August 26, 2006

Subject: I just heard the news

Tova's e-mail, a blanket of love and support, lacked specifics I desperately needed. What news had she just heard? About which of the boys I have been anxiously praying for since the war broke out? I hastily checked Haaretz [Israeli daily newspaper] online to read the fine print and found the frightening details. My beloved cousin Gila's son Noam Mayerson, age 23, was killed in Lebanon defending against terrorists seeking his and his people's extinction. 

In this e-mail conversation, I got the news we dread, always, especially in war.

I have no words. I think the help will be in the days and months and years to come. If there is any way I can help you help them in the short term - be your shlicha [emissary] in any way - let me know. May this be the last time, the last soldier we lose. — Tova
  • Within hours, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post (among English-language Israeli papers and blogs I follow) posted Noam's photo and a brief bio. Israeli media always announce the names as soon as immediate survivors have been notified. (I shuddered, recalling that some elected officials and others in the USA chastise TV news programs for issuing a daily "roll call" — naming American troops killed in Iraq.) 
  • Minutes before Tova's emails, I had sent to Noam's father, Chaim, the message, "checking news at 3 a.m., again," hoping to lend strength and sending love by writing about Noam — alive and about Aviyah, our cousins Ditza’s and Chanan’s paratrooper son.
  • And now, reading Tova's e-mails I understood that Chaim wasn't at his computer; he and his family were together, in a pool of shock and grief. And in an instant, they had joined the bereaved people who lost a child, a sibling, a fiance, a relative, a neighbor, a friend, a colleague, a teacher.
Noam, in Hebrew, means pleasantness.

Of Torah, often called a path, we learn —

דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם D'racheha darchey noam, Its ways are ways of pleasantness [Noam] וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם vchol netivoteha shalom, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17)

נעם, כשמו כן הוא Noam, kishmo ken hu, Noam, as is his name, so is he.

We all loved Noam. It was impossible not to. A deep thinker with a buoyant personality, Noam spread joy and optimism. Once, I knowingly missed the deadline to pick up a package from the post office because I couldn’t tear myself away from discussing big ideas with him. (The package was returned to the sender, and though it was months before I received it, the gift of continuing the discussion will be with me forever.) How could I tear myself away from this passionate young man who expressed ideas and learning easily, engaged in civil dialogue eagerly, reframed his statements as often as needed, and explained terms and assumptions until I “got it”? Who could resist these encounters, all blessings?

When I visited his parents and turned the key in the front door lock, I rejoiced to spot him studying Torah, playing guitar, packing for a hike and “shopping” in the kitchen pantry, or yakking with buddies in person or on the phone. I always hoped Noam would be home from yeshiva or army service when my cousins invited me to spend Shabbat or a holiday together. I love listening to Chaim gently lead us in prayer or watching Gila hold high the havdala candle or photographing their children (in the photo of building a sukkah, Noam is flanked by his younger brothers, Yoni and Hilly).

עִבְדוּ אֶת ה בְּשִׂמְחָה Ivdu et Hashem b'simchah, serve God in joy. (Psalm 100:2)

Two years ago at Pesach, late into the Seder night of questions, he and his mother fell into a fit of laughter that would not stop. The antics of this jolly twosome brought me back to my childhood when at the most sacred moments of a ritual meal, my sister and I would fall out laughing, spurred by a stimulus, invisible to all but us, that set off our joint funny bone.

Noam was radically present, exquisitely alive, and fully engaged in the lived moment. His life comprised Torah study, reflection, refinement of character traits, deeds of loving kindness, gratitude, and action. All these he pursued with a glad heart, a spirit of happiness and vigor, with the joy of acknowledging God's goodness. The way Noam lived his life lifted us to connect with all creation in a kind of “spiritual oneness” of peace and good fortune for every being. Noam didn’t just follow Torah; he became it.

נעם בן גילה וחיים. יהי זכרו לברכה Noam ben Gila vChaim. Yehi zichro l’vracha. Noam, son of Gila and Chaim. May his memory be a blessing.

My related posts

August 08, 2006

Subject: checking news at 3 a.m. . . . again

Me (in Atlanta):
how are you guys doing? i cannot imagine the stress in your parts where it is a constant part of the conversation or psyche. … longing for better days... asap. – t

Chaim (in Jerusalem):
Everyone here is healthy in the meantime. Noam entered Lebanon last night, and Aviyah entered [Lebanon] last week. Can't use phones there, so we wait to hear. We're managing. Thanks for your solidarity.

As I read my cousin Chaim’s reply, I react in three ways:

I see Noam (shown giving his pal Daniel a buzz cut), Chaim's and Gila's son who “entered Lebanon last night …”. And I ache for his parents, whose sons Hilly and Yehoshua are serving with the IDF now, too.

