Mourning my Son with no Name

The flutters intensify every year as we light the last candle. Eight flames burning is the signal; the moment we start counting down the week until our baby’s birthday, three days before his death.

This year, my womb contracted wildly with the news of another boy torn from his mother too early… too violently.

I held my breath for as long as he was fighting.

I could see him in that same place, under the loving watch of angels of mercy who call themselves nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit of Shaarei Zedek.

And my soul ripped apart when I knew they had taken all the tubes and wires out, cleaned his translucent skin, and wrapped him in a blanket gently so that his parents could hold him and say goodbye.

The cries that came out of me that night 13 years ago echoed through time and shot me where the bullets made another 21-year-old a mother, a mourner, and a broken soul.

The entire country is mourning a life cut short, mourning for his family and for the children we continue to bury who are always too young. Their names are etched in stone, dotting this land with reminders of who they were and who they could have been.

My sorrow, deeply embedded in this tragedy, greased and separated slowly, as this feeling I could not escape bubbled to the surface, as the funeral procession choked through the night air and heaved.

When my firstborn died, there was no funeral. The Chevra Kadisha took his body, gave him a quiet brit and an obscure name of an angel that I won’t ever know, and waited for someone else to die so that they could walk along the procession and bury him in the mass grave set aside for fetuses adjacent to the cemetery on Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives). There was no other option, halachically and legally.

They’ve changed the law since and given people a choice.

Our nation’s baby boy was buried, having spent the same amount of time in the same NICU as the son I wanted to name Betzalel because of his long fingers I knew belonged to an artist.

They named him Amiad Yisrael and eulogized him and cried for him and marked his little grave and left me feeling shattered and lost and ugly because, as much as I want to cry for them, I can’t help but cry for me as I wait for my son’s 13th birthday to come on Sunday so that I can count three days and the light a candle for the 13 years that never were.

And I think I am crazy, and I think I am jealous and resentful and incredibly selfish, but I am not sorry or embarrassed, because if you are nodding your head right now and crying with me, then these words needed to be said so that you know you are not alone.

Burial is a grounding act.

It allows pain to dig a hole and create a space to exist — a space that can be visited or left alone, a space that contains all the complexities of broken hearts and loss.

Without the act of burial, the pain, having nowhere else to go, becomes the air all around you. The only way to escape it is to stop breathing.

I am breathing the pain of my son with no grave and feeling the jagged shards of children wrapped discreetly and taken from empty wombs and incubators. I am with them on their last journey, alone, as they tag along with another death, and I am with them as they are placed in concrete tombs with other limbs they won’t call whole. I am unmarked and unmourned, and I am decomposing as though I have never been. I am the cold breeze and the heavy cloud and the sun that can never shine as bright. I am scraped from the inside and left to watch the funeral procession create a space to mourn that doesn’t belong to me.

I am angry and hurt and afraid to tell the world how it feels because I know you might squirm and hesitate and maybe even call me selfish when you are confronted by these thoughts I’m not supposed to say out loud.

I say them anyway because I know the only way to brush this away is to hold my breath until I die.

And I don’t want to die.

My son, Betzalel son of Bracha, son of Naftali, is somewhere on that mountain together with the sons and daughters who never got a name.

And maybe Amiad Yisrael’s tiny grave is big enough and deep enough to hold the lifelong loss of parents throughout this country and tether us to the ground.

Yehi Zichronam Livracha.

*Please read the updated law regarding burial after a loss of pregnancy to be sure no one ever has to feel like they have no choice.

Source: Times of Israel

A Million Shades of Green

I’m like Garfield, just different, she says as she pulls on Freddie Mercury’s orange fur, baiting him.

I like lasagna, but I hate Sundays.

She laughs as Freddie pounces. I don’t bother disciplining her about the cat again. Their love is wild and free-spirited. Plus, she likes the way he makes her look like a warrior.

Get it Ima? Cause Sunday here is like Monday and I hate going back to school.

I’m half smiling as I settle into my seat on the bus.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

I didn’t tell her how I relish these quiet mornings at the start of my week, how I put my best foot forward and make commitments to myself I know I won’t keep. I didn’t tell her how I hate Fridays and the crippling disappointment I feel when I realize I didn’t change the world since Sunday. I also didn’t tell her to withhold her love from the cat so he’ll stop biting her.

There doesn’t seem to be a point in full disclosure here.

I like the way my brain races along with me just outside the window. I think thoughts I know will become words I’m going to have to release.

My thoughts are green now.

It’s so lush outside. Just a few small downpours and the fields came alive. They’re dancing with shades of green; bursting with something so natural it aches.

I breathe deep. When the earth is resurrected, I become more alive.

