BOYS LIGHT memorial candles at the scene of two terrorist attacks.
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
It’s been a very hard week for the people of Israel.
Every time I grabbed my phone, looked at the television, or turned on the radio, my heart beat a little faster. Each hour, when the notorious three rings are heard on the radio as a prelude to the hourly news, I have been saying a heartfelt prayer, “Please, God, let there not be any more news of new terrorist attacks. Let no more of Your children be taken in such a horrible way.” It’s a familiar prayer that I have said too many times – and it never stops being painful.
All of us here have lived through intifadas, wars and terrorist attacks. All of us have buried a friend or relative. We are unified in trauma – holding our breath when we hear about a terrorist attack, until the name of the victim is released. We all breathe a sigh of relief upon learning that the victim is not a family member, but ultimately, none of us experience real relief, because we know it is our brothers and sisters who are now in mourning.
We have experienced these heart-wrenching moments countless times, but it’s not something we get used to. Each new attack is a stab in all of our hearts, and we’re all bleeding.
I heard about the recent murder of Naama and Eitam Henkin when sitting in my succa, and yet again, the terrorism hit close to home. I studied at Nishmat school with Eitam’s mother, Rabbanit Henkin. She is the quintessential Jewish woman: progressive, modern, strong and devoted to God and the Jewish people. I have been in recent contact with her, due to the funding by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of the new Nishmat building and their program for Ethiopians. What always stands out about Rabbanit Henkin is her kindness, gentle heart, and brilliance that illuminates whatever room she enters.
“Where are you, God?” I cried through my tears when I heard of the terrorist attack and imagined this courageous role model of mine in mourning. “How can four innocent children be orphaned so cruelly? How can a loving God let such evil happen on this holy soil to innocent people dedicated to strengthening His presence on earth?” To be honest, my feelings this past week have been a mixture of sadness and anger at God. One of my favorite hassidic teachings says that it is not a problem to question God – just don’t do it behind His back. So I’ve been crying out to God at nearly every news report and each announcement of another terrorist attack, “Hashem, where are You!?” I don’t have the answers, nor will I ever. But through my tears and searching, one thing has become strikingly clear: God is right here with us. He is weeping with us. Although CNN and Fox News might call the attacks “random,” I have faith that every bullet fired and each stabbing is anything but random – and neither are every smile and reason to celebrate.
Maybe one of the reasons I hold my breath each time there is a new terrorist attack announced is because I have come to realize that it’s always the holiest, most pure people taken in the most brutal and upsetting way. The Fogel family, Dr. Applebaum, who started Terem Emergency Care Clinics, Rabbi Gabriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, who ran the Mumbai Chabad House, and many more.
I don’t understand God, and often I even question God, but I never stop believing that He is here with us. “I am with you in your suffering,” I feel God yelling through the tears. And seeing the influential and holy people who are plucked from this world in their prime while helping to develop God’s kingdom on earth, I know He means it. The terrorist attacks are too close to home and they’re getting everyone thinking, relating, and hopefully uniting.
Few Israelis traveling north or south have not found themselves lost in an Arab village, praying for God’s protection. Almost every Israeli parent driving home with their sleeping kids late at night has been terrified of the nearby car that slows suspiciously, or of people standing on the roadside near a pile of rocks. Nearly every Israeli has taken the same spiritual journey as the victims of terrorism did to go pray at the Kotel.
It’s been a hard week here, and we might be seeing more hard weeks to come. My hope is that we hold on to the thoughts that unite us, the prayers that strengthen us, and the love of this land that binds us.
The idea that any two Israelis are radically different – based on political, biblical, or universal beliefs – is quickly being broken down. Ultimately, we’re all one.
We’re all family, and that is the strength that will get us through these difficult times.Yael Eckstein is senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.