By Meital Sapir, Shana BaAretz Alumna
I feel really sad. I feel vulnerable, personally attacked, distressed, frustrated, confused, but mostly sad. I cannot explain or justify or reason or understand this series of tragedies entangled with convoluted politics and heavy emotions. The only thing I know is that I just feel sad. When I’m sad, I turn to my community to share the weight of the sadness. Last Thursday night, our Jewish community on campus gathered at Hillel for a vigil to shoulder the weight of the tragedies befalling people in Israel. We shared the pain together. We connected to each other, to something that, even if it can’t provide us with answers, will comfort us with support and empathy.
Another community I turn to when I feel lost and sad is my closest community in Israel. I wrote to my teachers, mentors, and friends at Nishmat, and read Divrei Torah and speeches from the Nishmat website, to consult their methods of shouldering the tragedy of the murders of Rav Eitam and Naama Henkin z”l and the other terrorist attacks happening around Israel.
The range of their responses struck me:
Rabbanit Henkin told us, her students, that we don’t always like what God gives us, but we know it’s our job to deal with it; She told us to continue and increase in our learning of Torah. Because the Torah is a tree of life to those that grasp it. Because the Torah is light. Because the more Torah we learn the more light there is in the world – and while the darkness of evil tries to extinguish the light, we will increase it. Yagil Henkin, the brother of Rav Eitam Henkin shared a message that was more political–recognize that these murders and stabbings happening in Israel are acts of hatred; take them seriously, find the source of hostility, and fight it civilly. Rav Yehoshua, said with less concern in his tone: Don’t lose spirit. Intifadas come and go, anti-semitism comes and goes, hatred ebbs and flows. But terrorist tactics won’t destroy us; we’re stronger than that. Our job is often beautiful and fun, and often bitterly tough. But we are here to do our job. And for some of us that means learning Torah right now, for some of us that means staying loyal to Judaism in a public way, for others that means activism, and for others that means building families, communities and depth in the Jewish world. Adi Bitter, advised more practically: protect yourself, do what you need to do to listen to your emotions, and protect yourself from feeling hopeless from the ugly politics of it all. Racheli Sphrecher Frenkel relayed a classic Israeli phrase to us – tivku vetamshichu laavod – it's okay to cry and to be in touch with sadness and loss and mourning, but keep moving forward. Just from our single community I heard five different approaches to coping with this tragic news. The diversity in their responses demonstrates that there’s no clear answer of how to makes sense of terror and tragedy; not a prescriptive way of how to feel, no resolution; nothing will make us feel good about this situation. Collectively, they taught me that whatever our focus and method is during this time, we come together to share our pains and thoughts and support each other as a community.
Another community that I look to for comfort is the greater historical Jewish community that’s felt a similar pain before. The author of psalm 122 shares the anguish we feel today. At the end of this perek of tehillim, the psalmist who writes hopefully about all of Am Yisrael making aliyah to Yerushalayim together, prays for the return of peace in Yerushalayim. He writes: