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Emily Kirschenbaum

Trying to Find the Words

"Bring them Home" signs in Ben Gurion Airport - Jan 2024
"Bring them Home" signs in Ben Gurion Airport - Jan 2024

I am a content writer. I write content. That’s my job. That’s a big part of my identity. But since the 7th of October I have not been able to find the words. Everything I wanted to say felt insufficient. I felt that I had no right to be as scared and as angry and as sad as I was (and am) because I didn’t lose anyone close to me that day and while there were and are plenty of people who I love who are serving in the army, I know where my kids are and I can speak to them and hug them whenever I want. 

I was and am feeling a national pain and loss, not a personal one. And so I needed to be one of the strong ones, one of the people able to actually function and try to help those who were unable to function. Like so many others, I tried my best to jump into action and volunteer, raise money, collect gear for soldiers, help farmers pick fruits and vegetables, etc etc. 

In the back of my head, I wanted to write. I wanted to be able to document what is happening. Whether to publish it as a blog or just to keep it for myself. So many times I opened a blank page and just stared at it. The words simply wouldn’t come.

And now, it’s been over 4 months. Over 4 months since I woke up to what I thought was a weird crazy wind sound and my husband saying “get up, we have to go…” In my half-asleep haze I said “go where??” His response: “don’t you hear the siren????” Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what the rest of that awful day and the days following would bring.

If someone were to just look in on our lives now, almost 5 months on, they might think that everything is normal. The kids go to school. We work. We go out for dinner. We see friends. I’ve gotten manicures and had my hair cut. The dog goes for walks. Sure, there were days that we had to drop everything and run to the bomb shelter, but where we live those were relatively few days. Overall, on the average day just looking at our lives, you wouldn’t necessarily know about the war raging just over an hour south of us, to say nothing of what’s always on the verge of starting just over an hour north of us. 

As humans, it’s our natural tendency to process what’s happening to us or around us by comparing it to past experiences. The days immediately following October 7th, to me, were eerily reminiscent of the days following September 11, 2001. I’ll never forget the endless flyers hanging all over Grand Central Station that I saw on my commute to work every day – pictures of missing people, hung up by their relatives and friends desperate to find them. And the New York Times column that shared snippets of the lives of all those who were lost. I read every single one. During that terrible event as well I was lucky. I didn’t know anyone who was personally close to me who was killed. The biggest thing that I lost that day was my belief that we were “safe” in America, that terrorist attacks don’t happen where I live. 

I was 23 years old on September 11, 2001. I had the privilege of living for 23 years in a state of bliss, never once facing any real existential fears. My kids were 12, 17, and 19 on October 7, 2023. I wish they had more time before they had to face this. As the Israeli children that they are, that morning wasn’t the first time they’ve been woken up by the siren and they knew exactly what it meant and everyone made it to the shelter half-asleep but well within the allotted 90 seconds we have to get there. 

They’ve each handled the ensuing months in their own ways. And, again, if someone were to look in on them from the outside, you would probably never know that they are living during a historic war. I wonder if they even realize the extent of the importance of this war. To them, Israel is simply “home.” It’s where they grew up, the oldest having been 3 when we moved and the youngest having been born here, they don’t know any other home. 

I’m glad that they live here. Yes, they are living through a horrible time. The soldiers fighting are not just random names and faces – it’s real people who they know. They’ve talked to friends who have been in Gaza, they’ve gone to shiva of people who lost relatives, they’ve experienced the fear of a terror attack mere blocks from their home. 

What they have not experienced is seeing people ripping down pictures of hostages. They have not had to hear people shouting anti-semitic slurs. They have not had to question whether to put on a kippa if they so chose or whether to hide a magen david necklace. 

Unfortunately, they are aware of the sad truth that so much of the world is against us. But they also see the resiliency that so clearly and purely characterizes Israel and Israelis. And that is what will sustain them and all of us. It simply has to. 

Sometimes I think it’s easier for us here than it is for Jews in the rest of the world. Because we know we belong here and no one can take that away from us. But I also don’t want people to misunderstand. Just because we are resilient and just because it looks like we are living life as normal – we are not ok. Life is anything but normal. And it will remain this way until every single hostage has been returned home safely.  

About the Author
Emily Kirschenbaum planned to spend one year in Israel 16 years ago...She now resides happily in Ra'anana with her husband, 3 Israeli-American kids and the cutest dog in the world. In her professional life, she runs a content marketing business (www.purplechia.com) with an awesome partner!
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