Tuesday, July 04, 2006

It Was Just the Prologue

Since I was in fourth grade and my teacher had me read a story that I had written to the class, I've always enjoyed writing. I kept a journal from the time that I started college until a few years after we made aliyah, when I gradually stopped. I've actually sent pieces to Jewish women's magazines and a few were published. I got into the habit of jotting down notes and ideas on pieces of paper (old fashioned girl that I am). About a year ago I organized all of these notes into plastic sleeves which I then snapped into a three ring binder. So it was a bit of a surprise when I came across a stenographers notebook and opened it to find not only notes that I had forgotten to put into my binder, but a fully written piece that I remember sending to a magazine but which was rejected.

After reading the notes and the complete essay, I was overwhelmed by a confusing array of emotions. Since two weeks ago I have been trying to tease out each emotion and analyze it - and I think I have come to some sort of understanding.

My first reaction to the complete piece that I had written was pleasure. After receiving the rejection I remember consoling myself that the magazine that I had sent it to wasn't really the right place to publish it. Underneath this self-consolation was the fear that it really wasn't any good. Coming across it almost six years later and re-reading it, I had the pleasure of thinking - sometimes I really do write well. It is always a pleasant surprise to me when it comes out right!

The other emotions were not so simple to understand - but I think I've figured it out now. Here is the piece I wrote in November 2000:


I wake up at 4:00 in the morning and I can't get back to sleep, because the events of the past few weeks keep replaying in my brain.

On Rosh Hashana the Arabs start what some call the second Intifada and others call the Yomim Noraim War, rioting and burning forests all over Israel. On Shabbos Shuva (the Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) they destroy Yosef's tomb, razing it to the ground. On the northern border they kidnap three Israeli soldiers, and start a litany of demands for their release. Two army reservists lose their way and are brutally murdered in Ramallah, their bodies horribly disfigured by a crazed mob. Every night Arab snipers shoot both at Jews driving home to their yishuvim in Yesha and into houses in Hebron, Psagot, and the Gilo section of Jerusalem. The Israeli government is floundering, struggling to figure out what to do.

Viewed in one way, a screenwriter couldn't have done it better. The forces of good and evil are clashing again as Israel prepares for another war. One can almost hear the music swelling in the background, enhancing the drama. This would be an exciting suspense movie, if I were sitting in the audience.


At 4:00 in the morning, when the daily running of the household is not a distraction, I have to face the fact that this is not a movie, and I am not just sitting in the audience with my eyes glued to the screen. There are no humorous interludes to break the tension, and a happy ending is not a sure thing, where the main characters emerge with just a bruise or two.

In a word, there are no guarantees. Things change when there are no guarantees - not all of them negative. My kavana (concentration) in davening (praying) has immeasurably intensified. Neilah (the concluding service on Yom Kippur) has a very different feel to it when you know that the women standing next to you have husbands and sons in the army. Tefillat HaDerech (the prayer we say when starting a trip) becomes more than a personal plea for protection against car accidents. Saying Tehillim (Psalms) changes from a daily obligation into a great source of comfort.

On the other hand, no guarantees means that I have had to re-examine my sense of emunah (belief in G-d), and all kinds of questions arise.

If someone asked me today if I believed that all of the events of the past few weeks were part of Hashem's plan, I would easily say yes. Everything that happens is part of Hashem's plan - of that I have no doubt. If someone asked me if I believed that everything that happens is for the good, I would honestly say .....yes, with a bit of hesitation at the memory of the Ramallah killings. I can't help but be overwhelmed by such evil, and wonder, "How can people G-d created act in this way? Why did two innocent men have to die so horribly?"

Then I immediately feel guilty. Does this mean that my emunah is weak? Is there a place for these kinds of doubts?

Is there a way to believe that everything that Hashem does is for the good - but to still fear the pain of what might happen on an individual basis? After all, no guarantees means the possibility of pain.

We all know of families (lo aleinu) where one member is stricken with cancer. Sometimes there is a miraculous cure, thank G-d, and sometimes someone is niftar (dies), seemingly before their time. We all know of couples who are blessed with a child after years of trying. But we also know of those who are not blessed with children and have to live with the endless ache of unfulfilled dreams.

The sun comes up and the house begins to stir. I hear the familiar sound of pajama'd feet scritch-scratch along the tiled floor, and I rouse myself to start another day filled with (blessedly) mundane activities, hoping that my doubts are quieted for at least another 24 hours.

This is what I wrote six years ago - and it makes me feel slightly embarrassed and unbearably sad - for the same reason. I am slightly embarassed because I seemed so naive then. Primed by a diet of short sitcoms and made-for-tv movies, I believed in my heart that what I was writing was the better part of a short story. I thought that any moment the inevitable denoument would take place, and the good guys (the IDF) would take care of the bad guys (the terrorists/rioters). My cursory perception of history (everyone knows that the war in 67 only took six days, after all) led me to believe that the happy ending would be coming up at any moment.

I am unbearably sad - because I wrote this six years ago, and so many tragedies have occurred since then. Suicide bombings and other attacks have taken the lives of so many wonderful people - some that I knew personally. What I wrote then was just the prologue of a long epic, and the happy ending is still nowhere in sight.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) G-d purposely created a world with free will. This means that G-d impartially sustains the evil wrought by the wicked, as if it were truth.

It is naive - and very human! - to rail against G-d for the evil done by humans. But this is part of the deal, the rules of the game.

If G-d saved us from ourselves then our good deeds - and all our lives - would be robbed of their meaning.

