During [March 6] night seder (evening classes), I was sitting by the window. I heard a series of ambulance sirens go off, but considering the fact that I live in a hospital these sounds are constant background noise.
The sirens continued and soon elevated to a point that it seemed the entire country was ringing with alarm bells.
I knew something was amiss. Phones started beeping and soon it was obvious that there was some type of emergency situation at hand.
Our rabbi continued to teach us until his missed-calls count reach 1′. We then discovered there had been a terrorist attack, and immediately began reciting tehillim. We were told not to leave the building.
In an instant the mood of the evening transformed from one of giddiness and laughter (we had just pulled a hilarious Purim prank) to feelings of terror.
We headed down to the beit midrash to daven ma’ariv and say more tehillim. Everyone was crying. I found our tears to be so powerful and profound. The fact that the death and injury of some boys we don’t know and never met put us to tears, simply because they are members of klal Yisrael, was very moving. We really are "am echad b’lev echad" ("one nation with one heart"). We feel each other’s pain and rejoice in each other’s happiness. We cry for each other’s sorrows.
We stayed up most of the night making calls trying to locate family and friends. We joined again for tehillim. We sat in the common area and cried and prayed. Around 1′:30 a.m. I made a poster for the Shabbos cookies my friends and I are selling for Sderot. For some reason this gave me strength. Israel is an unstable country; there is always a security alert, but we have to persevere. With emunah and bitachon [secure in our faith], we move on and strengthen ourselves.
Around 1 a.m. our madrichot [adviser] asked if anyone would be willing to donate food and bring it over to the hospital for the families of the victims. Needless to say, we all went!
We brought water, cookies made in the Sderot bakery, pretzels, cereal, crackers, and candy. We walked quietly through the hospital. The families could react in one of two ways. Either they would not appreciate the commotion and ask us to leave, or they would thank us. Despite our hesitations we went in with open hearts.
The emergency waiting room was filled with relatives of the victims hoping for some good news. Most of them wanted water, some took crackers. They were beyond traumatized. One girl could not stop vomiting; my friend sat with her the entire time, helping her and giving her water. In the back room, attached to an IV, was an older women anxiously awaiting her son’s diagnosis. She was clearly having a panic attack.
She said she couldn’t breathe or eat anything. She was sobbing and her every breath was choked in tears. It was heart-wrenching to see this woman cry. Her daughter called to me asking for water for her mother. I brought her the water and offered her a cookie. She told me that her throat was tight with anxiety and she could not eat, but she kept saying "Mayim mayim, tavy li mayim" ("Water, water. Bring me water"). I gave her a cup and waited to refill. She was talking to me, half crying. Completely traumatized she needed someone to speak to, to comfort her. She told me she is "trauma trauma." "My son he was there, and he was hiding and I don’t know what will be. Baruch haShem he is alive, but I am so trauma so trauma." Then she thanked me for bringing her the water and she thanked haShem for making a nation of such compassion and strength.
I don’t know what overcame me but before I left the room I gave her a hug. She embraced me and cried and cried, and thanked me. I was choked with tears. I told her I would pray for her son, and she said, "Thank God for b’not Yisrael." I wished her a Shabbat Shalom.
I left the room a different person. My entire perception on life, on am Yisrael and eretz Yisrael, was transformed.
What can we take away from an experience such as this? I’ll just say I personally was struck by reality what is real in this world, what matters, as opposed to the superficiality that consumes my life. My class was pulling a Purim shtik, and then boom we break out in prayer, tehillim, and mourning. We refocused our thoughts on the value and importance of life. If it wasn’t for the Purim shtik (which our entire seminary attended), some girls would probably be out in town and maybe even at the takhana the bus station (the building next door to the yeshiva).
I don’t know how to fit it all together; it’s so beyond me. Maybe through our Purim cheerfulness and simcha there is a way to establish a relationship with haShem. But Purim taken too lightly defeats the purpose entirely. Yom Kippur, the most serious day of the year, is referred to as ki-Purim, a day like Purim. We need both to rejoice in life and at the same time tremble in its fleetingness, taking life seriously, and internalizing the purpose of our nishamot (souls) in this world.
This piece is adapted from an e-mail message sent by Shifra Freedman of Englewood to her parents, Daniel and Trana Freedman. A member of the Frisch School class of ‘007, she is studying at Midreshet Moriah. Dr. Kalman Stein, Frisch’s principal, has been circulating the message and has translated some of the Hebrew terms and phrases, while the Standard translated some others.