Tiny sparks of light
Day 22 – Shabbat
It’s shabbat morning. The resort, which is filled to capacity with evacuees from the North, doesn’t appear to have organized a morning prayer service. My husband trots off to the designated “synagogue” to go see if there is anyone praying there. He decided that even if there isn’t an actual service, that he would do his Shabbat morning prayers there, as there is a concept in Judaism that certain places have an inherent holiness to them, and a place where there is a Torah scroll, or where people have regularly had prayer services, is one of those inherently holy places. Besides, as lovely as our bungalow is, it’s very small and I’d be in his way, and probably a distraction. While he’s at the synagogue, I grab a cup of cold tea and go sit at the table in front of the bungalow to meditate. I’d like to call it prayer, but most of the time it’s more of a one-sided conversation. We are really very fortunate as our bungalow faces the water, so sitting there is definitely a spiritual experience. As I sit there, admiring the beauty and the deceptive peacefulness of the lake, I start my conversation with the Creator of it all. “Why, oh why, did You create humanity with the capability of such evil?”
This time, I actually feel like I got an answer. Although considering that it feels a bit cliche, I can’t be sure it came from a Divine source. Still, it gives me food for thought. The answer I got back was that we couldn’t truly appreciate the good unless we understood the depths of evil that humanity is capable of. When we understand just exactly how dark it can get, we begin to have an appreciation for even the tiniest light. As I looked around the dining room – on shabbat – full of men and women, young and old, some bent over from the toll many years have taken on them, and some so young they don’t yet walk, I realized that God was telling me to see how incredible their goodness is. These people don’t observe shabbat – many out of an educated choice and not out of ignorance. They don’t dress modestly, we don’t even know if they keep kosher. But what we do know is that they are good people. Not perfect people – no one is – but good people. People who greet the Arab hotel staff with a “good morning” and a thank you after they bring clean towels or collect the trash. People who would never think of deliberately harming another person. These people are good people. Their light may or may not be as bright as the light of others, but we must learn to see their light, and to acknowledge that as small as their light may be, it is incredibly brighter than the darkest darkness that humanity is capable of. And every day they choose to be light instead of darkness.
Over the 17 years that I have lived in Israel, this has been my biggest lesson. I’ve learned to stop judging people by what I see on the outside. I’ve learned that “religious” doesn’t always look like what I’ve been taught it does. That holiness comes in many different packages, and that light is beautiful no matter what color it is or how small the flame. I’ve learned that often the ones who go all out to look pious are compensating for their lack of piety, while the ones who outwardly display no signs of faith whatsoever, are sometimes the most connected and full-of-faith people on the planet.
My husband returns from the synagogue where he met up with 2 other men. They didn’t have the required 10 men for a minyan, but at least he wasn’t completely alone. We head over to the dining hall for breakfast. After getting my food and sitting down at the table, I take a moment to not only be grateful for the food, and my incredible husband, but for the opportunity to look around the room and see all the sparks of light. Some smaller, some bigger, but all light.
After breakfast, we take a walk near the water before returning to the bungalow. The rest of the day is quiet and full of the two of us eating, talking, playing, and reading. And a nap. One of my favorite things about Shabbat is the nap. I don’t always actually sleep, but I lie down and relax – something I don’t get to do during the week. Oh and the occasional checking of the laptop screen.
Each week on Friday right before Shabbat, in addition to changing the settings on my phone so I will know if our regional council has issued a danger warning, I also set my laptop to the Homefront Command English page. There’s nothing being broadcast, but every time there’s a siren, a screen pops up telling you where it is and what exactly is happening. I don’t know how necessary this actually is – I hope I never truly know – but it makes me feel more aware of what’s going on around me, and that offers a small comfort. One of the contributing factors to the extremity of the situation on October 7th was the complete surprise. No one was prepared. I don’t know that my having this screen up is going to somehow keep me safe, but safety is an illusion anyway. I’ll take it.
When Shabbat is over, we do havdalah (the end of Shabbat ceremony) and go have dinner at the dining hall. I would have liked to go out to a nice restaurant, but my search online is showing me that most of the kosher restaurants a reasonable distance away aren’t open on Saturday night. And when I picked up my phone after Shabbat went out, I saw that there were infiltration alerts in communities very near the resort. I decided that as much as I would have loved to eat out at a nice restaurant, I didn’t want to be driving around in a place we weren’t familiar with, looking for a place to eat while there were possible terrorists on the loose. So, the dining hall it is.
