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My search for meaning in terror

Hundreds of Israelis mourn at the funeral of three of the victims killed earlier in the day when two Palestinian terrorists from east Jerusalem entered the Kehilat Yaakov synagogue in the Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof, Jerusalem, with pistols and axes, and began attacking Jewish worshipers, Nov. 18, 2014. Miriam Alster/Flash90

It was 11:32 Monday night. As I was trying to fall asleep, the first message came in from my friend. “OMG, Gevu terror attack in HAR NOFF!!!” Har Noff is the neighborhood in Jerusalem we were blessed to live in for six years. It’s where I studied. It’s where we were married. It’s where our two oldest children were born.

Our frenzy began at 11:34 p.m. The frantic search for information I am all too familiar with — JPost, Times of Israel, Haaretz, CNN, and Facebook. Searching and searching for more information.

It’s 11:50, “Oh no,” my husband says. “First report of one dead and many injured. At Rabbi Rubin’s shul. The big shul that many hundreds of people pray in every morning.”

At midnight the news hits all major outlets. BBC reports possibly several fatalities and several injuries, which “may be terror related.” Har Noff is on lockdown as they search for a third armed suspect. A flurry of calls and emails begins.

12:11 a.m. — My revered teacher Rebbitzen Heller posts on FB, “Please pray for my son-in-law who was badly injured.” Rebbitzen Heller is a mother of 14 children whose husband died this year. No, no, no. I wonder, which daughter? Is it Chani who has quietly volunteered to organize hundreds of visiting students sleeping overnight at the hospital with children whose weary parents need some respite? 

12:32 a.m. — I’m still trying desperately to call my friends and teachers, but all lines are busy. 

6:30 a.m. — After sleeping a few restless hours, I read that Rabbi Goldberg is among the dead. It’s Rivka’s father; she helped me the day of my wedding. He was the husband of Mrs. Goldberg, who lived for decades in Har Noff without an oven, as they could only afford a stovetop after they sold everything in England to move to Israel with idealism. Mrs. Goldberg, who greeted me every morning in school with a smile and hello. Mrs. Goldberg, who was the first to teach me how to make challah.

Another was Rabbi Kalman Levine, who grew up in Kansas City and was in the first graduating class at HBHA. Rabbi Kalman, my husband’s teacher’s study partner. Rabbi Kalman, father of nine, and grandfather to many. 

7 a.m. — I walk into my children’s room to wake them up for school. They notice my tears, and I feel compelled to tell them since they will inevitably hear from others. My sweet, precious children. Your old playground is now a graveyard. The shul Daddy took you to this summer is now covered in blood. Holy books are strewn about the floor, and bodies still wrapped in their tefillin are now in morgues.

“Where mommy?” my son asks me.

In the shul right across the lookout point where Daddy proposed to me. Remember, I showed you this summer when we visited? Remember I pointed out the shul where one of Jerusalem’s leading rabbis prays. That one. 

“How many people were killed mommy?” my son always asks.

“Four my son.”

“How many injured mommy,” is always his next question.

“Nine my sweet child.”

“Did we know any of them,” he fears. “Yes my love, your teacher’s uncle, Rabbi Twersky.”

And now his tears join mine in a sad, sad embrace. An embrace I personally, and the Jewish people, are all too familiar with.

You see, this is not the first time I have been involved in a frantic search for news. The first time was when I was 20 years old and came to Hebrew University to learn more about my people and our heritage. The second week I was there, Sabarro was bombed. Several students went home. Then my bus line was bombed. Even more went home.

I made aliyah the next year. I soon visited Hebrew University, and the very next day the cafe there was bombed. I showed up on my first blind date with my husband with mascara all over my face. While I was riding the bus on my way to meet him, I heard about another bus bombing. I had to run to a payphone to call my parents and tell them fortunately I was not on that bus. Not that time. 

I vividly remember the terrible, painfully familiar sirens. The busy phone lines. The search for answers. For news. Each time, there is the same terrible, indescribable feeling of searching. Reading the names. Hoping and praying you are not familiar with any of them.