Yet there are still innumerable "nudges" and "hints" from G-d that point us in the correct path. We have certainly experienced many such moments in our lives together.

2) American pop culture reinforces a story line that ends with "living happily ever after" and success defined as comfort and fame.

In contrast, the heroic actors of our Torah participate in a saga that always continues beyond them - the most obvious symbols of this are Joseph, Moses, Elijah, and David.

Someone who transcends petty self-interest is called a "Ben Olam Ha-Ba" - a curious phrase that literally means "a son of the world that's coming". How can one be a "descendant" of a reality not yet acheived?

Our definition of success is to make the right choices, to bind oneself to the truth - whether you have been given happy or sad chapters of the saga to live and act out.

In this way one can draw strength from a world not yet built - and build it.

2:46 PM, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Felix Drost said...

Hello Westbankmama I enjoy your posts a lot, they sometimes make me want to respond, let me know if that is appreciated.

Perhaps you can take some small measure of comfort in the history of my family; in 1940 the Germans invaded and their boots marched down the streets, the rebellious spirit of my grandfather took offense and he ran a passthrough safehouse and had people come over to listen to the free London radio. One night there was a loud knocking on the door 'Aufmachen!' they yelled and took my grandfather away, leaving his wife and two early teenage daughters behind. Unlike many others he did come back and I did get to meet him in the final movements of his life.

But you are not the ones under occupation, the Arabs are, and you are not occupying them, but their own dictators are. No freedom of the press, no rights, no choice where to send your children to be educated, no choice but to see everyone around you becoming hateful and radicalized tools in the hands of the Assads and Al Sauds. Who keep them as an arsenal against freedom. Who make them live and die in the Stalingrad of their own making.

You're like the Londoners, hoping that loud whine of a rocket engine is not the last thing you will hear. Hoping fathers and husbands and sons will not die today away from us, and that we will all live another day. There was then and is now no choice but to bring freedom to the countries to the east because their Berlin wall must fall some day, they must be redeemed, their hatred will become untenable and it will feel like an illness and a bad dream they suddenly will recover from.

G-d works in mysterious ways to the brain, and works awe on the heart.

4:02 AM, July 05, 2006  
Blogger kasamba said...

How wise West Bank Papa is!!!!

I wish all the pain would end...

12:52 PM, July 05, 2006  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

I, too, question my the strength of my faith when I awaken at 4 am with doubts, with fears and always with prayers that G-d will keep faith with Israel. I wish, along with everyone else in Israel, and end to war with a real peace, but I don't think I'll see that in my lifetime--the level of anti-Semitic brainwashing in our neighbors is far too high.

4:17 PM, July 05, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

jvd - I always enjoy reading comments, especially thoughtful ones! Thank you for yours.

kasamba - yes, he is

aliyah06 - (are you HERE yet?)sometimes the simplistic Israeli expression "yihiyeh b'seder" is the only thing to think

4:59 PM, July 05, 2006  
Blogger Mad Zionist said...

Mama, don't despair at the evil actions of the vermin. They are only doing as God intended: playing the role of absolute evil that we as Jews must show the courage and FAITH in God to act as HE has told us we should act. We must despair only that our own people have lost touvh with God and Torah. As we become more secular as a people and a nation we lose the blue print God gave us for how to deal with moslem scum.

I am sad only that we don't have a majority of Jews who believe that Eretz Israel is for the Jews as an eternal heritage from Hashem. If more had faith in this we would have ended the reign of vermin terror a long time ago by expelling them from the Land.

More Torah observant Jews means expulsion of moslems, which means ultimately means peace for the Jews.

Peace requires faith in Hashem. We must do a better job of outreach.

4:04 AM, July 06, 2006  
Blogger bec said...

you are such an inspiration to me!
this piece, even though written years ago, is still relevant. i would even submit it to aish.com--it has that kind of ring to it. (although, i don't know if it's wise to listen to publishing advice from me, i have a lousy track record.)
it's so sad that as you say, the happy ending is nowhere in sight, but at the same time, we are still better off than we used to be, before we had israel. baruch Hashem, we have our land, and the stuggle--both spiritual and physical--to keep it. and as long as we uphold the torah and defend our land and our people, Hashem will ensure that we have our land. after all the years of davening to be in the land, we are there (almost!) and i guess that if it was easy, well, that wouldn't exactly be consistent with our history, would it? ....but it would be a nice....

6:57 AM, July 07, 2006  
Blogger bec said...

oops...it would be a nice thought!

6:58 AM, July 07, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

mad zionist - I am not happy with your use of the words "vermin" and "scum" - (they belittle the fact that these are human beings who are making evil choices - vermin only act on instinct and can't be held responsible for their actions). And I also disagree with generalizing about all Moslems. But I do agree with you that outreach is important, and that more people making aliyah is an answer to some of our problems.

bec - thank you for your kind thoughts.

8:14 AM, July 07, 2006  
Blogger Mad Zionist said...

If I implied they are biologically different than I apologize. One who chooses to follow the path of islam has accepted a terrorist ideology, and therefore have earned these derogatory names.

However, those brave moslem souls who see the evil of their ideology and choose to renounce islam deserve tremendous kavod.

9:13 AM, July 07, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

mad zionist - I see we almost completely agree then. My question is whether a Moslem can still follow most of the laws, but ignore the violent parts of Islam, and still consider himself religious. We Jews have a rich tradition of an Oral law and various interpretations of the same text - so that there are different opinions, even among the Orthodox, about many aspects of our laws.

6:21 PM, July 07, 2006  
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