Refugees of Time

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We are among the lucky ones. We are not under missile attack anymore. We are in apartments with family, or friends, or share complexes with other families from the North. Some of us receive free cooked meals, others money aide and discounts. We are safe, we are being taken care of. But we are still at war.

I do not come near to comparing our situation with the soldiers, our young children and relatives, that are fighting in Lebanon everyday. Nor to those that are still running to shelters and inner rooms when they hear the blasts in the distance. And certainly not to those that are there when a missile actually falls. .

But our war is of a different kind. For many of us it has become a war within ourselves. Everyone I speak with over the phone, eventually asks me the same question. ‘So what do you do with yourself, all day?’

My war is about staying present. I struggle with my non-schedule. My mind wanders to the past – to my home in Sefat, to the present – worrying about my friends who are still there, and to the future – which has no form, shape or time. It stretches endlessly before me. And I, who have built a life on all the things I do, and on all the things I never get around to doing, feel myself swimming in an empty vacuum.

Before this war, summertimes were always the hardest time of year for me. I work the register at Sefat Candles, and during the vacation months groups and families come non-stop to our gallery. Often so as not to overwhelm, I force myself to look only at the person right in front of me. Between groups I lock myself in the tiny rest room, and do a deep breathing, grounding exercise. Then at night, when I finally go home, when I finally get to sit on my porch and relax, the streets fill up with visitors who have come to Sefat for a rest. I envy them. Every summer I wonder when it will be my turn to relax and just be.

This summer the war descended literally upon us. Suddenly, I who wanted so much to have the time to be present could not keep one focused thought. On the first day of the war, I was upstairs hanging laundry when the katusha screeched over my house, shattering windows. I bent over, covered my head and watched broken glass gather at my feet.. My small family moved downstairs to our unfinished basement. No shower, no workable kitchen, but at least it had a back room that was underground. Friday, whenever I had to go upstairs, my heart’s beating filled my entire body. I ran around thoughts scattered, like the broken glass I hadn’t bothered to pick up.

Okay so let’s cut up the chicken, woops, I forgot to take my face creme downstairs, run to the

bedroom, open all the drawers, here it is, back to the kitchen, still have to put the chicken in the roaster, now for the spices, oh, I forgot to turn on hot water for a shower…a shower?? How can I take a shower when a missile can fall any minute?!! Wait …did I turn on the oven..? etc. etc.etc. –

I left right after Shabbat for my brother’s house in Jerusalem. But I do not forget the questions I was involved in right before the war. During war, I feel that Hashem is asking each of us a our own questions. Every one of us, no matter where we are, must face our personal enemies now.

I wanted to be present, to be in the moment. Now I must redefine what that means. Now I have to fight the resistance inside me to being here now. To being outside my home, my space, without the center of my everyday schedules. If I can do that, on some level, I will find out what being present really means. I will begin to learn to be present whenever and wherever I am.

Being present means realizing that the situation I am in now can teach me something. Being present means, that there is a kind of beauty here`, right here. Being present means appreciating the important things of life, right at this moment.

It means, as the Warsaw Rabbi, the Aish Kodesh told us, finding G-d’s face in the face of the enemy. And He helps us along the way. He doesn’t leave us to find Him all by ourselves.

A few Shabboses ago, when the war was at its beginnings, I stood beside my open courtyard door in Sefat. The blasting was in the distance now, had been for the last two hours. I leaned against the heavy metal door, and looked out over the Vadi. The knowing that I’d be leaving that evening blended with the silence of Ha’Ari Street. Shadows of morning light still colored the road, still lined the trees of the valley. I looked out over Mount Meiron, the double tips round against the sky, the houses below, nothing but reflections of shimmering sunlight. I cannot put into words that moment in time. The eternal beauty of Sefat, Meiron…. the temporariness of the moment. I cannot put it into words because there are no words. And I could not have perceived this special moment, this being totally present, if it had been just a regular peaceful Shabbos morning.

Here in Jerusalem, there are other moments to capture. The hours I spend with my children, my brother and sister’s families who live in the country’s center…something I was always short of up in Sefat. The Chesed that perfect strangers, my neighbors in the building treat me to, taking me to classes, inviting me for Shabbos meals. Here I learn a new type of beauty, not that of nature, but the beauty of the Jewish people.

Yet here, I continue the struggle of my personal war. At some point every day, I feel the dread of emptiness, of being out of my home, squeeze me. Sometimes it hits me after I awaken and look around at the bedroom that is not mine, sometimes its during the long hot hours of the afternoon. But mostly its at night before I go to bed, when I ache to sit outside on my own porch in Sefat where the air is so quiet, the sky is so black, I can feel the spill of stars across it. Here, far away from my center, I have to work daily on focusing. First I have to sit myself down, find a quiet place inside, and admit my true feelings to myself. My fears,my disorientation, my longings. Then I have to struggle to find Hamakom, again and again. And then again. Not in Sefat or Jerusalem, not in the past or the future. I have to find the peace in the present moment. Not in any place outside me, but inside, deep inside, where I always am, where He always waits.

Esther Rubenstein has been a freelance writer for different religious publications for fifteen years. She also co-founded the women’s writing group of Sefat, and teaches in the national writing convention. Sefat, where she has lived for almost thirty years, has always been here true source of inspiration, and presently she misses it dearly.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.