The dining hall is full of people and loud. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like loud. But I stop myself and think about how if you put enough tiny lights together, you can still light a room. Look at all the tiny sparks of light – how privileged I am to be among them. Individually we are small. Individually we may look insignificant, but all together, we are bright, and we have the power to dispel the darkness.
Written by Penina Taylor
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Is that thunder? I think that might be thunder. Or is it an explosion? Or is it just the kids upstairs playing? People who have never lived in a war zone, under the threat of missiles impacting their homes, have no idea what it is like to live in a constant state of hyper-awareness. Is that the beginning of a siren? Do I need to run to the safe room? Oh, no, it’s a whiny motorcycle. Is that Arab in my grocery store carrying a knife? Or is she a person I can trust? Is that Palestinian car slowly pulling up beside me trying to pass, or am I about to be shot at? Are those Arab kids on the side of the road just hanging out, or am I about to have a Molotov cocktail thrown at my car?
It’s been a full month since the massacre. The country is in mourning. Yesterday marked the end of “shloshim,” the traditional 30 days of mourning that a family observes after the death of a loved one. Only this time, it isn’t only those who have lost an immediate relative who have been morning for 30 days, it’s been the entire country. Because, when you attack our people, you attack every last one of us.
No, really. I mean it. This piece will trigger you if you are even 10% human.
I haven’t been writing much this week, which is a good sign, I guess. It means that for those of us who don’t live near the front lines, life is slowly returning to some version of normal. Many businesses are still open shortened hours because of a lack of manpower, and there’s still the business of our community asking for volunteers – physical and financial resources – to help soldiers, soldier’s families, displaced families, massacre victims, etc. But the kids are in school, most of us are working (at least those of us fortunate enough to be able to) and life goes on.
We are home again. Our visit to the Kinneret was odd.
It was quieter up there. The sounds of action to the north were absorbed by the mountains that surround the sea. Every so often you could hear muffled sounds, but not much at all. Most of the sounds at the resort were the sounds of children playing.
It never ceases to amaze me how resilient children are. Children live in the moment. They weren’t home, but they made “here” their home. They ran, swam, and rode scooters. They played. Even in the midst of war, even while evacuated from their homes and squashed into one room for the whole family, children play. It’s what they do.
It’s finally Friday. Today is the day that we are going up to the Kineret for our weekend getaway. But before we do that, we are going out for our usual Friday morning breakfast. Only today, we have a small guest with us. Last night our DIL mentioned that with her husband away, she hasn’t really been able to give the apartment a good cleaning and was wondering if we would be willing to take one of the kids so she can try to get some work done in the house. We agree to take her middle son – he just turned 7 – to breakfast and shopping with us this morning.
I’m still reeling from the things I read yesterday evening. Sleep last night was intermittent and fitful. I suppose I should be grateful for the fact that I almost never remember my dreams. Although, I do remember waking up many times during the night. It wasn’t anything specific, I just think that at this point my nervous system is so overwhelmed by the constant anxiety that it doesn’t seem to know how to relax anymore.
It’s Wednesday morning. Shopping day. This is the third shopping day since the war began. Our local supermarket – a large grocery store and part of a country-wide chain, serves the region where I live. This consists of approximately 80,000 – 100,000 Jews, in about 20 communities. I have no idea how many Arabs live in the area, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a similar number.
Except for the rare terrorist attack, Jews and Arabs in our area interact and live side-by-side not only without incident but without hatred. No, in general, we don’t socialize with each other, but we ride the bus, go grocery shopping, clothes shopping, eat out, see movies, and do all those public things in the same places, giving an occasional smile or friendly hello and being polite. In fact, in general, in my community, I’ve observed that Arabs and Jews interact more politely than many of the people in New York. So much for apartheid.
When I was a child I remember milk cartons sometimes being printed with the picture of a missing child. The idea being that if enough people saw the picture, maybe someone would remember their face and recognize them if they see them somewhere and help in recovering the child.
