We are at war again. I wake up in the morning, recite "Modeh Ani," thanking God for another day of life, and wonder how many of our soldiers in Gaza have not received that gift of life this morning. Will there be any funerals today? How many families will be shattered? How many hospital beds will be filled with brave fighters now turned into helpless, suffering patients?
Every Jew in the world is assigned to the prayer brigade.
I want to go check the news, as if my knowing will help matters, but I restrain my news addiction. Instead, I go do something that will indeed help matters. I go to pray.
Just as every I.D.F. unit on the battlefield is assigned to a specific detail, when Israel is at war, every Jew in the world is assigned to the prayer brigade. So I go to my special place at the Kotel [the Western Wall] and pour out my heart to God in my own words, begging that every single Israeli soldier will be protected, and that every single Jew in southern Israel in range of the missile fire from Gaza will also be protected. I plead tearfully that not one of them will be killed or seriously injured. I remember the funeral of 22-year-old Dvir Emmanueloff on Sunday night, and reflect that it is better to cry before the fact, in prayer, than to cry after the fact, in mourning.
I go home and read the news. It is wrenching today. An Israeli tank fired on a house where our own soldiers had taken refuge, killing three and wounding 24.
I wish I had a way of enveloping all of our soldiers in a protective shield, like their helmets or their ceramic vests, but leaving no part of them vulnerable. Deep down I know what I can do to help forge that shield. Negative words are the explosive that fragments us into a myriad of warring factions and groups, the acrid solvent that dissolves the unity that should bind us together. As a believing Jew, I know that spiritual causes produce physical effects. Sitting here in front of my computer, reading about our dead and maimed soldiers, I have had enough. I resolve to stop making critical, judgmental remarks about other Jews -- my contribution to the war effort.
I resolve to stop making critical remarks about other Jews -- my contribution to the war effort.
I force myself to exit from the news and start working. I am like a postman on a stormy day; I do my job, but I cannot for a moment forget the rain that is beating down on me.
The phone rings. It's Yad Ezra v'Shulamit, a charity organization that provides food to the poor. "Yesterday we sent down twenty tons of food to the people in bomb shelters in the South," the phone solicitor tells me, asking for a donation.
"Are the people in bomb shelters full time?" I ask.
"No," she answers, "but they have to be able to get to a bomb shelter within 15 seconds or 30 seconds of the air raid siren going off. That means that no one can go out to shop."
As I'm giving her my credit card information to make a donation, I decide to check that she's legit. "And where are you from?" I ask.
"I'm from Netivot," she replies, naming a Negev town now under fire from Hamas. "But my parents live in Jerusalem, so we've come up here until the war is over."
"Is everyone leaving Netivot?" I ask, remembering how the North emptied out during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
"No," she says sadly, "many people there have no place to go."
I tell the phone solicitor that she can give our name and number to someone in Netivot who wants to stay in Jerusalem. It's the least we can do.
That evening I call my friend Judi Gold, who lives in Beersheva, a city of 250,000 people now in the range of rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza. I'm surprised when she answers her home number. "You're not in a bomb shelter?" I ask.
She explains that her two-story row house was built with a tiny fortified laundry room. When the air raid siren goes off, she and her children run there. The second morning of the Hamas bombardment, however, she had to drive to the center where she works as a social worker with elderly Ethiopian immigrants. The center, lacking any pretense of a bomb shelter, was closed, but Judy needed a list left in her desk drawer. One minute after driving away from her house, the air raid siren went off. They had been instructed to pull their cars over and run for shelter. Judi leapt out of her car and dashed into the first open door, a grocery store. She was barely inside when she heard the thud of the missile landing. "It was pretty scary," she says.
Visiting Wounded Soldiers
My friend Ruth calls to tell me that five wounded soldiers have been transferred to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. She makes mandelbrot and tuna sandwiches, and off we go to visit them.
Walking from the hospital parking lot, we meet up with a small group of paratroopers also carrying food and drinks. They have come to visit their wounded. I strike up a conversation with their commanding officer, a tired-looking man in his late forties. "Have you been in Gaza?" I ask.
"I'm coming from there now."
"I write for a Jewish website. What is your message for the Jews of the world?"
He looks at me intently and speaks deliberately: "To strengthen the hands of our soldiers, and to pray."
We head toward the Intensive Care Unit, where 26-year-old Gal Or (ben Aliza) is lying unconscious. In the corridor outside, we find his pretty wife of ten months. She is smiling and cheerful. "She must be in shock," Ruth whispers to me in English.
I ask for her husband's name, promising to send it out to Jews all over the world so they can pray for him. "We have already had a miracle," his father tells us. In the 24 hours Gal Or has been there, his condition has turned around. He is no longer in mortal danger. He's seriously injured and unconscious, but he will live. A reason to smile indeed.
We visit the other soldiers. Natanel (ben Mazel Tov), wounded in his right arm and leg, asks us to convey this message: "Thank you for all your prayers for us soldiers. All the prayers help. May God repay you only good." Then he beseeches us to pray for his buddy Ben, who needs prayers far more than he does. Ben (ben Netiva) has lost both his hands and both his legs, and he is in critical condition.
Can we doubt how much our soldiers value our prayers?
But only in the last ward do we encounter living proof of the power of prayer. Yaakov, a 20-year-old soldier who made aliyah by himself from England, is lying in the bed. He moved here 17 months ago, inspired "to live in the land of the Jews." He joined the I.D.F. two months after arriving "in order to protect the Jewish People."
The shrapnel had missed his carotid artery by less than a centimeter.
On the first night of the ground assault, during the fiercest battle, a mortar shell exploded next to Yaakov, thrusting him into the air, then knocking him down. He felt liquid dripping down his neck. So many soldiers were wounded that they ran out of stretchers. Instead, four soldiers carried Yaakov off the battlefield to a tractor, which took him out of Gaza, where a helicopter flew him to the hospital. There the doctors were in awe. A piece of shrapnel an inch wide had flown into his neck and come out the other side. The shrapnel had missed his carotid artery by less than a centimeter. It had also missed his jugular vein and his spinal cord.
"I'm alive by a big miracle," Yaakov tells us.
Staring at the freshly-sutured slit on his neck, we ask, "To what do you attribute that miracle?"
"A lot of people in England who knew that I was going into Gaza said tehillim [psalms] for me."
A stunning victory for the prayer brigade!
Sara Yoheved Rigler is planning a May lecture tour in America. If you are interested in bringing her to your community, please write to email@example.com.