So this is what it feels like to be one body.
To sense in the air the united force of one huge tribal soul, to taste Rav Kook’s KLAL?
I have done two shifts at Shura Base near Ramla, the HQ of the Military Rabbinate. This is where all the civilian casualties are being brought to.
I volunteered as a social worker to accompany the families when they are called to identify their murdered family members. I am one of over 60 social workers who volunteered to do this. I have a strong need to try to organize the experience into words and share it.
I enter the compound for the first time on Thursday night and am faced with hundreds of people walking, running, sitting at computers, unloading trucks. There is not one part of Am Yisrael not identified here. The support is organized: there are separate tents for us all to work in; Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Welfare, the Home Front,the Israel Police ,the IDF, and the Rabbinate. This is their compound, these are their 19 year old religious soldiers unloading the trucks of bodies. The trucks which do not stop arriving.
My attention is soon drawn to a tall Gerer Chasid who seems to always be around. I’m told Ahhh that is Rabbi Chanoch,” he runs the whole show”. And indeed, as I continue through my shift I watch this tall man whose compassion, sensitivity and love for Am Yisrael is boundless. When I leave the compound at 1am, I see him leaving. I know he will be back before 6 the next morning. Wherever I go he is there, hugging families, speaking quietly. I understand he is from the Rabbinate, in charge of the Chevra Kadisha.
I meet Gaby, chief psychologist from the Ministry of Health; he is badly sunburned. He has barely left the compound since the Saturday night the war started. Yesterday he left for an hour to attend a funeral.
Yesterday was my second shift. Shura was much quieter. At this stage, identification of the victims is no longer a simple matter. Families leave clutching small bags of belongings. Each family is their own unique story of pain and devastation.
On Shura, everyone is still talking to each other; really talking, about the experience we are in. People who in a million years would never have met each other. All the worlds have collided in an explosion of love and unity. The experience is palpable. All the personas are down, and we are all just Jews.
It’s a dizzying experience, I want more of it. My friend and colleague Sigal says these are the gates of Heaven. And indeed, the compound is called “For the holy ones who are in the earth” (a line from Psalms). There are constant donations of food arriving for the people volunteering here; it feels like every single person is hungry to taste this experience of togetherness. We are amazed at how it tastes. Godliness.
One night this week I had the opportunity to hear three professional lectures on zoom, all about the war. The first was an Israeli who spoke about being inside the experience and not yet being nearly ready to talk about post-trauma.
The second was an internationally recognized American Jewish researcher, someone I greatly respect. The third was a North American non-Jew. On this zoom were almost 1000 Israeli mental health professionals! The concepts being used are the same ones we all know from the Holocaust literature; Witnessing, how Horror defends us from the grief, etc etc The Americans spoke sensitively; their support and warmth was palpable.
But the following day as I was sitting in the protected room with a client (siren had gone off in session) and my son, I just laughed at the idea of “maintaining professional distance”. This experience is existential, the reality is the same. We are one Tribe and they have attacked our bodies and souls. As one entity we have now seen the face of Evil. There is something going on which is much greater, and each one of us here has everything at stake.
But mainly what I want to say to them is we are inside an experience of another dimension, and each one of us knows that now. Our hearts have been hacked open; the shells are cracking off, and we are open now to experience the myriad sparks of Holiness in our People.
This is what Repair (tikun) tastes like.