"Mah nishma?" is the Hebrew version of "What's new?" It's an innocuous, universal greeting which needn't mean much more than a passing hello. The answer given is usually Baruch Hashem -- Thank God, which can mean anything from "Great!" to "Don't even ask. My enemies should have my troubles!" Often, upon hearing a dubious sounding Baruch Hashem, the questioner will respond with, "Gee, what's wrong?"
At one momentous point in my life, I promised myself that I would always respond with a hearty and cheerful Baruch Hashem. I'd mean it, and if I didn't, I'd say it as if I did (which I'm sure my innermost soul always does. It's just that there are so many outermost factors which factor in and influence us!) After all, even when life doesn't meet all our expectations and things are not quite perfect (how many things in life are perfect?); and even in times of great sorrow and distress, there are still countless things to be grateful for, things which deserve a hearty Baruch Hashem.
I will admit, however, that these past two years in Israel have tested my resolve, and my Baruch Hashem's have often been lacking in gusto. Not that I am not cognizant of the many miracles which accompany us every day; not that I am not thankful enough for the many blessings I enjoy. But it's difficult to be upbeat when you are surrounded with enemies, terror, hatred and death; with actual attacks and the anxiety of anticipated ones.
The funny part is that when my spirits are low, one thing that really helps is driving down to spend Shabbat with our children in Gush Katif, a bloc of eleven Jewish communities in the Gaza area. (I hesitate to say "settlements." The world has turned Jewish "settling" in the Holy Land into a sin, although America was "settled", as was Canada, as were scores of other countries around the world.) Historically, in biblical times, Gaza was part of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah. The city retained a Jewish population after the Destruction of the Temple, throughout the Middle Ages and up until the 20th century (1938) when four synagogues still functioned.
The Israeli army is working overtime, but so are God's guardian angels!
Once in Katif, even with the highly visible presence of the Israeli army, with tanks, checkpoints and nightly shootings as background "music," serenity returns. Perhaps it's the pure, blue, unpolluted sky; or the sound of the waves on the shore. Or maybe the endless white houses with red roofs dotting the landscape, surrounded by green fields, flowers, trees, and miles of plastic covered hothouses where bug-free vegetables (now a staple of kashrut in Israel) are grown. Or perhaps it's just the countless children, as free and happy and at home as a Jewish child in the Land of Israel should be. Whatever the reason, despite the proximity of Gaza and Rafiach and Khan Yunis, Katif is the closest I've come to Biblical serenity -- "Ish tachat gafno v'tachat t'eynato" -– each Jew under his promised vine and fig tree. Of course, although real, it's still part vision, part dream; but hope is endemic to the human psyche and dreams fuel the human soul.
Once there, I refill my spiritual batteries. I look at the children and the growing population (new people are moving in all the time) and the new synagogue being built in my son's community (the old one doesn't even have standing room anymore) and I trust that good Lord has His ever-open eye on the place. In fact, although close to 2000 mortar shells have been shot into, over, inside of and around Jewish homes, schools and fields in the area in the past two years, only one was the cause of a death! Nor did the shells cause serious injuries of any kind. Deaths and injuries did indeed occur, the result of terrorist attacks, shootings or mines. They were horrible enough, but even they comprised only a tiny fraction of the possible fatalities when compared to the huge number of terrorist attempts which took place. The Israeli army is working overtime, but so are God's guardian angels!
Still, I admit that living in a continuous state of semi-war and anxiety is not an easy thing to do. After September 11, every place in the world is fraught with danger, but there is no doubt that Sinat Eisav -– the hatred of Esau for his brother Jacob -- focuses on the most vital point in the world "body" -– the heart. That's us -- the Jewish People in the Land of Israel. But we don't waste too much time feeling despondent. Perhaps because we feel privileged. When times are difficult, as they are now, we remind ourselves that this, too, is part of a long, historic process leading to peace, to a better world, to the Final Redemption. Here in Eretz Yisrael, the Divine Presence is palpable. Because we are so acutely aware that we "walk with God" and live our lives under the protective wings of the Shechina, we continue to go forward with faith and trust. We are the right people in the right place. With God's help, we will arrive at our destination.
Yaffa Ganz © 2003