Fundamentally Freund: The incongruity of it all

When the nation is at war, do we as individuals dare to laugh, sing or dance?

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
With rockets raining down on the South, and IDF troops battling in the streets of Gaza, I find myself grappling with one of life's most mystifying dilemmas. It is the challenge of incongruity, of contending with the sharp dissonance between the events we see on our television screens and the pace of daily life. And I'm not quite sure what to do. Many of you undoubtedly feel the same. Watching the news each day, it is hard not to. While brave young men and women in uniform are being shot at by Hamas terrorists, and residents of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Sderot are running for cover, we largely go about our daily lives as if it were just another sunny day in January. Someone has to do the errands, we tell ourselves, and the kids need help with their homework, we say somewhat soothingly to no one in particular. But in the back of our minds, perhaps somewhere deep in our subconscious, the pangs of guilt peck away incessantly at our fragile peace of mind. To put the matter more bluntly: In a time of crisis, when the nation is at war, do we as individuals dare to laugh, sing or dance? Is it okay to go to the movies with your spouse, or to sip espresso at the local café in the company of a good book? The very thought of it seems indecent, unseemly, inappropriate. After all, our friends, our neighbors, our cousins are dodging rockets just 50 or 60 kilometers away. Our soldiers are in harm's way. It just doesn't seem right. And yet, if we are human, how can we not pursue the very activities which define us as such? Moreover, stopping everything and putting our lives completely on hold is just what the terrorists want. Therein lies the crux of the dilemma. THE QUESTION is particularly acute because in a few days from now, one of my sons will be called to the Torah to mark his bar mitzva. He will recite the blessings with fervor, read from the ancient text and mark his rite of passage into manhood as Jews have done for centuries. It is an event suffused with joy, dancing and lots of candy, and that is as it should be. Or is it? Even if I wanted to block out the angst and uncertainty surrounding events in the South, obvious reminders will abound. There is the cousin who won't be able to attend because he is serving in Gaza. And a friend in the community had to cancel after getting called up for reserve duty. So while my wife and I will be basking in our son's achievement this weekend, other parents will simply be praying for the safe return of their offspring. It is a tangible example of just how small and tight-knit this nation is, where events in the headlines can hit home far more than many of us would like to admit. In a country as large as America, for example, one can go through life without ever knowing someone who serves in the military. Here, it is impossible not to. A baby, the historian Carl Sandburg once said, is God's opinion that life should go on. The same can be said of a bar mitzva, even if one feels a tinge of guilt. At the root of it all, I guess, is the sense of frustration and helplessness that many of us feel about what is happening. Dazed by daily reports of terror, many Jews are at a loss as to how they can help or show solidarity during this difficult period. Perhaps the answer lies in an incident described in the Bible, when the Jewish people were wandering in the desert and confronted their arch-enemy Amalek. Moses, accompanied by Aaron and Hur, ascended a hill overlooking the battle, and then sat down on a stone. Rashi explains that Moses did this because he said to himself, "The Jewish people are suffering, so I will suffer together with them." None of us, of course, is Moses. But in times such as these, when so much is at stake, we should learn from his example, and take steps to ease our people's distress. This can range from hosting families from the South to sending care packages to soldiers to providing support to organizations that aid the residents of Sderot. There is media bias to combat, articles to be written and positions to be explained, and plenty of prayers to be said. While these suggestions may not offer a panacea that will cure all of Israel's ills, they do give each of us a practical means of doing something concrete in order to improve the situation. And even if our actions do not appear to influence the overall outcome of events, by getting more involved on behalf of the Jewish people we do succeed in changing ourselves. And that, in and of itself, is already a crucial step toward victory.