These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The Scariest Shabbat of my Life

Posted on November 18, 2012 by Naomi Minsky

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This is a note I have dreaded having to write when I decided to spend some time living in Israel. But as I am sure you are aware there has been an escalation of violence in the region. I want to let you know that I am safe and also to share with you what was potentially the scariest experience of my life.

On Friday night I arrived at synagogue just on time to start the service. The beautiful melodies were comforting after an intense week of hiking in the desert and hearing the news of the renewed tension between Israel and Gaza resulting in three Israeli fatalities and 35 Palestinian deaths. I was fully aware that rockets had hit further than their normal range and sirens had been sounded in Tel Aviv. However, living in Jerusalem like the rest of the city I felt completely out of harms way. After all, why would rockets be fired into the religious capital for Jews and Muslims alike? I had gone to Shul wanting to find the words to pray for peace and healing for those hurt in the crossfire.

The congregation was singing the opening prayers when we heard the first siren. There was a silence in the room and everyone froze and looked at each other. There was a collective gasp as we began to make sense of what was happening. I felt my whole body go rigid in the moment that the conflict became a living reality for me. I was unprepared experience anything like this. The Shilach Tzbor ( service leader) turned their head to look outside and then continued with the prayers. 30 seconds later the siren went off again. We left the room and headed downstairs to the bomb shelter.

After a while the service resumed. This time everyone in the synagogue was singing with what I can with even greater spirit and power. It was the embodiment of the typical Israeli attitude that ‘life must go on’. Shabbat still needed to be celebrated even with bomb sirens going off. Witnessing this spiritual resistance was extremely powerful and I felt in awe of the bravery of the people in the room who were determined to continue. I for my part stood in the back of the room hyperventilating.

However, the optimism was short lived. After we finished the next psalm an announcement was made that a rocket had hit the south of the city, groups of 50 plus should disband- we all went home.

The contrast between the beauty of the Friday night service which strives to celebrate the creation of the world and provides a taste of the peace and harmony of the world to come and the fear and violence that was aroused by hearing a bomb siren is sickening. The rocket was launched at a time when Hamas knew it would have the most psychological damage. Shabbat is a time when I feel safe and calm knowing that I am entering into a space where I focus my energy on on things that are important to me, family, Judaism and of course food! This week it was shattered by the threat of violence from terrorism.

Whilst this is the first time since 1991 that Jerusalem has been on the receiving end of rockets, unfortunately the rocket- retaliation cycle is not new. Israel and Gaza have been at constant loggerheads since the disengagement. It was only a few years ago that Operation Cast Lead took place with the intention to putting an end to the threat from Hamas. However we are now witnessing a new round to the violent cat and mouse game that Israel and Gaza are playing. The situation is complex to say the least, it is not black and white, goodies and baddies, David and Goliath. To be honest I do not care who started it and who was right and wrong. My hope and prayer is that both sides can stop kidding themselves that it can be resolved through violence. What is needed is to sit down and begin to map out a future for both states.