“Hamas leader killed, Arabs vow revenge.” There are more words below, but it’s hard for me to concentrate on the fine print. There is a fear that squeezes my heart, tighter, tighter. What will this revenge mean? Who will find themselves orphaned? Widowed? Will it. – and I think of my children, my husband, my family and friends – and the question is too horrible to finish.
They are threats of another intifada, about an escalation of the terror the Arabs have been unleashing for over a decade. And it’s terrifying to imagine what that can mean. For a moment I contemplate working from home for the next few days. But then I tell myself that the Arabs have never blown up the intercity buses I take to work. Sure, there have been a few Molotov cocktails but thank G-d, no one was hurt. And what of my lunch date with my sister-in-law? Restaurants have often been the venue for crazed Arabs to destroy dozens of lives. Should I cancel? But we’re meeting in a small place. And it’s far from the center of town. And so my thoughts go, in an absurd merry-go-round of fear, shallow comfort, and more fear.
And then I’m jolted out of my self-absorption by thinking of the soldiers marching into Gaza. What mind games do they play? What do they tell themselves as they climb into their tanks and set off to face those who believe they have no right to exist? How do they convince themselves that it will be OK, that when the sun rises in all her golden glory tomorrow they will be here to greet a new day?
What of my husband’s cousins in Ashdod? What do they tell themselves? How do they quiet their fears as the rockets rain upon their town? Do they assure themselves that their building is well-built? That the rockets will land somewhere, anywhere else?
This fear is no new companion. Years ago, when we first made aliyah, I was haunted by the thought of being blown to bits, despite the relative peace Israel was enjoying at the time. I was just fourteen when my parents decided to settle in the land they so loved. One day at school, two months before our departure, my history teacher called in sick. Desperate for some way to occupy us, my principal decided to show us the film the eleventh grade had viewed in their current events class. The film was a propaganda film put together by the IDF to show the world what it was that the “Zionist monsters” were being forced to endure at the hands of “Palestinian victims.” It chronicled the most macabre terror attacks that had taken place in the tiny land.
There was a kibbutz nursery set aflame, a school building blasted to smithereens, there were parents sobbing hysterically over tiny graves. No human being should ever have to see such wanton bloodshed. My class was deeply shaken. I was terrified – this was the land that would soon become my home. I wanted to live. I didn’t want to be mowed down by some fanatical Arab intent on reaching heaven by making this world a hell.
Somehow I kept the fears at bay until we moved, but once we arrived, they exploded. I couldn’t sleep. I’d lie in bed for hours, sure that every rustle was a terrorist planting a bomb just beneath my window. The ticking of a taximeter late one night sent me into such a panic that I could barely breathe. Time helped the fears abate, but they never fully left me.
Until I heard a story that revolutionized my perspective. In Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s incredible book, “Reflections of the Maggid,” he tells of Mr. Yerachmiel Wexler, a wealthy man who lived in Chicago during the 1920’s. Mr. Wexler attended a speech by Rabbi Yaakov Volk, an eloquent rabbi from Eretz Yisrael. The rabbi swept his listeners up in his intense love for the land that was theirs, and Mr. Wexler felt a deep stirring. He wanted a piece of the land, he wanted a life that was holier and more sublime.
A short while later he traveled with his entire family to Israel. He purchased real estate, investigated business opportunities, and searched for a home. When the family visited Chevron, their sixteen year old son, Yaakov, became so inspired by the learning he saw in the yeshiva there that he asked to remain. His father acquiesced. The year was 1928.
It was only months later when bloodthirsty Arabs tore through the village, murdering and pillaging, intent on destroying every Jew they could find. Yaakov Wexler was one of their victims.
Rabbi Volk returned to the United States, but he couldn’t show his face in Chicago. How could he look at the man whose beloved son had been killed in the land he urged them to settle in? But one day he finished a lecture in New York and found himself facing Mr. Wexler.
“We miss you,” said Mr. Wexler, “why don’t you come to Chicago anymore?”
Rabbi Volk could barely look up as he described his overwhelming guilt at the murder of the boy he had been indirectly responsible for bringing to Chevron.
Mr. Wexler was quick in his response. “My son was only meant to live seventeen years. There are many ways he could have died – a sudden car accident, a long, lingering illness. Because of you he died because he was learning Torah in Chevron, he died because he was a Jew. That is the noblest death a Jew could have. And for that, I thank you.”
I read this story and the storm within was quieted for the first time in a decade. There was little reason to fear a terrorist’s grenade. If I was meant to live a long, full life the grenade could not harm me. And if I was only allotted a short time upon this earth, could there be any better death? For weeks I had clarity and peace.
Time moved on. The clarity faded in its intensity. My eyes focused upon the blatant reality of this world, rather than on the true reality of the worlds above. But the fears were never quite as intense.
This week we buried Dvir Emanuelof, the first fatality of this war. Dvir’s mother, Daliah, lost her husband several years ago and her father just two weeks ago. And now, the most horrific loss of all has been inflicted upon her. She lost the son that comrades describe as having disliked war, but having gone to the battlefield because he loved his people. There is little one can say in the face of such tragedy. I think of a martyr in Chevron and allow his father’s words to echo in my ears. “He died because he was a Jew. And that is the noblest death a Jew could have.”
Bassi Gruen is a licensed social worker, a professional writer, and the Editorial Director of Targum Press. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications and is the author of A Mother’s Musings, a collection of articles taking an honest look at the challenges and joys of motherhood. She lives with her husband, her children, and her dreams in Beitar Illit.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.