed disappear into the earth. The womb that hurts when I hear of my raped sisters. The womb that hurts when I think about my sisters who are held in captivity in Gaza, when I wonder what’s taking place there, in the dark.

But when I sailed into the brave wide world, the rapes became “alleged” and the abuse had context, must have context, don’t you realize it didn’t happen in a void, you silly girl?

Our children’s pictures are torn down in that world, and their fate becomes a footnote. “You are committing war crimes,” strangers tell me, and my children – our children – are ignored.

And so my womb faded and my face faded and my everything faded and I looked at myself as I went on fading, in a world where my body, my truth, my history, cannot exist.

How can I exist there, when people whom I used to like, artists and writers and poets and fellow fantasy-fans, look at me through deceptive slogans? How can I exist there, when they use words like ‘ceasefire’ and ‘disproportionate’, but what they truly say is that I should not survive?

Because make no mistake: this is exactly what allowing Hamas to survive means. Hamas always said that its goal is our destruction, and on October 7th it proved that it had always meant these words. If we allow it to survive, it’s my existence – our existence – that we will be giving up on. It will me my body, my own life.

I tried to hold onto my truth, onto my sense of self, even as my body faded. I tried to stand tall as people booed and jeered at the place where I used to stand. But I wasn’t there at all – not anymore, not truly. The place I used to occupy was but a void, a void my haters dressed in an amalgamation of body parts they had imagined into being. An amalgamation that has no relation to my true existence. an amalgamation they proceeded to project onto the place that used to be my body, the place where I, the true I, was erased.

***

I found myself again when I noticed the good people whose voice is drowned out by the haters. The truth-seekers, the fact-checkers, the people who are not afraid to work a little harder, find out more. Their eyes saw me as I am, and I clutched at myself, relieved to feel my own hands, my own feet, my own womb, underneath my fingers. And I remembered: I am no white screen for others to project their grotesqueries upon, to reimagine for their own enjoyment.

I am a human being with a duty to sing my truths into the world around me. I am a body, and the haters cannot take away my voice.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and educator who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, history, and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and other online venues, and explores storytelling in the Hebrew bible as a teacher in Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Matan.
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