The bus rolls up to a stop. My forehead is pressed to the cool glass. I am calm, and the kind of thoughtful that means overflowing with thoughts that pull me in every direction.

The green is still flashing by. Now it is tinged with olive and adorned with red, black, brown and metal.

The kids are heading back to base.

This green is freshly laundered and smells like home. This green is hulking bags full of more clean green slung over slight frames, tiny young frames, supported by laced up boots. This green boards the bus again for a week, two, maybe six. This green is going back to serve.

My thoughts are muddled green and Sunday, tossed with fresh blades of grass and topped with goodbyes.

…I hate Sundays…Separation Sundays…green plastic soldiers…blowing in the wind…grass is greener…on which side?…teenage warriors…mutant green turtles…samurai swords and M-16s…turning tween, then green, ya’alla gever…crisp slacks and burlap sacks…holding on a moment longer…sending out a teenage soldier…see you on the flip side…don’t forget to tell the world I tried…

Green churns through me as I head to Jerusalem to make something of my life. Green gathers at the Central Bus Station, showing up to serve all over this sprouting country.

Don’t forget to pick up candles.

Colored candles, bright and bold and full of light. We’ll light them one by one and talk about gratitude.

When the yellow and white and orange and drops of blue dancing flames flicker in my windowsill, I’ll be thinking of green-clad children saying goodbye.

Source: Times of Israel

Ceasefire

In between war and peace, there is a space where words like ceasefire float around as though they mean something more than pause.

For me, a ceasefire is like a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. You know it’s something you’re going to have to deal with. You just don’t know how long you have to brace yourself for whatever this ultimately means.

I remember the pit in my stomach that formed when we knew my sister was full of colon cancer. For 22 months, it sat and grew thorns that jabbed at me incessantly. When she died, the mass inside me emptied so fast that I was left with a gaping hole I didn’t know how to live with. It took me a long time to replace it with things that brought me pleasure and comfort.

I’ve been here through intifadas and wars. I’ve seen the cycle enough to know what it means to be given a ceasefire. And the pit is growing again. This time, I feel the entire country twisting around with me in discomfort. I don’t know the answer. I wonder if there even is one. But I know that we cannot go on much longer like this.

This is what Ceasefire means to me.

* * *

I have been here before.

So many times before.

Words depicting bloodshed and war shot from the only weapon I’ve ever held comfortably in my hands exploded in empty fields of papers no one will ever read.

I wrote of pain and suffering and heartache and confusion and the humanity inside me that is ripped apart by my need for safety and my need for peace.

I am flesh and bone, so I duck and cover, but I am heart and soul, so I rise and resist.

I don’t understand any of it.

I don’t know why I am chained to my history and my people any more than I understand why I am sympathetic to mothers on the other side of the wall I hate but hide behind as I teach my children tolerance and love and how to communicate effectively to end conflict.

This region at the center of turmoil and battles in the name of gods who don’t have the decency to show up and put a stop to this endless loop of hatred and fear eats me alive and sustains me at once.

Sinatra croons in my head as I watch my country flirt with war.

“Bang bang, she shot me down

Bang bang, I hit the ground

Bang bang, that awful sound

Bang bang, my baby shot me down”

Bang bang.

Ceasefire.

Bury the dead. Bandage the wounds. Build another wall and burn another bridge.

Ceasefire.

Regroup, reload, relaunch.

Cease.

Cease to what? Hate? Exist? Believe?

This land has hooked me, reined me in and entangled me in her torment. I cannot pry myself away from her now.

Ceasefire.

Simmering in the quiet air, raging deep beneath broken trust, our fire holds still another day.

Ceasefire.

Hanging for a moment in time, it is too heavy to remain suspended between hope and reality and will come crashing to the broken ground.

And I…

I am here, planted in a land that was buried alive in a shallow grave. She is slowly decomposing, her stench cannot be masked. I can’t describe how her wretchedness roils my insides yet fills me with a yearning hunger never satiated. This is not prose – it can’t be written from imaginative thoughts. It is a vivid description of the land I feel beneath my feet. It is more real than I will ever be.

This land cannot cease to fire; it is the only way she knows how to breathe.

Originally published on The Times of Israel

I Know How You Feel

Sometimes I say ‘I know’ and I don’t.  Not really.

I don’t always know how everything feels.

I like to think I can relate…but no one ever really can.

Sure, I’m sympathetic, it’s easy to be.

But rarely do I KNOW, with my heart.

This time, I KNOW.

I know what you’re feeling right now.

