The war inside

How do we begin to process incalculable loss?

I went for a walk today and my legs took me to the front steps of a synagogue in my neighborhood. I’ve never been inside this one before, having only admired its stained glass from the outside many times. I sat down on the steps, half in the shade, half in the sun, and tried to figure out what exactly I was looking for.

I’m not a religious person. I don’t really pray in a formal sense. My connection to Judaism is almost purely cultural—and I tend to express it through my work. But today I was looking for something else. Spiritual guidance? Community? The mere suggestion that a rabbi was in the vicinity? I honestly still couldn’t tell you. 

All I know is that I sat there for a few minutes, listened to music in my headphones and cried a bit. Then a police van pulled up in front and an officer got out to stand watch. I didn’t need to ask why. 

For all the loud voices speaking with certainty and clarity in this moment, there are the rest of us wrestling with our personal family history, our sense of justice and the overwhelming knowledge that safety was only ever an illusion. Our minds aren’t built to quickly comprehend violence and loss on this scale, and if all you feel right now is a hurricane of grief, I see you.

To some, not publicly picking a side means you’re siding with the opposite side of who they think you should support. You’re a zealot, disloyal, ignorant, naive, or brave, depending on who’s judging. I find myself drowning under the weight of expectations and assumptions of how I’m supposed to feel because of my religion and my nationality and my politics.

If I’ve learned anything these past couple of days it’s that it’s possible to feel a million things and nothing at the same time. That numbness can be the result of the too muchness of it all. 

The only thing I know for certain is that many more people will die in the coming days. Our lives here in America can and will go on, while Israel and Palestine burn. And the definition of what it means to exist as a Jew in this world may have changed forever. 

Because of my extensive writing about what it means to be an American Jew and the proliferation of antisemitism, I felt it was incumbent upon me to address this harrowing moment. To at least let you all know that perhaps this is a time to nestle under our feelings like a weighted blanket and emerge when they’ve become more clear. 

I’ll leave you with these words from Israeli-Iranian activist Orly Noy, which she posted on Facebook on Saturday (translated from Hebrew):

It is still impossible to digest this darker-than-dark day, which is not yet over and probably will not end for many more days. The thought of the abductees spending the night in the Gaza Strip is crumpling me down with pain. Every thought of them leaves a layer of terror upon the skin. There is nowhere for the head to escape, in every corner lurks a different angle of this absolute, cruel horror that turns and freezes the heart.

Perhaps the only thing that can be done now is to insist on my humanism, to defend it against both internal and external forces. The horrific crimes committed today will not make them any less criminals even if I remind myself that everything they have done to us today, we have done to them for years. Indiscriminate shooting, including at children and the elderly; breaking in to their homes; burning their homes; Hostage-taking - combatants and civilians, adults and minors. Everything. Not remembering this would be giving up a piece of my humanity. Because violence devoid of any context leaves one possible response: revenge. And I don't want revenge on anyone. Because revenge is the opposite of security, it is the opposite of quiet, it is also the opposite of justice. It's just more violence.

Anyone who reads that insistence on context as justifying these horrific crimes has something frighteningly wrong with them. And I also insist on saying that there are crimes of abundance and there are crimes of hunger, and we brought Gaza not only to the brink of starvation, we brought it to a state of demise. We have committed and continue to commit terrible crimes against them. Always in the name of security. How much security did we get? Where will another campaign of revenge take us there?

Terrible crimes were committed today, crimes that the mind does not tolerate. It is precisely out of this dark grief that I insist on the one thing I have left to hold on to in the face of madness: my humanity. The absolute belief that this hell is not predestined. Not for us, nor for them.

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