Romi Sussman

When you ask me how I am

When you ask me how I am, and I stare off into space, I’m not trying to be rude.

I’m trying to formulate a response.

When you call me on the phone or WhatsApp me to see how I am, and I fill the space with silence, I’m not trying to be rude.

I’m trying to formulate a response.

I know you’re just using a typical greeting. I know you just don’t know what to say when you see or talk to me; I don’t know how to greet you either.

Because no one here, in Israel, is okay. No one.

I know it’s hard from abroad to understand what day-to-day life looks like now for us. But when I see your pictures of regular life, laughing, hiking, traveling, I feel like an anthropologist exploring the workings of another universe.

One that is still spinning in ways that ours simply isn’t.

How are we doing, you ask?

Yesterday started and ended with funerals. When five soldiers die fighting and you finish Shabbat to read about that reality, there is virtually no chance in our tiny country that they aren’t connected to you in some way.

First my son tells me that a 15-year-old boy in his class has now lost his father.

Then my next son tells me that his friend has lost his brother.

Another son’s Hebrew teacher writes to say she can’t give private lessons this week; she’s lost her brother-in-law.

Everyone knows everyone.

And the morning starts as our 17-year-old drives to the funeral of a 21-year-old from the area, a soldier he’s never met. He’s there for himself, for all of us, and also very specifically to represent his own brother who is currently fighting and can’t be there to honor a peer.

And before the funeral, there is a call in our neighborhood to go down to the main street with Israeli flags. This is the way of our people: we line the road that the mourners will take to the funeral to let them know that we are with them as they travel to bury their loved one.

A few hours later, we gather our flags again to go down to the road to honor a father, a principal of one of the schools in Jerusalem. Because here, not only are our schools not functioning or running as usual, but our principals and our teachers are putting on uniforms and fighting on the front line.

And giving their lives for our future existence.

This time, my 15-year-old goes to the funeral with his school to support their classmate. And it’s one of his first funerals and I wonder if I should be there with him. But he’s with his class, his entire school.

And when he writes to us afterwards that it was hard, that it was really hard, and that his friend’s eulogy for his father “nearly broke me,” I want to collapse and wrap him in bubble wrap for the rest of his life and protect him from this kind of pain.

But there is no protection.

For any of us.

And then after we are already asleep last night, one of my sons posts on social media asking others to pray for his brother. He thinks it’s an innocuous request from a brother who is worried, who is thinking about his soldier brother in the darkness of the night. And others misinterpret it and within seconds there are frantic phone calls and worried messages, racing heartbeats and the feeling that I’m going to throw up. It takes a few minutes to get to the bottom of the hysteria. And when we do, we laugh a little and cry a lot.

And sit up watching bad television because there is no way to sleep after a fright of that sort.

We are all So. On. Edge. And it’s an edge that is so steep and so close that it’s almost impossible to breath. And we feel, at every moment, that we are slipping over the edge.

Every phone call, every knock at the door makes us jump and slip further.

When you ask me how I am, this is the answer.

It’s an answer that doesn’t fit into any sound bite except the visual sound bite of tears.

And so, I answer by just staring at you with those tears in my eyes, or halfway down my face.

In silence.

About the Author
Romi Sussman is a teacher and writer. When she's not at her computer, she's juggling raising six boys ages 13-23 and conquering daily life as an Olah. She enjoys blogging here and on her personal blog at
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