I know that some of you are in denial.  I know that some of you are brushing this all off as nothing too serious.  I know that some of you are ready to get up and fight.  I know that some of you are feeling super protective of your families right now.  I know that some of you are hesitating to leave your house.  Not because you are terrified…you don’t ever get terrified because you won’t give in to it…but because you are a little scared.  I know that some of you are in shock.  You don’t understand how things like this can happen in your own backyard.  I know how some of you are trying to figure it out.  I know how some of you might spend a lot of time going back and forth in your head and sometimes out loud…feeling unnerved by the conversation itself.  I mean, how is it that we are even talking about this?  It’s 2016 – this is a safe place – a tolerant place…what happened?  And I know some of you are looking at your teenagers and wondering how they seem to function on a different plane.  How is it that they can shrug it off and go about their business?  How can they still be posting selfies?  Why are they not heeding your advice and taking precautions?  I know some of you are feeling brave and some of you are feeling scared and some of you aren’t sure how you should be feeling when things blow up in New York and New Jersey and people start saying the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘attack’ in a manner that sends a shiver down your spine.

Some people are going to post silly things on social media, letting the American people know how we go through this every day in our little land smack in the center of the Middle East.  Some people are going to chastise you for finally ‘waking up’.  I’m sorry for that.  I wish I could prevent it.  Because all of us here should just be letting you know…that we know.  We really do.

And we feel for you.

Because yes, we do feel all these things all the time.

But we never, ever wanted you to be able to relate.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know…that I know how you feel right now.

I really do.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I am too tired…too tired of writing about the pain…every damn year…

I am too tired of defending this land…speaking up for her…

But I can’t remain silent…

Because my heart still beats…

And other hearts still are silenced…

By hatred…by fear…

By those who would like to see my drowning arms flail in a sea of my brothers’ blood.

But I am still tired…

So I will just repeat myself.

Over

and 

Over

Again.

Until maybe one day, I will be heard.

********

April 25, 2012

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a                                       

Chalom shechalamti balayila bamitah

(My God – I wanted you to know, the dream I dreamt at night in bed)

She sings her favorite song on the swings…in the sand…on the bus…and softly as she lays in bed…

Ubachalom, raiti mal’ach

Mishamayim ba elai v’amar li kach:

(In my dream I saw an angel from heaven, and this is what he said to me)

She has an old soul…a deep soul…a soul that understands more than what her heart can contain…

Bati mishamayim, avarti nedudim,

laset birkat shalom lechol hayeladim,

laset birkat shalom lechol hayeladim.

(I came on a long wandering from the heavens to bring a blessing of peace to all the children)

She has a vivid imagination…colorful…layered and vast…

Ukshe itorarti nizkarti bachalom

V’yatzati lechapes me’at shalom

(When I awoke, I remembered the dream and I went out to look for a bit of peace)

She expresses her thoughts…feelings and questions…boldly…without hesitation…

V’lo haya mal’ach, v’lo haya shalom

Hu mizman halach, v’ani im hachalom.

(and there was no angel…and no peace…he was long gone and I…am here…with my dream)

The siren wails.

We are silent.

She is thinking.

Why is there a siren?

To remind us of the soldiers…of the chayalim.

What, they died?

Well…yes.

Why?

Because they were protecting us.

Chayalim are good?

Of course.

But some chayalim want to kill us.

Our army is good.  Our chayalim are good.

Like the Mishtara?

Yes.  The police and soldiers are good.

The siren is for the chayalim that are dead?

Yes sweetie.  And for all the chayalim…to always remember all the chayalim.

Why do we have chayalim?

To keep us safe.

Yes, but Imma, why do we need to be saved?

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a

She’hachalom haze nishar li k’chida

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a

Al hachalom sheli, ratziti sheted’a

Elohim sheli, rak ratziti sheted’a…

(My God, I wanted You to know…that the dream remains a riddle to me…my God, I wanted You to know…about my dream…I wanted You to know…my God, I just…wanted You to know…)

Our Dying World

The world is bleeding.

She is heaving her last breath…convulsing in pain…as she tries to heal wounds she doesn’t know how to lick.

She has been beheaded…stabbed…shot…

She had been blown to bits…burned alive…ravaged…

She has been raped…sold…defiled…

She has been trampled on…spit on…stoned…

She has been through every imaginable torture…and even more unimaginable deceits…

Yet she still struggles to survive…even now as she slips away…

Because she only knows how to love…how to give…how to believe…

She will not understand that to stop the pain she will have to open her core and swallow humanity alive so that she can continue to exist.

She will never do that.

She will die.

And we will die with her.

I Am Israel

They want me to live in fear as great as their hate

To cower as I walk

To tremble every day.

But I will not.

For I am stronger than they can ever understand

Taller than I seem

Fearless as I’ll ever be.

I represent love

Beauty

Peace.

I am filled with purpose

I am resilient

I am powerful.

I am Israel.

And no matter how many wounds I lick

No matter how many bodies I bury

No matter how much blood seeps into my core

I WILL NOT DIE.