Rachel Sharansky Danziger

The world I wish we lived in

Later, I will look at my phone and cry over the faces, but for now, I'm at the park with my nephew
L-R: Top: Cpt. (res.) Ron Efrimi, Master Sgt. (res.) Roi Avraham Maimon, Sgt. Maj. (res.) Akiva Yasinskiy; middle: Sgt. First Class (res.) Yakir Hexter, Sgt. First Class (res.) David Schwartz, Cpt. (res.) Denis Krokhmalov Veksler; bottom: Master Sgt. (res.) Amit Shahar, Sgt. Roi Tal, Sgt. First Class (res.) Gavriel Bloom, all killed in Gaza on January 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

My nephew holds the ball as if the whole wide world is there between his hands.

“Do you think he wants to play with me now,” Nuri asks.

Nuri is a stranger, except not really, not anymore. Since he started chatting with me in the park I learned that he is six, I learned what school he attends and what he likes about it, I learned what his siblings like about their schools and why he’s not at school today and why his grandparents are watching them and that he wants to learn to play the drums, like his cousin, except his cousin forgot a lot of what he learned by now, and real drums will be hard to carry around, don’t you reckon? Harder than the cello that is brother plays, at any rate.

“Let’s see,” I answer, but even though my nephew tosses the ball with panache he immediately chases it and grabs it to his chest.

“I guess not,” Nuri concludes.

“It’s hard to know what he means, he’s still little,” I offer. “Not even two years old, yet.”

But Nuri doesn’t need comfort; apparently, he’s well-versed in the incomprehensible behavior of babies. He spends the next few minutes telling me all about the infants he knows, how old they are, how he knows them, and how hard it is to communicate with them. My nephew spends that time throwing and catching the call, sitting on it, running around with it, kicking it, and hugging it lovingly in his sweet little hands.

A burst of wind makes the golden leaves of the tree behind us fly off the branches just as the ball escapes the confines of the playground. I dash to catch it before it can reach the road, and when I make it on time, my chest expands with childish pride at my achievement. The golden leaves fall about me in a little flurry. The world is a beautiful, wonderful place.

Later, I will open my phone, and see five more beautiful faces smiling golden smiles over those dreaded words, “hut’ar le-pirsum,” released for publication.

Later, I will cry over those faces, as I did over the four young men whose names were released for publication earlier in the day.

Later, I will think how odd it is that I mourn these strangers, but immediately dismiss the thought, because they’re not really strangers, are they? They’re ours.

Later, I will recall the falling leaves and think not of beauty, but of loss, of the transience of life.

But for now, I’m still here at the park with my nephew and Nuri, a stranger who isn’t really a stranger either, and my nephew is waddling after the ball, and birds are chirping in the trees, and my nephew stops to look up and say “Etz!” (tree) and point at the evergreens above us. And when he recalls the ball a moment later, he holds it, once again, as if the whole wide world is right there in his grasp.

For now, the world is a place of endless possibilities and evergreen splendor. For now, it’s the sort of place where friendly children and chirping birds can live joyfully under the sun. For now, it’s the sort of place where a ball can mean the pinnacle of happiness.

For now, it’s the sort of place where I don’t have to look at my nephew and wonder what he’ll face when he will don a uniform in sixteen years (and change).

How I wish that I could stay within this golden moment always. How I wish that I could look at the world, our world, expecting only pleasure, the way my nephew looks upon the ball within his hands.

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 Matan, Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Pardes.
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