It was a Saturday, Shabbat morning, here in Jerusalem. I was glad as always to be
We were preparing calmly for Simcha Torah. I was supposed to go to the beautiful
Garden of Nature Museum for the service. I had decided to wear a dress with flowers
too. The remnants of the summer air was invading our slightly open windows to the
streets, allowing more warmth to enter.
I was still asleep when I heard the first siren. I didn’t understand as I am in fact truly
not used to receiving rockets at dawn. I was about to fall back at sleep but a
neighbor came knocking at my door. She was Israeli. I’m Jewish but French. This is
why I didn’t know the “right” thing to do.
I opened the door of the apartment and she was in pyjamas too, carrying her
beautiful big brown cat in her arms. I understood that even if the cat had to move,
something was happening. Something important. Something real.
We went to the bomb shelter. We stayed there some fifteen minutes. I was still
somehow feeling all of this was nothing. Like when you are doing something big but
there is no real energy in it. Like a rehearsal. I remember having flashes in my mind
of my ballet rehearsals before the large spectacles of my childhood. All was the
same, we were dancing the same way – but it wasn’t the real one. Something in there
had less significance.
I went back to my apartment to dress and a new siren started its dark song. I went
back downstairs to the shelter. Now it became crystal clear to me, as well as it was in
all other people eyes— that something major was possibly happening.
Stupor and shock started to sneak in everywhere. I looked at a woman my age as we
were underground in the bomb shelter. We had a smile. She came to me and said
she was so disappointed as she had planned to go a prayer service with songs and
chantings. I had planned to go there too. We had a deep glance of “I get you” and we
decided, within the realm of two seconds, to go.
A few minutes after the siren stopped, we ran out of the building and up to the
Nature Museum garden. It was only something like 50 metres away. It wasn’t that big.
We were full of adrenaline. We were scared, terrified, energized, happy and proud to
choose prayer over fear. Were we mad?
We got there. The garden was full of flowers and light and bird songs, as if the world
was still breathing the same way. I heard a few calls of "Sophie" expressed with kindness, love and subtle relief from a few people that were at that time standing in circle, a smaller one that it should have been for a normal Simcha Torah. I hugged dearly a few of them. The hour was grave, solemn even.
Eyes were so expressive even if they didn’t know what to say. Slowly, we resumed
our normal prayers. The sirens sang their dark melody a few times.
The atmosphere got more and more sober. At the third siren, after movements in and out of the building, we went inside in a large white room. At each of the 7th siren, we sank more and more, deeper into the building. We were trying to protect ourselves more.
This wouldn’t change the siren sounds though. Constantly present even when it
stopped. Fear settled inexorably in our bodies during this morning through all the
small doors it could find. Like Autumn leaves fall down. No way back to the tree.
We prayed and danced. Some people were tearing up, some were looking at each
other deep in the eyes. I remember never feeling that afraid. This was the first time
ever I felt actually threatened physically. And as a group.
There, we had no names. I thought, "they would take us all". The sirens make you feel as if you don’t exist as a person.
They could take your life, yet it’s not truly about you.
You are just there. You are a part of. They don’t know you, and they don’t care. You
are just belonging to a people so your life is now at risk, just because you were born
that way — just because you were there in this now, that year, that month, that day.
Is life all organized, or are we coincidentally in places? I wondered.
As we entered the final cave we were at for the rest of the service, I saw terror on
some people’s faces. The Shoah. Hiding in a cave. I heard a few “its like the war!”.
Some left prematurely. My grandparents spent 4 years hiding in a cave in France
during WW2 too. I think I felt their pain. The trap. Just like that, it has nothing to do
with you. It’s because you are a Jew.
I saw myself, from a distance, starting to cry there. I was crying at the same time that I was singing. My voice became different. Not from the throat anymore, but the guts. From the belly. From the soul. We fought against pain and terror by singing. Our prayer was the weapon. Our songs, bigger, more fierce, stronger than the siren calls. I will never forget. The togetherness of our voices. The love I felt in this exact
moment. In a way, such love, such spirit, such resilience to sing and pray in spite of everything, could only be born from chaos.
We were looking at each other. All facing the same fear. All facing our own unique
fears, as well as a similar echo to our collective destiny as Jews. In their eyes, I found
resilience and courage. I also found fear, pain, anger, shock, horror, trauma, despair.
We didn’t know what was going on, yet it seemed that we knew. Deep down. That
this wasn’t a joke.
I came back home. I had flashes in my mind of better days, which felt super distant
instantly. As if we had just landed in a new timeline of shock and fear. The vibration of normal life had already gone.
War is an on-off thing. It is 7 am and your life is normal. It is 10am now and the
country you are in is at war. All is different. Nothing smells like it used to. You did
nothing but your life is changed, with or without your participation.
You had simple questions in your mind, like where will I go tonight and should I
purchase that book now and what’s the best way to study next week.
Suddenly, you wonder, for the first time—about your life.
I opened my phone. Had plenty of notifications. “Sophie, are you okay?”;. “Sophie,
you should be leaving”; “Sophie, I’ll be picking you up in 15 min. You have a bomb
shelter at your place?”.
And in spite of this, of the actual fear coupled with the fear we create together, as a
group, by adding more fear to the fear— I decided to stay.
In Jerusalem. In Israel. In Pardes where I study.
With the Jews, the people I feel are mine.
Should we stay when it gets hard, or should we leave?
I thought I would help if I could. That this would give strength. Aren’t we more of an
important light where light is needed? Isn’t it all about that? Isn’t giving light
something we do when it gets dark?
Is a group, a community, a collective, formed in happy or in rough times?
Isn’t a People the sum of its tiny parts?
These are my questions. I am sure they have multiple answers though.
I am going to have to pick one. More precisely, I will have to live in the answer.
In such times, it’s impossible to know if the fact of staying is an act of personal
madness, or an act of solidarity and service.
Are we crazy, or are we brave? Are we truly helping, or are we just thinking we help?
Do a people need civilian soldiers too? Will we make a difference if we stay? Do I
truly matter, or am I fooling myself?
And above everything else, how could the world could get to that? This, however,
knows no answer.
But something I know, is that I will stay.
« A candle is a small thing. But one candle can light another. And see how its own light increases. As a candle gives its flame to the other, you are such a light.” – Moshe Davis