I was not part of the Har Nof community. My daughter and I were immersing ourselves in the warm love of family, and “Toirah" on our final days in Eretz Yisroel. The close knit community of observant Jews worked well together, in prayer, in babysitting, in sharing a close life in the crowded but comfortable concrete apartment buildings built several decades ago. Amongst these building blossomed lovely Houses of study and prayer. While the community made do with common place if not meager personal belongings and furnishings, their holy places, and their ritual items such as prayer shawls and tefillin were the best that could be obtained. There was ongoing celebration of the sanctity of life, lifting the mundane acts of hand washing and eating into holy acts of offering and receiving.
From the outside this had always been to me group of “black hats” with side locks, covered women with flocks of children, isolating themselves from the secular world in pursuit of the Divine who infuses everything. From the inside, I was experiencing deep love of family, of community, in the process of healing the World in the only way they knew— through prayer, through study, through acts of loving kindness— every moment of every day, from sun up to sundown from birth throughout life.
I accompanied my cousin to the houses of worship each day, where we prayed and studied. I blessed and was blessed. I saw the love in the eyes of the young and old who welcomed me wrapped in the shawls and strappings of our faith. For a liberal Jew of the secular world this was full immersion. I felt inadequate to the task as i stumbled over my prayers, and remembered rituals. I was lovingly helped with the finer details of service to the One in humility by rabbis and students. I am loved by an unending love. I am held by a spirit that runs deep through our tradition that I have only scratched the surface of in my 60+ years of living.
Binyamin stayed home for 7am services on November 18th to see me off. I praise God that he did. The sirens went off at 7:10am. A synagogue was invaded during prayer and lives were cut short by terror and horror. Each person is an entire universe, each death signals the end of a personal world on earth, and another deep wound that spreads through the community in ways that we shudder to imagine. My personal family is safe, for the moment. Praise the One for the “coincidences” of the day, the week, the chance meetings. We are here to bear witness, to pick up the pieces, to tremble with awe, and cringe with wrenching pain in the events that have enmeshed us all.
This in not a new scenario for Jews; it is an age old story. It is a story of many people be they Palestinians, Armenians, Tutsis, Sunnis, or Native Americans. And for our people it is a recurring horror story that unfolds through the ages. I do not place my grief above others. But I am enfolded in it. I am now part of the Har Nof community. I grew up with stories. Now I am living them. I now bear witness to the supreme tragedy of man’s hatred for man. How do I process this? How do we process this? We are told to Teach Peace, and to pursue Justice. We must find a path toward Wholeness to allow the World to be healed in all its fullness and beauty.
For now, I am still spinning in the maelstrom of grief that I feel for the community that embraced me, and has now torn their clothes in mourning. As we reflect, as we pray, as we turn toward the light of Truth and the Miraculous One who is infused in all things, Let us find the sparks of healing and tear away the shards of hatred and pursue the Wholeness that can be our destiny.