I have always had a big soft spot in my heart for painting rocks. From playdates to day camps, I’ve always found that there’s something so pure about the simplicity associated with creating an activity, and more specifically, beauty, out of the world’s most basic substance, stones.
My peak rock-painting time was this past summer. I was a waitress in Camp HASC, and, therefore, had much free time to experience and explore, or, in my case, paint rocks. Now, I can’t take credit for this idea, because I wasn’t the girl who initially purchased the art supplies, but I quickly became an avid rock painter (under the condition that all rocks painted by me needed to have some sort of rock-related pun… rocket ship, rock star, Dwayne Johnson… I wish I was kidding). Throughout the summer, all of us waitresses kept painting, and ultimately created a colorful stone garden outside the HASC infirmary that brightened up the walk to morning meds. All the rocks, from my cringey creations to others’ more artistic and detailed pieces, told stories and, together, formed a beautiful display of unified differences of minions, wrestlers, and flowers.
A few days ago, I noticed yet another painted rock. It looked like the creation of a child, with haphazard brush strokes and a seemingly infinite number of colors. Most memorable, though, was the messily scrawled writing across the middle of the stone: gevurah. At first, I wondered what exactly the child had intended when he/she left that message for all future rock-passersby to see. However, just a mere few moments later, I witnessed what I believe true gevurah to be. To understand my epiphany, though, I need to backtrack a couple of days. This past Shabbos, I had the incredible opportunity to stay in Bnei Brak and experience the total culture-shock involved with visiting someplace so different from the way I grew up. I know that a few months ago I wrote that Tzfat was the furthest place I could imagine from Woodmere, but I think I have to take that back; Bnei Brak is a whole new world. As I walked up and down Rechov Chazon Ish, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in the Disneyland of Torah. Everywhere I turned there was another house, shul, or yeshiva of a gadol, and the standards of the community reflected that stat. Every person carried him/herself with total modesty, dignity, and, to my surprise, warmth, as well.
Prior to visiting Bnei Brak, I had many preconceived notions and expectations related to the community. I assumed I would feel ostracized and judged, treated coolly and as an outsider. However, my actual experience couldn’t have looked more different than what I expected. For starters, on my way back from the Vizhnitz shul for Kabbalat Shabbos, a group of friends and I got a little lost (we were only an hour late to dinner), and every person we passed was so willing to help us, despite the fact that we may or may not have stuck out like a sore thumb). We were guided by locals with such care that one would think we were related to them. I guess we are, kind of.
On Shabbos day, MMY set each of us up with a local family to experience a typical Bnei Brak Seudat Shabbat, and while Five Towns meals definitely look a little different at first glance (my Shabbos meal started at 10 a.m. and had an entire course dedicated to chopped liver…not that I minded), the feelings of family that emanated the room were palpable. When I walked into the house, the hostess immediately enveloped me in a hug, and in broken English proclaimed, “I love you! We’re all brothers and sisters! We are a family.” I had never met the woman in my life, and, yet I believed her. We proceeded to have a beautiful meal full of divrei Torah, bonding, and unity. It felt really powerful.
Because of that experience, for the last couple of days I have been eagle-eyed, searching for more unexpected unity between all different groups, and on Tuesday, on the MMY annual trip to Yad Vashem and Har Herzl, I found some.
The day was draining. We had a four-hour tour of the heart-wrenching Yad Vashem museum and, following that, visited the kedoshim buried on Har Herzl. It was there that I discovered the gevurah stone, nestled between rocks of all sizes and shades of grey on a kever. My heart shattered. I then wondered what type of gevurah story that rock told. What is true strength? Who has it?
I wasn’t left wondering for long. A few minutes later, as we were visiting the kevarim in the newer section of Har Herzl, I noticed three individuals out of the corner of my eye. I quickly realized that they were visiting the newly buried kevarim of Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, Hy’d, the brothers who were just recently murdered in a terror attack. In the few seconds that I saw these men, I had the answer of what true strength looks like. You see, these men didn’t look related. One was a boy, probably no older than 20, in a big kippah srugah and Blundstones. A few feet away from him was a buff-looking chayal. The third was an older chareidi man. However, despite the evident unfamiliarity between these three men, it was clear that one another’s presence held each of them together. These three different people, the three “prototypes” of Israeli society, came together without a word. That is strength. What made that moment so meaningful for me, though, is that because of my experiences in Bnei Brak, I realized that Israel isn’t just united in times of tragedy. Despite different stereotypes and expectations, regular Jews here really view one another as siblings. It doesn’t matter if you’re an American seminary girl, a chayal, or a kollel husband. In both darkness and light, the unity present in Israel is unparalleled. The achdut here is the true gevurah.