Malkie Hirsch, Nechama Kamelhar, Yonina Wind, Osey Zinnar and Stephanie Sokol on TJJ Moms Trip

By Malkie Gordon Hirsch

Of all the things I could’ve predicted writing about on the other side of a busy yontif season, I assure you that this never crossed my mind.

And even with all we’ve been through as a Jewish nation, and personally as a woman who’s been through her share of trauma, I feel that an innocence has been lost.

It’s been ripped out of our hands, despite being told time and again to be reasonable, to act responsibly, not to react the same way they respond to us.

And where has that gotten us?

Well.

It’s gotten us here.

The recent events we as a Jewish nation are currently grappling with in Israel are things you read about in a book or watch in a movie, but they’re not based on reality.

These are acts that we might’ve learned about in yeshiva from Biblical times thousands of years ago, but for such an unprovoked attack to happen in this day and age?

Planned right under our noses? The attack from Hamas on Shabbos, over Simchat Torah, is an unprecedented event that will go down in history as the most violent day we’ve known since the Holocaust.

How could such atrocities happen in this day and age, in 2023? How could Jews still be persecuted the way they were years ago?

“Never again” is indeed happening now.

And sadly, whatever was can no longer be.

What does that mean to you?

To me, it means that we can’t go back in time, back to before hundreds of Israeli men, women, and children were murdered, taken hostage, and discriminated against purely based on their religion.

It means that although we think we’re dealing with human beings who desperately want to be heard, we’ve been mistaken.

Humans of moral equivalence don’t act this way.

They don’t commit war crimes on women, babies, and the elderly who cannot defend themselves.

Everywhere I go, on each social media channel I flip to, or whenever I speak to people in passing about what’s happening in our land, the consistent thought that none of us saw this coming is what’s spoken about most.

What type of people hate a nation so much that they raise their babies to chant “Death to America, death to Israel” in their schools the same way that we express our love and appreciation for where we live and who we are?

That might be one of many notable differences between us and them—we’re raised to love and care for each other, while they’re raised to hate and destroy to their very end.

I can’t relate to these monsters, and I hope I never will.

Wouldn’t life be way easier if we were given a heads-up, a warning for what was to come before it crash-landed into our existence this way?

For most, the fact that we didn’t know the full scope of what was happening since it was in the middle of a holiday was met with frustration and an inability to process all the information that bombarded us the minute we turned on our phones on Sunday night.

For me, it was met with appreciation for being spared the onslaught of news in real time as well as a feeling of helplessness by not being able to do much from here.

Nevertheless, since we’ve caught up and learned in disbelief of all that was going on while we were still in that celebratory mood, the show of love, caring, and support that I’ve witnessed among community members, my NCSY family, and the Jewish nation as a whole has been so heartwarming.

“Mi k’amcha Yisrael” is something we say as flippantly as when we express the “there are no words” cliched sentiment that’s supposed to fill the void in a sentence when words can’t really do any justice.

But from my vantage point, seeing the way people are doing all that they can, posting Amazon links of goods needed for our chayalim, which are then purchased and packed, collecting and delivering hundreds of handwritten cards for our soldiers via chartered flights carrying those goods to Israel, and all the in-betweens that we’re doing from all over the world proves the statement above: that there is NO other nation like ours.

Neighborhoods around the world are arranging nightly rallies, reciting Psalms for the safety of our friends, family, and soldiers.

Nobody else offers to take in orphaned children who are suddenly without a home of their own like we do.

No other nation can deploy 300,000 men in the reserves in a matter of hours like Israel can.

No other country is suffused with that feeling of loyalty, love, and appreciation for their home like ours.

You won’t find men anywhere else who pay for 250 plane tickets for chayalim who need to get home to defend their country.

Our local supermarkets’ shelves are rapidly emptying as we buy out battery packs, flashlights, and sleeping bags to send 6,000 miles away to support the soldiers who risk their lives protecting our freedom to have a place of our own.

Our land, the land given to us by G-d, and a country where we can practice our religion openly and proudly.

I was speaking to one of the moms who traveled to Israel this past summer on the NCSY tour, and I expressed my appreciation out loud at how blessed she and the other women were to see the land of Israel the way they had—without fear, without that uneasiness that I grew up feeling when we’d visit there.

And for me, one of the most important qualities in gratitude is not just being appreciative when things are going well. On the contrary, appreciation for beauty within the darkness is how to really find gratitude in every scenario. Watching scenes online from popular Israeli restaurants that have shut down their regular operations to prepare meals for soldiers instead is beauty within tragedy. Kids being off from school but keeping themselves useful by tying thousands of pairs of tzitzit is beauty within tragedy. We won’t let the light stop shining through the cracks, because that’s all we have right now.

It’s how to appreciate the things you thought were guaranteed. Safety, security, empathy.

When something like this happens, when your enemies strike and you’re caught off guard, you thank G-d for each breath you take, for a day when there was more time spent outside of a bomb shelter than inside, for the well-being of your family members who continually remain thankful for living in a place that presents itself with these challenges but have no plans to go anywhere else. For waking up and defending a country moments after hearing that your friends who attended a party in the desert were brutally murdered for no other reason besides for being born a Jew.

This past summer, before the tour I was on began, my friend and I attended a summer food truck festival in Jerusalem.

We walked down hundreds of ancient windy stone steps into an area called Sultan’s Pool, and I was able to take in a sight that will be ingrained in my mind forever.

There was a tangible positive energy among the festival-goers there.

The food trucks lined the perimeter of the park and offered their dishes to the hundreds in attendance. There were string lights around the park, bean bag chairs for many to lounge on, families setting up shop on wooden picnic tables, and a live DJ playing fun, upbeat music to go along with the overall vibe of the evening.

I imagine that the nature party that the many young Israelis attended over the holiday was something like the festival I attended in the summer, but with an unfortunate tragic end.

Neurotic by nature, my mind played through a bunch of scenarios, even as I sat there enjoying different appetizers with my friends, and it kept me on high alert, in a fight or flight mode.

I looked around and wondered if this was the new Israel, the country I hadn’t spent much time in during my adulthood.

I wondered if we had finally been able to let our guard down, and if no one else there was worried about what I was worried about. The night came and went, and many others followed with a similar outcome.

But that feeling, the assuredness that we’re safe, is no longer our reality, and who knows how long we’ve been blind to what’s been going on around us.

I heard when one member of Hamas was interrogated about how they thought they could pull off such an act, he said the recent protests in Israel among each other was inspiration that they needed to attack. That if we can’t even get along with our own kind, what chance do we have to survive attacks from our enemies?

It made me think about things as all those differences suddenly flew out the proverbial window.

We no longer care about who wears a kippah or what type it is. We don’t have time to fight about petty things now that we need to defend our country and our people with achdut.

Maybe the beauty within this tragedy can finally come as we band together, despite all our differences, and reclaim what is ours. n

Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.

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