Anne Dubitzky

The Grief and Sadness Touch Us All

Display in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Anne Dubitzky)
Display in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv (photo credit: Anne Dubitzky)

While the horrific events of October 7 have already begun to fade from the consciousness of people around the world, in Israel, the pain, grief, mourning and worry are raw and real. The release of the hostages in recent days has brought the eyes of the world back to the plight of the those in captivity. However, the relief of the families reunited with their loved ones only slightly diminishes the pervasive feelings of sadness and loss among Israelis. Every day there are more funerals and shivas. One family in the synagogue I attend has been sitting shiva (normally a seven-day period of mourning) for three consecutive weeks, as the remains of their loved ones have gradually been identified. And there is the constant worry of the families of soldiers serving in Gaza and in the north. Even for those like me, who have not directly experienced loss and have no children, grandchildren, or siblings in the army, the suffering and tragedy is just one degree of separation away.  It seems almost everyone I know has lost someone or has an immediate family member in the military.

A siren wails. The joyous singing, welcoming the Sabbath disintegrates into confused murmuring and commotion. Young men, home for the weekend from reserve duty, with semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders, clutch infants to their chests. Women hold the hands of toddlers, concerned looks on their faces.  People anxiously move toward the stairwell door in the back corner of the synagogue. It is a Friday evening, the forty-second day of the war in Gaza. Beit Knesset Zichron Baruch, a synagogue in the Noga neighborhood of Jaffa, is almost full to capacity for the first time since the evening of Simchat Torah, six weeks earlier, the last “normal” Friday, the evening before Hamas’ horrific massacre in the south of Israel, which began the war.

Shabbat morning, following the Friday evening siren, six weeks to the day since the Hamas attack, the synagogue was again sparsely attended. Perhaps the rocket of the previous evening had discouraged people from attending. The synagogue has large windows on every side and does not have a shelter or safe room. There is only a stairwell, with room for just a small number of people.

Nevertheless, services proceeded as usual. At one point, during the reading of the Torah, an unfamiliar woman entered the women’s section of the synagogue.  Her hair was disheveled. She wore torn jeans and a white T-shirt. On the back of her shirt was printed what looked like a poster with the photo of a smiling young man and a red banner above with his name, followed by the initials for “of blessed memory” and his age, 16. Below the photo, on another red banner was an inscription saying that he had been murdered at Kibbutz Nahal Oz. On the front of her shirt was another similar poster, with the sweet face of a young person, and the words, taken hostage from Kibbutz Nahal Oz. The woman had a fleece shawl over her shoulder, imprinted the photos of all 240 hostages.

She made her way to the bench where another woman was seated. They embraced.  After a moment the woman in the T-shirt was handed a prayer book. She stood next to the mehitza (the partition between the men’s and women’s sides of the synagogue) and haltingly recited birkat hagomel, the prayer of thanksgiving for having been saved from peril. She then collapsed in tears into the arms of the other woman. After the services, I asked someone if she knew this woman’s story.  Apparently, on October 7 she had been visiting a friend on Kibbutz Nahal Oz. They were closed together all day in the safe room at her friend’s house while terrorists rampaged outside. Her friend’s children were with their friends elsewhere on the kibbutz. The two faces on her T-shirt are those of her friend’s two children.

For Israelis, October 7 hasn’t ended. Each day brings new pain. Family and friends suffer the shock of loss again as their missing loved ones are confirmed dead and laid to rest. The wait for return of hostages becomes more acute for those whose relatives have not yet been released. Their faces and names are known by everyone.  People talk about Avigail, Emily, Almog, Dror and Sagi as if they are their neighbors’ kids.  Margalit, Adina and Hannah are everyone’s grandmother. The tragedy touches us all.

About the Author
Anne Dubitzky moved to Tel Aviv from Boston in 2009. After a career as a lawyer and hospital administrator, she studied gardening therapy. She works on a volunteer basis as a gardening therapist at Reut Rehabilitation Hospital.
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