A mere week ago, Gila wrote: "... It is hard to believe but different parts of Israel [as small as it is] feel differently. People in the north are scared. Relatives of soldiers who are serving in the north and in the south are worried. Others are living their everyday lives and praying, looking for things to do to help, calling people in shelled cities, making room in their homes for refugees , collecting toys, etc. . . . I hope and pray for better days. . . .".

I see Aviyah (shown in a bear hug with his father, Chanan), about whom Chaim reports, “Aviyah entered [Lebanon] last week.” Chaim is anticipating my question on our cousins’ Ditza’s and Chanan’s paratrooper son.

I weep openly
for everyone's children, relatives, parents, loved ones, neighbors, friends, comrades, fellows defending the State of Israel nearly six decades. And, I weep for the human family, as terrorists' extremism and violence invade us all.

I will never know the pain and suffering that a "real Israeli" like them (versus me, Jerusalemite by birth, raised and living in the USA, and only recently a dual citizens with two passports and an Israeli identity card).

While I lack direct experience or comprehension of my personal Israeli neighborhood or in the greater neighborhood of all continents, I do know Noam and Aviyah.

When my Atlanta friends, neighbors, postal carrier, shopkeepers, service people, colleagues, dentists, and others ask whether I will return to Israel late September, as planned, their questions surprise me. Of course, I will. And I will thank Noam and Aviyah — sweet, loving, bright, and life-affirming young men for protecting their families, their communities, their nation, their dreams, and the prayers and actions of peace-seekers everywhere.

August 01, 2006

Israelis: Family and Friends

(excerpt shown)
5th day of Iyar, 5708 (May 14, 1948)

I am glued to news —

  • via emails
  • on the phone
  • on streaming Israeli radio broadcasts
  • in blogs
  • from traditional media. (I even turned on the television yesterday;-) When my friend Sherry called, hearing from her receiver a cacophony of voices (NPR on the radio and galey tzahal [IDF radio] streaming in on the computer), she demanded, What's going on? She could not imagine that I had changed my persona to party animal... yet;-)
And I worry about my beloved Israeli family and friends and all innocents there and everywhere, praying that everyone is safe from all harm.

And I worry and wonder about my Arab-Israeli friend Aida and her large family, whose northern village, Shibli, is close to Afula, where Hezbollah aims its rockets, and whose youngest brother, Mahmoud, is serving in the IDF.

And I worry and wonder about my Palestinian partners in interfaith dialog. Young men like Amer and Mohanad, on the cusp of adulthood, career, and life – who have braved incarceration, fines, and punishments to steal across the border to Israel where they have engaged in dialog with fellow peace seekers — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze.

Their courage and steadfastness in the face of tyrants and madmen humble me.

Their emails are personal, anecdotal reports on life and death inside Israel:

… Thanks for your bulletins from that side. I know that at a certain level being away is tougher than being here. Keep strong. … my nephew Yonah ... is a great magician and thought he could entertain kids who have been stuck in bomb shelters for way too long.
— Tova, business strategist,
wife, mother, Torah student

… The only good thing that came out of the poor situation that we're in now is the solidarity. There are 2 families from Ztfat [Safed] in my apartment now. One with a baby -- he's the cutest. I hate wars. I can't understand how people can love them and think of them as useful. Maybe I'm too naïve.
— Shimon, psychology grad student at Bar Ilan University

אבישי היה ביוני במילואים בדיוק במקום שחטפו חיילים.אביתר יצא היום לארגן קייטנות במקלטים בצפון שהשם ישמור עליו.שנשמע רק טוב . בי פנינה
… [son Avishai, paratroops reservist] served in June precisely where the two [Israeli solders] were kidnapped. [High-school-age son] Evyatar left today to organize summer camps in the bomb shelters in the north. May God protect him.
Pnina, third-grade teacher, wife, mother,
grandmother, daughter of Holocaust survivors

... i'm in the middale of my exames trying to do well even thoue the craisenes oround us. say hi to ariel shtoul.
Achia, psychology student at Bar Ilan University

… It was really frightening to be at my father's house in Qiryat Ata and hear the alaram in the middle of a peacefull Sunday morning I drove like crasy to get us out of missiles range.
Sarel, economics and logistics expert, husband, Torah student

… The winds of war are blowing outside but in our little family things are fine B "H [thank God]. Whenever you think everyday life is a bit monotonous things happen in Israel and you forget about your own needs, concerns, etc. Right now we are basically glued to the radio and internet. I hope this nightmare ends soon. Shabbat shalom
Gila, womens’ Jewish studies institute administrator,
wife, mother, grandmother, volunteer
with elderly, shut-ins, and lone soldiers


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