Hidden Clarity in Times of Strife

Hidden Clarity in Times of Strife

It is odd how I have missed things that are right in front of me. It is also disturbing how the events of the past seem to reappear when you think they could never happen again.

I will explain.

I have been saying the Amida, the shmoneh esrei prayer, for decades. Although I always look for deeper meanings in the words of the text, I feel like I have failed to spot something particularly relevant about our current circumstances. It was only recently when Rabbi Kimche suggested to me that I encourage our Year 7 & 8 minyan each day to focus on six words in that prayer, in particular, that I realised I had missed something all along.

סוֹמֵךְ נוֹפְ֒לִים וְרוֹפֵא חוֹלִים וּמַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים

So prescient then were the authors who composed this prayer for our situation now. Those six words mean: “support those who have fallen, heal those who are unwell and release the captives.”

Words I have recited at least 3 times a day for my whole life have taken on a new, tragic, meaning, but one which makes our davening so much more heartfelt.

It is even more poignant for me each time I stare at that Hebrew word for ‘captives’ – אֲסוּרִים – when I see the centre of that word, the samech vav reish, form the shapes of 7/10. Never before, have I davened those six words with such conviction as I do now.

The media coverage of the 7 October attack and Israel’s response has been so divided. Some commentators are rightly reviled by the attack on Israeli civilians, consider it to be among the most heinous atrocities perpetrated in modern history, and consider Israel’s response to be entirely justified, necessary and noble. Other commentators are convinced that Israel is to blame for all suffering in the Middle East, and will suspend all reason and logic, and disregard all contrary facts and arguments, to arrive at that conclusion. They diminish or otherwise outright ignore the attack on 7 October because it does not fit within their unshakeable narrative that Israel is the aggressor and the Palestinians the victims of this decades-long conflict. For them, 7 October was a confined event and Israel’s response is the real issue. The misguided call for a ceasefire focuses all attention on Israel’s military actions, as though that is the only warfare currently being conducted and the Hamas attacks on 7 October have ceased. But they most certainly have not. The latest round of attacks by Hamas didn’t take place just on 7 October, it began on that day, and it has continued each day since. Make no mistake: the Hamas attack on Israel is ongoing for every day that there is a single hostage held in Gaza.

It is with this in mind that I reflect on how privileged I feel to be part of a school community where teachers are trying to help our students navigate the conflicting messages they are receiving from social and other media. The truth is: at the very focal point of this war has always been, and will always be, the hostages stolen from their homes and held captive in Gaza. Any other matter is a distraction from the core of this conflict.

All our students, primary and secondary alike, commence each day with tefilla and Tehillim (psalms). A mini-assembly of the secondary school follows tefilla every single day in Lamm Hall. At the assembly, our students recite Tehillim they sing songs that resonate with feelings of unity, and we stream video footage from our graduates who are serving in the IDF in Israel as well as inviting guest speakers who provide further insights. Student initiatives helping the people of Israel are prominently on the agenda and we know that our students are at the forefront of every opportunity to help our brothers and sisters in Israel. Primary and secondary students alike are coming forward with fundraising initiatives, and they are writing to our chayalim, sending messages of love.

In a heartfelt video, a group of chayalim opened care packages and letters from Yavneh. Whilst they are so distant from us, we know they feel they are in our thoughts and prayers every day.

One could feel despondent with the current situation in Israel. I am thus so grateful to be surrounded by young people who are positive in their outlook, who truly believe in a better future and are taking active stances to support our beloved Israel. I am also comforted in the knowledge that whatever perils the Jewish people faces today may be, as the brachot of the Amida remind us, we have faced these challenges of this grave nature before, and we will overcome them too.

As adults and parents, I think our role during this horrific period is to nurture our kids’ innate goodness and their positive perspective. This conflict provides an opportunity to teach that most important Jewish lesson: not relativist what-aboutism, but the fundamental difference between good and bad, life and death, wrong and right.

We pray and work tirelessly for the safe return of all the hostages, the safety of our chayalim and the refuah shlema of all who have been injured.