So this time the names were particularly painful. Because they were familiar to me. And I have the faces of the widows and fatherless children crying out in my mind. But the truth is that they are always faces. Faces of people’s children. Faces of people’s parents. Faces of people’s spouses. And they are real. Lives cut short. Entire future generations cut off from this earth. 

So as I mourn with the rest of the Jewish people and the entire world, that rabbis, fathers and sons, are once again murdered in Israel’s capital, the City of Gold we have been praying for 2,000 years to return to, I am forced to ask myself: How can we go on? How can I make any sense of this horrific tragedy? What lessons can be learned? What comfort is there?

The answers are not simple. And they are not forthcoming. They are different for everyone. I wanted to share my own personal meaning. The morning of the murders. While the pain is still so raw and so fresh.

Of course, we need to continue to invest our resources and efforts into organizations that actively work toward supporting the victims of terror like One Family, and the agencies of the Jewish Federation. We also need to strengthen organizations like AIPAC, who continue to try to protect Israel’s interests and security.

But the painful reality is that there is no easy solution to the problem of terror against JewsThe paralyzing realization is that there is no livable solution foreseeable or available to us.

This morning, as I am sitting here crying in the Jewish Community Campus watching images on CNN of prayer books strewn about the floor and blood flowing through a synagogue, I am painfully reminded of the blood that flowed outside the walls of this Jewish Community Campus only months ago. 

This is not the first time Jewish history that we have been murdered for being Jewish. There were the Greeks who rose up against us during the Chanukah story, the Persians during the Purim story, the Spanish during the Inquisition, the Kosaks in the Ukraine, the Nazis in Europe, and many modern day tragedies still. We continue to mourn. 

But why?

The Jewish people have a unique destiny. The Torah tells us that we will endure many national tragedies. We are told in the Torah that we will suffer terrible misfortunes as a people and as individuals. But the Torah also tells us that we are to be Holy Nation, a light unto the other nations of the world. 

As I sit here typing in the Jewish Community Campus, I know that I will soon go home and continue my day. But my brothers and sisters in the land of Israel do not have that luxury. And suddenly everything has so much more meaning. The stupid fight I am having with a colleague seems so insignificant. My concern for my daughter’s broken collarbone so trivial. As orphans are now burying their fathers, and wives are by hospital bedsides crying their eyes out for a miracle. And I remember. Our unique purpose is to bring light into a dark and barbaric world. 

This means living as a holy people, dedicated to our unique destiny. The world reminds us that we are indeed a separate people. Yet it is so easy to forget. Let’s try to remember though. I am sure that already by tomorrow or next week my feelings of rededication to live my purpose in life will be slowly fading. But today I want to remember

The Jewish people will fight on. The Jewish response to darkness is to bring more light into the world. Please consider doing a mitzvah today in the merit of those who are injured and in the memory of those who were extinguished. “Ki Ner Mitzvah v’ Torah Ohr,” for each mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is a great light.

What can you do? Perform a kindness for another, say prayers, particularly psalms or any other words in your own language to G-d, give tzedakah or charity to a worthy cause, forgive someone and make peace among people.

Every heartfelt tear and every single deed has the potential to illuminate the world. And we need much, much more of that right now. We don’t understand G-d’s ways, we can’t and we won’t. We know one thing, that G-d blesses us with the ability to choose good for every precious moment we are blessed with. We just never know when it will be our last. Let’s live our lives with this knowledge, and become better people for those who no longer have that opportunity. May this be the last time I have to make this plea.

A few weeks ago, we read in the Torah that G-d makes a promise to us that we will be an eternal nation. We will live on. With all of the pain, and with all of the senseless murders today and throughout time we are still here. G-d continues to give us the ability to live our unique purpose and destiny.

Noon. As I write, my hands are shaking in grief. It is my heartfelt prayer and eternal hope that I will never again be searching the news for names and information. It is the hope of our people. That we may one day live as a free people in our homeland in peace. Am Yisrael chai. 

Gevura Davis lived in the Har Noff Jerusalem neighborhood for six years with her husband, KC Kollel Rabbi Binyomin Davis. The Har Noff neighborhood is where terrorists killed four rabbis at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue Tuesday. She serves as the director of the Kehilath Israel Fred Devinki Eitz Chaim Religious School.