Before I left for Israel I asked my six year old son if he wanted me to do anything for him while I was away. He went to the table, took out a pen and paper, wrote something down and gave me a note. He asked me to put it inside the Kotel, the Western Wall. It read, “The boys should be found.”
I went to Israel for a cousin’s wedding and got swept up in the search for the kidnapped teenagers. I went to shul daily where every congregation I visited joined in prayer for the safe return of the captives. I went to a rally in Tel Aviv with tens of thousands of others to call out for the welfare of the captives. We wore t-shirts that said “Jews love Jews” at the request of the mothers of the captives, those heroic mothers, who wanted their sons to serve as a catalyst for unity amongst the Jewish people. I have never felt more a part of Am Yisrael – the Jewish Nation. The Jewish family.
The country was devastated upon hearing the terrible news. They were our boys. I went for a walk in Jerusalem and came to Zion Square where some people had congregated. A singing duo took out their guitars. One fellow was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and the other a long beard, dressed in black and white. Together they sounded beautiful. Exactly what the mothers of the slain teens would have wanted.
They led us in a moving rendition of Israeli singer Yonatan Razel’s famous song “Vehi Sheamda.” The singer put down his microphone and asked the gathered crowd to sing. “And this is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.” Girls in tank tops, men in peyos, we all sang and cried. Like one family.
I wanted to call my family back home. I wanted to give some sort of explanation to my six year old twins who had been praying for the boys along with the rest of the Jewish people. Before I relayed the news, I told them that I had a true story to tell them.
About 20 years ago, there was a rabbi whose wife was hit by a car as she was crossing the street. She was in grave condition. The entire Jewish community and Jews across North America were praying for her with great fervor. But alas, she succumbed to her injuries and passed away. The rabbi had 11 children and didn’t know how he would marry them all off, but something miraculous happened – each child found his or her prospective partner with ease and each of them found exceptional spouses. At his last child’s wedding the rabbi got up and for the first time spoke publically about his wife’s death. He said that when the entire city prayed for his wife yet she still passed away he didn’t know what to think. But now he saw that God redirected those prayers to helping his children all find such beautiful spouses. “Our prayers never get wasted,” he said. “God just redirects them.”
I told my kids that despite our prayers, the boys were not found alive, but that just like the rabbi whose wife passed away, God would still save our prayers for something else, something very special.
As I was leaving Israel, my cousin pulled me aside and thanked me for coming to the wedding. He said that he appreciated the tremendous effort I made to attend, and how much closer he feels I am to their family. I realized that the same goes for Israel itself.
The Jewish people are one family and whether we live there or not, Israel is our home. The more we visit Israel, are concerned for the well-being of its citizens, make it a focal point in our lives, the more connected we will feel to the Land if Israel and ultimately each other. To paraphrase Ruth, Israel’s tragedies are our tragedies, and Israel’s triumphs are our triumphs.
In this time of collective tragedy, we should do what families do. We should sit down together. We should cry together. And we should comfort each other, whether we’re the girl in the tank top or the guy with the peyos. It doesn’t matter. Because we are all one family.