June 16, 2014

Bring Back Our Boys

After last Thursday’s kidnapping of three Israeli teens, the country has become gripped by tension, heaviness, worry and sorrow. It is as if the nation has been stabbed in the heart. And as the days go on with no new discovery, the knife twists, deepening our anguish. The TV, radio, Internet, Twitter, and Facebook beep and tweet with angles on the story. The “Bring back our boys” Facebook campaign was recently started at Bar Ilan University and is gathering force. We check the news countless times during the day, hoping, praying for a good ending.

This morning, I was part of a large group of women who gathered to recite tehillim; mothers and grandmothers, each one of us in the room has loved, doted and nurtured children, and each of us felt the depth of despair of the families involved.

Slowly, a woman read a verse of the psalms and we all repeated it. The room was silent except for the ancient words of King David that echoed in the synagogue. Someone sobbed, another’s woman’s voice shook as she broke into tears.

We may not personally know the boys, but feel like we do. They are our children’s age--young, sweet boys simply on their way home from school. They have never known violence or fear, just the tender love of their parents, warm friendships, the fun and freedom of being a teen. And this has all been destroyed.

‘Why?’ we ask. They are just children. Our children. Everyone’s children.  My friend knows one mother well and while praying for the boys’ safety, she stumbled while reciting the mother’s Hebrew name, the shock and fearful reality weighing her down. Another boy is the madrich, the youth group leader of my daughter’s classmate. Yesterday, this 13-year-old girl spent the school day quietly reciting psalms. Another boy is close family friends of our rabbi and over Shabbat, the Rabbi and Rebbetzin were in a dazed shock.

We are all affected and feel like we cannot live our normal lives with such heaviness. Everything now seems trite, unimportant. Saturday was a friend’s birthday. All day she walked around tearful and when asked if she wanted to go out to celebrate, she said ‘no.’ How can one celebrate at such a time? 

The army is now on high alert. I received an SMS that my son’s best friend, a paratrooper, was moved to Hebron. Standing Together, an organization that helps soldiers visited the special forces who are working on the case and appealed to people to donate cold drinks and ice cream. Everyone in the country is involved, body and soul.

Before Kabbalat Shabbat at synagogue in Tsfat, we all gathered and recited prayers. On Saturday, we found ourselves in a cave in Tsfat atop the metsuda. A large group of kids who were the same age as the kidnapped boys were in the cave. Spontaneously, they formed a circle in the darkness, hugging each other tightly and swaying. They sang:

Ana b'choach gedulat yemincha tatir ts’rurah
kabel rinat am’cha, sagvenu, taharenu, norah

O Lord, with the greatness​ of thy powerful right hand, we pray to thee to loosen those that are bound in captivity​. Accept the cry of thy people; exalt and purify us, O thou who art tremendou​s!

The words echoed against the dank, old walls of this cave. I could tell these teens felt the pain and they also knew the power of prayer. It came from a deep place inside each one and poured out, creating a bond of unity. These teens were Modern Orthodox and suddenly,  out of the shadows, bobbed three young Hareidi men. They joined in the song, their black hats swaying along with the group, their prayer coalescing with the teens’ prayer. The pain stings, yet it promotes unity and strength that know no equal. 

In tears, I looked up, as if following the streaming, floating words of their song and spied a tiny opening at the top of the cave. Cobwebs, weeds and beyond, a dab of brilliant blue sky above.

We may now be in confusion and darkness, but we must believe in the light. The entire country is now gripped in pain and prayer. Our thoughts are constantly returning to these boys, our prayers concentrated on their safe return, may they come home speedily.

June 6, 2014

Post Shavuot Blues

Sleep? I crave it and can’t seem to get enough. I admit that I am jet lagged, so during the daylight, I feel groggy, almost hung over; while at night, when everyone is tucked in and snoozing, a light pops in my brain and I transform into the Ever Ready Bunny.

Not good. No, no, no.

Last night, when I could not sleep, I watched a TED talk on the importance of sleep.  The discussion was fascinating and even left me feeling a bit drowsy. I was thrilled at being officially tired at 1 pm. What a concept! Imagining my cozy duvet and soft pillow, I was convinced that I would finally sleep.

There was a knock at the door and five of my older son’s friends walked in, put on the kettle and settled in on the couch. I ran down for a glass of water and another five boys walked in, friends of my younger son. They traipsed up to the TV area and settled in for a few rounds of Xbox.  The Xbox is outside my room and creates a lot of excitement.

Not good. No, no, no.

I did not want to shoo the boys away as my son is recovering from an accident and this was the most exciting event that had happened to him in days.  In fact, his ‘mishap’ enforced a lesson; sometimes, the more we want something, the more elusive it can be.

Like sleep, for instance.  

My husband and I had just returned from a trip abroad at 4 am the previous morning. Although it was still dark outside, the red winged blackbird that lives in the tree outside my bedroom window was already rustling his feathers and warming his chortle.

I fell into bed around 5 am, but did not fall into a deep sleep. At 8 am, I was jarred awake. Our daughter, on a short leave from the army, called. Of course we jumped out of bed, put on a coffee and gave her our full attention. After another coffee, I felt charged enough to unpack, do laundry, clean the house. 

By early afternoon we were both exhausted. My husband pulled down the blinds and announced he was going to sleep. I envisioned that cozy duvet and soft pillow. Dazed, I made my way upstairs and my cell phone rang.  It was my son.

“Hey. I had a surfing accident and they say I need stitches.”

“Forget the nap,” I hollered upstairs to my despairingly exhausted husband. “Sleep is not happening.”

Not good. No, no, no.

It was erev Shavuot in Israel and everyone was winding down. Cheesecakes were baking, stores were closing and offices where shutting down. This was not an ideal time for an emergency.

Not good. No, no, no.

He dashed away in the car.  I still had my eye on the pillow, even if it would bring me two or three winks of sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes, my daughter came in my room.

“I need a ride to a friend’s house. I have to be there soon.”

I rubbed my eyes and calculated that I had maybe shut my eyelids for 3 ½ seconds total. I grabbed the car keys and we took off. I was grumpy, discombobulated and had a short fuse. We got lost and made another wrong turn all with the help of a GPS.  My daughter panicked as I drove along like a delirious space cadet.

Not good. No, no, no.

She did finally arrive at her destination and I came home to a hop-along stitched-up son with barely time to light Yom Tov candles.

Forget sleep; we were entering Shavuot, the night when everyone stays awake all night long to learn Torah. I set my Torah goals low and my sleep goals high for that Shavuot.

Not good. No, no, no.

The more we want something, the more it evades us.  Think I will sit up with a slab of post-Shavuot cheesecake and watch another TED talk. Then I can listen to the red winged blackbird. We’re buddies now.