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The silence of loss

Reading the newspaper, hearing about the funerals, piecing together bits about the lives of 18 year olds...

This summer, I’m reminded of 9/11.

We lived not far from the towers – visiting them often with our boys who loved going up to the top-most floor. I shuddered as they ventured to the protected edges of the roof.

On that morning that the two planes slammed into the buildings, we stood in shock. Less than two hours later, when they fell into a slag heap of dust, ash and molten metal, we were stunned into silence.

This summer, I’m silenced by a different kind of horror.

The horror of hate. The horror of destruction. Of death and overwhelming loss. For so many.

And I see people walking home, past my former Brownstone Brooklyn home, sweaty and dusty, shocked into an exhausted quiet by the horror they witnessed earlier that day.

And I anxiously refresh my online news source, watching for injuries and deaths. I check in carefully with friends, to see if their soldier children are well. I send messages to friends in Israel’s South, asking how they’re faring.

I watch as the circle of mourning tightens, as the “diameter of the bomb,” in the words of Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, widens to include more of us – friends of friends, someone at work, someone through our extended life. We’re all mourning.

That fall, until about November, we smelled death, an acrid cocktail of smoldering ash and building parts. We searched for and found remnants of that day. In our Brooklyn yard, in the park. Scraps of burned paper. Bits of someone’s office life from some cubicle in some tower.

And I watch and weep. Reading the newspaper stories, hearing about the funerals, piecing together bits about the lives of 18 year olds, of 19 and 21 year olds, or a 30-something guy whose wife and kids are left bereft. I remember how I wept over the New York Time’s stories about each person who died on that terrible day.

I listen to the reports from my soldier son about his friends. The friend who was injured in a booby-trapped house. The other boy who lost an eye — my nephew’s best buddy from childhood. My boy is safe at his base, agonized not to be doing his part, maybe only now understanding the relief his parents feel.

Drifting by a cafe in Jerusalem, I hear the snatches of conversations. Laughter, stories told over coffee, as we take a breath from the weight of this summer. We walk the streets, muted by the weight of the summer’s losses, under blue skies as blue as that day in September.

The discourse on social media, a cacophony of different opinions and different values, is a digitally-muted-scream. Thankfully. Even when I feel unsettled by the rancor and in some cases, the desire for revenge, I’d like to think that everyone hopes for a different reality than the current one.

“Take a deep breath, say your prayers and get on with it,” a friend said to me today, as he hung up the phone. His son, currently in Gaza, left a brand-new baby at home with his wife. Thankfully, Grandma is there to help.

Dutifully, I followed his lead, trying to be soothed by the not-so quiet call to cease-fire, relieved that so many tunnels have been destroyed, even as I wonder what’s the next surprise.

And I listen in agony, as another scream of horror and loss rends the warm, summer air in Jerusalem.

About the Author
Beth Steinberg is the Executive Director and co-founder of Shutaf, Inclusion Programs for Children with Special Needs in Jerusalem. A believer in Jewish camping, Beth is a graduate of Massad and Ramah camps, where she learned the importance of informal education programs as a platform for teaching Jewish and social values. As a parent of a child with special needs, she struggled to find workable, appropriate activities for her child. Beth believes that a well-run inclusion program can help educate and change values, creating meaningful and lasting social change. Beth is also the Artistic Director of Theater in the Rough, engaging audiences with free summer Shakespeare.