On October 6th, 2023 I went about my day like any normal Friday.
Ran a few errands, cooked for shabbas, and cleaned my apartment (which as an ex-South African is no fun job!).
My husband took our 18-year-old son down to a Yishuv (a small gated community) in the south where he was to spend Simchat Torah with friends,
He had been excited about this for weeks. A time to dance with the Torahs, be with friends, and drink the vodka he had bought!
I was wondering how our shul would coordinate the Friday night service together with Simchat Torah’s dancing and singing and planned out how best to warm up our Shabbat evening meal so that the food would be ready for when we returned home from shul.
It came time to light our Shabbat candles.
My daughter and I stood before them.
I paused and imagined as I always do that my lighting of these flames would bring more light into our world. I said out loud the Brachot (blessings) over the mitzvah (An act of connection that we are commanded to do in the Torah) that I performed. And I covered my eyes for a bit longer speaking to Hashem and asking for the healing of those on my Tehillim list (Psalms that I say daily with the Hebrew names of specific people who need healing and other blessings), asking for my family’s protection and our health, and saying thank you for the continued support and merit we have to live in Israel.
We slowly walked up to Shul (Synagogue), speaking to a friend who was schlepping (carrying a heavy bag) of crackers for the special kiddush we were having with the whole community the following day.
The Friday night service began and the men then took out the Torahs and danced and sang with them. It was joyful, it was uplifting and it represented the culmination of all the spiritual work we had done since the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul.
We eventually returned home to a special family meal and went to sleep safe in the knowledge that in the morning we would continue with the joyous traditions.
And then it all fell apart.
I awoke to loud booms in the sky. At first, I thought that the neighbours upstairs were moving something or had banged a door shut.
But then I heard another.
After 4 years of living in Israel, I knew what that sound meant. It was the sound of the iron dome intercepting a missile. It is unnerving and immediately sends my body into a state of alertness. (Had it not been Shabbat my cellphone would have been on and I would have been able to see all the updates but without this, I accepted that if there was anything really serious I would hear soon enough)
My husband had already left for shul and I continued with my Shabbat morning routine.
Sitting outside on my balcony with a cup of coffee and my Tehillim book (Book of Psalms).
And the booms continued.
As I looked over the ledge I saw the same friend who walked with us to Shul the night before.
I asked him if he could hear the booms too.
I thought perhaps I was over-sensitive to them.
He said, “They are firing everywhere but we seem to be safe here. Dunno why I am going to Shul!”
I said “See you later, I’m coming up for Yizkor (the memorial prayer for close family who have passed away)” and slowly got ready.
Before leaving for shul, I woke my daughter and told her what I was hearing. She is usually quite anxious so I first checked with her if she was ok for me to leave her alone at home.
Just in case…. I closed the steel window in our safe room… I didn’t want her to have to worry about doing that herself if we had a siren.
The drill when we hear a siren, goes as follows. We have 90 seconds from the time it starts wailing to get into a safe room, close the steel window, secure the door, and wait 10 minutes before leaving.
So off I went.
The streets were eerily quiet.
I noticed two separate cars with men in army uniforms racing out of our neighborhood.
I thought something serious must be happening.
But on I went.
My thoughts turned to the time and I estimated where the shul service would be up to when I arrived. As I was debating this I saw my husband and 3 friends walking towards me.
I was so confused!
My husband said “ Shul is over, we rushed through the service” – what was meant to take 6 hours, they had completed in 2 and a half. “There is some major stuff going on!”
No sooner had he said this, than we heard booms close by and looked up at the sky above us. The unmistakable clouds of the iron dome intercepting 2 missiles were clear as day.
“Let’s walk a bit faster,” I said, thinking that those were too close for comfort and being on the street, unprotected was a bad idea.
As we hustled home a man pulled over and told us” Please get off the streets, go home and lock your doors, and stay there”
I wondered why he was so insistent on locking our doors- little did we know the reason why, as we would soon all find out.
As he drove off the siren started.
A missile was heading our way.
We ran into the nearest building and into the stairwell.
My thoughts turned to my daughter alone.
Was my son OK down South?
My body felt the flight state kick in and my adrenaline surged.
Then we heard it.
Boom and another boom.
Two interceptions directly above.
Waiting for 10 minutes was agonizing.
As fast as we could, my husband and I ran out of the building, into ours, and up the stairs.
What a relief to be home and to see my daughter was ok.
There was no mistaking it. We were under a huge attack.
Our neighbour, gave us the news.
Terrorists parachuting in from Gaza, genocide, hostages taken, missiles everywhere. An attack like never before.
I wondered if perhaps his English wasn’t so good, maybe his translation was wrong? Surely it couldn’t be true?
This did not make sense in the world I knew.
We waited for Shabbat to be out before we could finally speak with our son. He was safe but had been exposed to far more down south. Just 18 km from the Gaza border. What a miracle he was OK.
Each day since October 7th, each week that has passed, it feels like we are riding a rollercoaster.
And today, it struck me.
What happened was a total shattering of the reality and the world that we knew. And it will never be the same ever again.
In Torah concepts, we speak about a shattering of the vessels “shviras ha’keilim”. It happens in order to bring about a new reality and completely end a state of being that can no longer exist. The old reality has to shatter so that a new, different, and eventually better one can be created.
It feels so clear to me that this is what we have experienced (although we can’t see the end goal yet- may it be truly good!). And it doesn’t end with Israel. It extends to the whole world.
Never before have we been asked to identify dark from light in such a clear way, good from evil.
Lines are being drawn and apathy is unacceptable.
You either stand for humanity, justice, truth, and compassion. Or you stand with terror, genocide, injustice, lies, and hatred.
There are times in my life when I have witnessed my own inner shattering and in others closest to me. At that moment it is painful, unbearable, and confusing, and looks like destruction is the only answer.
So too in the history of the Jewish people. Egypt, Persia, Rome, Spain, Europe.
And now on our own soil in Israel.
But just as we as a nation can look back and see with hindsight how difficulty led to prosperity.
So too I have personally been able to look back on the times in my life when it seemed so dark and derive strength from the lessons and person I am because of that!
What if the breaking apart of those realities was to create an opening for something stronger to be built from the broken pieces?
I pray that we will see that the brokenness that we have witnessed from October 7th, will eventually reveal a reality that is in line with justice, truth, light, and love.
May we know no more sorrow, may the injured receive a full recovery, may the hostages be returned unharmed, may the mourners be comforted, and may the world finally be at peace.