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Tribute to Our Precious Shvuyim

Shlomo Mantzur, as featured in Margalit Fox-Romano’s new Tehillim for the Hostages project

Last week, I woke up from my Shabbos nap from the girlish giggles outside and the sound of children chasing each other filtering in through my open window. The neighborhood gang must have been playing freeze tag or cops and robbers because I kept hearing the refrain “Come save me! Come save me!” The little girls were having so much fun, calling out to their friends half-dramatically to free them with a touch of the hand (or however else you get someone out of jail in these games), if their friends and teammates only had the speed and the courage to pass them quickly enough without getting tagged themselves.

A sense of irony rang through my mind when I heard these words since that afternoon I was preparing to host a Tehillim group for neighborhood women and children to daven for the hostages. It’s interesting, as is quoted in Jewish literature, how sometimes the young or the foolish ones (the תפים or שוטים as our Sages call them) are the people who, at times, we should be listening to the most for truth, despite their age or lack of general intelligence. This principle usually comes up in the context of prophecy in the Nevi’im when the child or the mentally absent is the one to be the truth sayer for the Jewish people—as we see, for instance, with the prophecy preceding the destruction of our holy Temple.

In this light, last shabbos afternoon, those glee-filled children were shouting a phrase which sorely strikes the recesses of our people’s heart and which resonated within me with the deepest truth of our current reality: the need to free our captives, our shvuyim, as their cries are deafened from the drones and missiles above and through the yards of cement and earth blocking them from sunlight, in addition to the world’s drowning denial of their suffering. I’m no etymologist but the basics I do know: the word shevi or captivity is related to the root word shuv (shinvavveis), to return. The indescribable situation in our Land of Promise calls for us to return more fervently to our prayers on the shvuyim’s behalf, to return to our desks to write letters to officials in our state and governments to pressure them to act, and to return together and to HaShem’s ways so we can boost our Nation’s merit in bringing our precious captives home, as Naomi Shemer cried out four decades ago, השיבני ונשובה אל הארץ הטובה.

On this note, I had the privilege of meeting the holy Jewish artist Margalit Fox-Romano, who has designed and is professionally printing and shipping personalized Tehillim pamphlets for this very cause to communities, shuls, and individuals across the US, free of charge. This quiet tzadikah of our times arranged the beautiful, heartfelt design of a picture, Hebrew name, and brief bio of every hostage she could get to, along with the chapters of Tehillim coordinated with his or her name. So for example, for the eighty-five year old hostage Shlomo Mantzur, she put together the perakim Shin, Lamed, Mem, Hei (of Tehillim Chapter 119) spelling out the name Shlomo, along with the relevant chapters for the rest of his Hebrew name Ben Marsil. Back at his kibbutz, as I learned from the biography in his pamphlet, this joy-filled Holocaust survivor who went through what we only know now as his first bout of hell, “loved to lend a hand or screwdriver to anyone in need” and would spoil his grandchildren with pistachio and halva ice cream. Not only are we trying to humanize these hostages in our world and history of Jewish dehumanization, or untermenschen (subhumans), we are claiming that these people could be us, for all those Halva lovers out there or handymen or women who love and seek to help others. Margalit’s effort not only brings the emotion and personalization into our prayers, she helps us see ourselves in their shoes—or bare feet—and feel our connection to these people more deeply than ever.

Baruch HaShem, with these meaningful pamphlets to distribute, I had a big turnout of prayer-seeking people on a rainy afternoon last week, and I hope for the group to grow, as we enter the sunny days of our new season and as our crying voices emerge with new and ever-more urgent pleas.

The kids in our small development jolting me from my sleep as they played a friendly game of cops and robs not only created a chord of disharmony within me, as the lives of our naive children must continue in their colorful tones amidst the black and white horror of our days, it reminded me heartbreakingly of the same demographic—young girls, women, babies, men, and children—our brothers and sisters, languishing underground, reaching out to us with their feeble hand or two, crying, whispering to save me, come save me…with the tip of someone’s finger, with the outrunning beat of their hearts, with the breathless scream of our prayers—whatever anyone and everyone can offer and do to set them free.

About the Author
Este Stollman is a Yeshiva English teacher and has a Master of Arts in Jewish History from Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies. She has a small sushi-making party business and lives in Lakewood, NJ with her husband and children.
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