Let’s Swim
January 12, 2024
By Zoe Felber Bluffestone

Humans are made up of about 60% water. It flows throughout our body: in our muscles and bones, in our heart and our brain. We are made up of water–this life force. Water connects us all.

But after the attacks on October 7th, all of the water froze up inside of me. My muscles felt weaker and my bones were brittle; my heart pumped slower and my brain felt numb. How could I possibly wrap my mind around the horror that had just happened?

When I first heard the news, I had just landed in Athens, Greece for my honeymoon. And for the first four days, the water in my body was frozen. On Wednesday of my honeymoon, I was on the cruise ship with my husband and we decided to attend one of the evening concerts featuring The Barricade Boys. Some of the band members had starred in Les Miserables, and towards the end of the performance, they dedicated a song to anyone who had served or was currently serving in the military.

Before I knew what was happening, that frozen water inside of me started to thaw. I thought about the students at Hillel of Buffalo who might return to the IDF to serve during the war, and a pain unlike any I have experienced in my life pierced me.

The song, slow and sad and scary, drew on, and tears fell freely. Down my cheeks, down my chin, in the middle of the dark theater. I wondered if the older couple behind me could see me cry and shake. I wondered if when the lights came on, my makeup would be ruined. But most of all, I let myself feel it. The horror of war.

The band played a few more songs, quickly pivoting to a more upbeat medley, but by then, as the water in my body thawed, I stiffened. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t clap. I couldn’t sway or tap my feet, as I had done earlier in the show. I sat there, rigid, as the world stopped moving, but the boat kept rocking.

That night, I finally cried for the students who might return to war; I cried for my family in Israel; I cried for the end of antisemitism; I cried for the 6 million. It felt like I had a teardrop inside of me for every person who has ever faced Jewish injustice. It just wasn’t fair.

Soon after the trip, I returned to Hillel and talked with students about how they were doing, and they recounted their sleeplessness and pain. And as I reimmersed myself into the Jewish community, so many people were mourning, in Buffalo, in the US, in Israel, in the world. So many tears around me–some spilled and some frozen.

And as Judaism does, it has something to say about water droplets. Thousands of years ago, Rabbi Akiva observed huge drops of water falling onto a rock. As he watched the water drip, he noticed that it was carving itself into the rock. How could something so soft carve into something so solid? He observed, “There can be strength in something so small.”

So, what if instead of water dripping down my chin in the middle of a dark theater, it had fallen into a shallow hole in the Earth? And what if the tears of the students at Hillel of Buffalo had collected there too? What if the tears of all the Jewish people in New York… In America… In Israel… in the world… had all fallen into that same spot in the Earth?

Well, we would have created a puddle that turned into a stream, a stream that turned into a river, a river that turned into an ocean.

So now we have created an ocean. Blue with white-crested waves, surging up, strong and powerful. And in that ocean, between gasps and sobs, a fish swims around. And an eel and a dolphin and a whale. Maybe we have created a sea that can tear itself apart and flow back together. Capable of wiping out an Egyptian army as we escape slavery. Capable of carrying our boat across the world to freedom.

Together, we flow and breath and crash and break and swim and gasp. If all the world were our tears, we can choose to drown or swim. Let’s swim.

Zoe Felber Bluffestone is the Springboard Fellow at Hillel of Buffalo. If you would like to support Jewish students in Buffalo during these challenging times, you can donate to hillelofbuffalo.org/donate.

 

Let’s Swim - Jewish Thought of the week 2022