This week Israel’s main milk producer, Tnuva, did something similar, with the pictures of the 212 known hostages. It says on the box, “Kidnapped” (on the top) and underneath the pictures it says, “kidnapped since Sat, Oct 7th” “last seen in Western Negev” and 1-BRING-THEM-HOME. While posting their faces on the carton may not make them come home any quicker by being recognized, it’s a reminder that there are real people – A LOT of real people – suffering, being held hostage. More than 20 of them are children, some babies. Many of them are elderly, not capable of enduring the same hardships a younger adult can…
I’ve gotten behind again on my journaling. When a wound is fresh, when the anger is sharp, it’s easy to express yourself. The burning inside acts as a propellant for the words to come out. But as time goes on the fire gives way to hot coals and what remains where the burning used to be is exhaustion. I am so tired on so many levels, sometimes I feel like I have to push the words out like trying to roll a boulder uphill.
A new week has begun.
Before the war began, and before the Fall holidays, my daughter and I had the custom of spending an hour together every Sunday morning to have coffee and chat. We’ve been doing it for years. Over the holidays, we paused our weekly coffee date because the kids were all home and it was just too difficult for her to get out. The war extended that hiatus. But today we are finally getting together for coffee. I really treasure this time together, and in many ways I feel like my daughter is my best friend.
Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz
I had shut off do not disturb mode from my phone so that if the security needed to send emergency instructions, I would get the call. I still haven’t figured out how to do the configurations correctly so that the things I want to come through will and the things I don’t want to come through won’t. Maybe by the time the war is over I’ll have it all figured out.
It’s 3am and the buzzing of a rocket alert wakes me up. Boom. I hear the booms. In the end it turns out that the rockets were over on the coast, near Gaza. I did a little research and according to what I found, I shouldn’t be able to hear the booms all the way over here, but I do. My husband thinks my research was faulty. It’s very possible. But I heard the booms and then drifted back off to sleep.
Hard to believe that this has now been going on for two weeks. It’s Friday, and time for us to get ready for shabbat.
I look over to the shelf where I light my shabbat candles. The seven-day candle I lit on Wednesday is still burning and I am reminded that no, it’s not over yet. We still have no knowledge about the condition of our hostages, the red cross has made no effort to see them.
When I woke up this morning and checked my phone, I was shocked to find that there hadn’t been any rockets fired from Gaza since 10:00 last night. In fact, the first alarm today wasn’t until after noon. I’m guessing that we must have done a reasonably good job at destroying their terror infrastructure. But maybe I spoke too soon. Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz…
Boom. That was close. But we didn’t get any sirens.
Wednesday morning, shopping day. This week venturing out to go grocery shopping at our local supermarket wasn’t as scary as the previous week. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a frightening situation can become “normal” given enough time. Wow, just saying that to myself is a different kind of frightening. No one should have to get used to rockets going boom overhead, or the threat of violence in the streets. No one should have to get used to not knowing if food they need for their children will be available when they get to the store. No one. And while I’m writing this I’m thinking about the people who live in Gaza…
I wake up feeling more focused today, I think it’s going to be another productive day. I’ve fallen behind on my blog posts, and I’m getting messages from people who say they really appreciate them, so I should keep writing. Well, when you put it that way…
It’s Tuesday. My SIL went back to base on Sunday morning. I know it’s only been a few days, and he’s working in a logistics unit now – which can be stressful at times, for sure, but he’s not in the same kind of stressful situation he was last week. I’m relieved about that, but still feeling like I want him to know how much he is loved and how much we care about him.
I’m finally sleeping better. I guess in some ways I’ve grown a little numb to the buzzing of my phone and the horrors of last Shabbat have begun to get duller around the edges – if that’s a thing. It appears that the massacre was so horrific that it’s caused global leaders’ humanity to overtake their normal apathy and even bias against Israel, meaning that we are getting support (or at least not being condemned) in ways that Israel has never before experienced. So I guess I’m not feeling the threat of complete annihilation the way I was last week, and that’s relieved some of my anxiety. Last week I was paralyzed, this week I’m just very (very) distracted.
