By Susan Goldberg Schwartz
Three days after the horrific massacre in Israel, I am reeling from the shock, feeling disbelief, anger, and worry. But mostly what I’m feeling is heartbreak.
What happens in Israel is personal. My children were born outside of Akko. I have family and friends there. I listen to Israeli pop music daily. My ear is attuned to Hebrew so whenever I overhear someone speaking Hebrew or English with an Israeli accent, I feel a connection. Although my feet are grounded in Buffalo, my heart is always in Israel.
When my daughter Liat was born in 1984, I remember her Savta (grandmother) saying with such hopefulness that her generation will finally know peace. Sadly, that has not been the case. In fact, Kibbutz Ein Hamifratz, my home for 8 years, is already mourning the loss of one of their own, a soldier who died earlier this week. Another family there is still waiting to hear from their daughter, who was attending the music festival. They are distraught as they don’t know where she is or if she is still alive.
Israel is a very small country. The idea of “six degrees of separation” – that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other – is more like two or three in Israel. Everyone knows someone who has died, is missing, or has been called up to the reserves.
Then imagine that on one day over 900 Israelis were murdered, the largest number of Jews killed in one day since the Holocaust. Speaking with my Israeli family, they have confirmed what we are hearing in the news. They are preparing for a long war, and many more deaths.
It is ironic that this tragedy fell on the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah, the joy of Torah, and for some, the holiday of the heart. I have always loved the tradition of unrolling the entire Torah scroll, reading the last verses from Deuteronomy from one end, and then beginning again with the very first verses in Genesis. There is a beautiful connection between the last and first Hebrew words. The last word in the Torah is Yisrael; the last letter is a lamed. The first word of the Torah is B’reishit; the first letter is beit. Together, they form the Hebrew word lev—heart. This might suggest that the entire Torah – from the first letter to the last – reveals the heart and love of God for us. A reminder as well, that the very heart of Torah lies in starting it again and studying it anew, year after year.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l wrote that as long as the Jewish people never stop learning, the Jewish heart will never stop beating. He believed that there hadn’t been another book that had sustained a people longer. As we begin the Torah reading cycle once again with the creation story, hopefully Jewish communities here and in Israel will find comfort and inspiration in the familiar lines, and that they can start to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of such atrocity.
I just listened to the current number one song in Israel “Yihiye Tov” by Jasmin Moallem, sung with Omer Adam. The song conveys a message of hope, perseverance and optimism, the words so relevant today. Basof, yihiye tov, gam mitoch hachoshech yidalek ha-ohr. Listen HERE
In the end, it will be good, even from within the darkness, the light will ignite.
Am Yisrael Chai!
Susan Goldberg Schwartz, Jewish Educator at LiNK, dual US/Israeli citizen, mother of Liat and Yaron, grandmother of Liora and Zev