What a week! I feel like I can pull out my articles from the last few weeks and just copy/paste them for this week’s column. More rockets. Another terrible accident involving masses of people who came together to be elevated spiritually. More pain. More injured. More deaths. It’s actually quite difficult to keep up with the pace of events.
Lately, I check the news after Shabbos with a sense of dread and trepidation. There was a quiet radio station that only broadcasted red alerts over Shabbos, but we chose not to keep the radio on, assuming that if there would be siren in Beit Shemesh, chas v’shalom, we would hear it. When we checked the news after Shabbos, we braced ourselves to hear about more rocket fire and riots. But we did not expect to hear about the terrible tragedy of the Karlin Stolin Chassidim - which took place just before Yom Tov - in which two young people were killed and hundreds were wounded when the bleachers on which the chassidim were standing collapsed. So close in time to the tragedy in Meron. So uncannily familiar. What is going on?? How can this all be happening?? It’s like the news outlets got stuck on the same feed and keep broadcasting the same news over and over again, like the frightening echo of a haunted house. But, unfortunately, rather than reporting the same news items repeatedly, they are reporting new instances of similarly tragic news. More lives have been shattered. It’s hard to know where to turn, what to focus on first. So many sounds fill my head.
We are at war. Rockets have been launched towards many areas of our beautiful homeland, including places that are not accustomed to being fired at. Life has been turned upside down, as many can’t work, attend school, or even leave their homes. My daughter’s professor had to run for cover in the middle of teaching a Zoom class. As her school is located in Ashkelon, the target of many rockets, my daughter now has no class at all. Prime Minister Netanyahu has advised Israeli citizens to stay close to shelter.
Many disconcerting sounds fill the air during this challenging time. Of course, there are the wailing sounds of sirens that serve as an alert signal, warning us to take cover as soon as possible. While these sirens are obviously critical to saving lives, they also come at a cost. These alarms frighten people. Some have gotten hurt as they anxiously run for cover. Changes have been made in order to reduce anxiety and prevent unnecessary panic. Magen David Adom switched the sound of their ambulance sirens in areas hardest hit by rocket attacks. They made their sirens sound obviously different from the red alert sirens sounding across the country. In my neighborhood, on Friday afternoons right before Shabbos, Shabbos music is played over a community loudspeaker followed by a siren, ushering in Shabbos. For the last two weeks music was played, but no sirens. Too unsettling. Last week my husband was in another room watching the news, which included a red alert in the background. I immediately tensed, as I figured we were heading back to our security room, until he explained that it was only a recording. What a relief!
Another unusual and unnerving sound we hear these days is from airplanes. Growing up in Kew Gardens Hills, I was quite used to the noise of the constant flow of airplane traffic coming out of LaGuardia Airport. But it’s not like that here in Beit Shemesh. A popular feature of Yom HaAtzmaut is the Israeli Air Force festive flyover in honor of the country and its citizens. Aside from that, and the roar of an occasional crop duster, you don’t hear airplanes here. So nowadays, when we hear the hum of a plane flying over, we feel gratitude towards and concern for our brave soldiers who are heading down south. In our hearts we wish them well and offer a prayer that with the help of G-d they should succeed in their mission and return home safe and sound.
We also hear the sounds of crying in response to the many recent tragedies. Clips of heart-wrenching yet inspiring levayas and shiva calls have been circulating non-stop. It’s unbearable. But we also hear the sounds of our people joining together to say Tehilim, crying out to Hashem to heal the sick and injured, protect our soldiers and civilians, save us from our enemies, and bring the long-awaited Geulah.
I was thinking recently about the fact that during this past year of corona, we were told that the safest place to be is outside. Now with all the rocket fire, we are told that the safest place to be is inside. We were guided towards one direction, and now we are being guided towards the completely opposite direction. Where do we belong? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what to make of it all. But perhaps all the turbulence and uncertainty that exists outside ourselves these days is meant to signal to us to look inward. Many Rabbanim have suggested that we take on kabbalos (resolutions) geared towards self-improvement. There is much (all) we can’t control in our current situation, but at least we can use it as an opportunity to focus on ourselves and our own spiritual growth.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.