After a pretty restful shabbat, for which I am very grateful, I wake up ready to start the week. Or so I think. In Israel the weekend is Friday and Saturday (Shabbat) instead of Saturday and Sunday, so Sunday is the first day of the work-week. One of the few things I actually do miss from the US is having Sunday off. Somehow, even when I had to work on Fridays, I managed to get ready for Shabbat and then I had Sunday off. It’s good to have a day between Shabbat and the work-week. In Israel, it’s different. Friday, which should be like Sunday, isn’t really a day off if you are religious because there’s always the looming deadline of sunset when everything has to be ready for Shabbat. In spite of my best efforts to start the week off being productive, there’s a million other things vying for my attention…
Friday night. Shabbat. Shortly before setting my phone up for the special shabbat-during-war mode, I noticed that people were suggesting lighting an extra two candles for the women who were in captivity or serving on the front lines, who wouldn’t be able to light candles for themselves. I decided not only to do that but to also light a yahrzeit candle.
I wake up and check my phone. No sirens since 1am. That might be a record since the war began.
Normally, on Friday morning, my husband and I go out for breakfast. Friday is a day off in Israel, and being without small children at home, this is something we can do. It’s our sacred time. We’ve always advised married couples, young and old, that they must make time for each other. Date night – once a week or at least once a month is a necessity, not a luxury. Being a little on the older side, I find the idea of going out in the evening exhausting, just the thought of it. So we decided that instead of date night, we’d have date breakfast. Sometimes we have friends join us, sometimes we have family join us – like last week. It was my birthday on the secular calendar, so all the kids in the area (not our one set of kids who live in the center of the country, because it’s just too hard). It seems like months ago, not a week.
I’m still having issues with sleeping, but I managed to get almost 6 hours last night. That’s not bad, honestly.
First thing I do is check my phone. Is everyone ok? And then the news sites. And then I make a mistake that I make over and over again – I check social media.
On my Instagram feed there’s a famous speaker and author that I really respect speaking out about what’s happened here. Amazing. I knew this guy was great. But then I make the real mistake. I look at the comments. NEVER ever look at the comments. I know this. I know there’s a lot of awful people out there.
Every Wednesday morning my husband and I go grocery shopping early, so we can avoid the crowds, get in and out quickly and get back home in time to start our work day. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to go shopping this morning. But we are fortunate, our local supermarket is open and relatively well stocked, all things considered.
What was that? I mean, obviously it was some sort of aircraft, but it was really REALLY loud. At 3:15 in the morning, I had only had a few hours sleep, but the jet passing overhead sounded like it was close enough to scrape our apartment building. Ok, well, maybe if I don’t think too much I can get back to sleep. After all, I haven’t actually had a good night’s sleep in several days now.
I closed my eyes and had barely drifted off to that place that feels so good when I was awakened again by a very loud jet. This one wasn’t as close as the first one, but super loud. Enough louder than the air traffic we’ve been hearing 24/7 for the past 3 days that it woke me up. I squinted to check the time, without my glasses on, and really still ¾ asleep, that was not an easy task…3:18. Wait…what? Only three minutes since the last one? I must be mistaken.
I managed to get a few hour’s sleep. Not enough to function well, though. I’ve got to get more work done or this month is going to be hard in more ways than one. I check Facebook again to see if I can mark myself safe in the crisis – this will help lower the amount of people asking me if we are okay. I appreciate the concern, and it’s heartening knowing that so many people care about my welfare, but it’s hard to answer everyone. Facebook still hasn’t listed the war as an option and I am livid. There are ways of doing this that don’t have to be about “taking sides”, but ignoring the situation is abominable. Nope, still no option.
Drawn like a moth to light, I cannot put down my phone. I cannot shut down my computer. What’s the latest count? Who has been found? The booms continue, although much more distant now. The buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz of my phone has a few more minutes between each set. But it’s 1:30 am and I have to work in the morning. So reluctantly I head to bed. Sleep is fitful, but I’m exhausted.
I get up, get dressed, as usual. I get my coffee and sit down to work. One website…just one…no, I need to work. I try to work. But websites and LinkedIn profiles seem so trivial at the moment. I am so distracted.
It’s Saturday morning, Shabbat, but also the last day of the festival of Sukkot in Israel, called Shemini Atzeret and also Simchat Torah. This is the day we celebrate the greatest gift God gave to the Jewish people (and the world, really). I’m laying in bed and my phone begins to buzz – buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz.