Turning dance into mourning – and uniting in love

Turning dance into mourning – and uniting in love

Near where Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar were abducted, Israelis light memorial candles. Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

Nothing can compare to being in Israel right now.

Nothing can compare to being in Israel over the last two and a half weeks since the news of the kidnappings of Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali first came out. I would like to share a snapshot of my experience of this moment.

When I heard the terrible news, the first thing that came to mind was this verse from the book of Lamentations: “The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.”

What was supposed to be a night of joy turned quickly into a night of mourning.

Why did I think of this verse? Probably, because like many people, I am a narcissist. I channel every major world event through the prism of my own experience. I don’t think that I’m alone. How many times have you heard people tell you exactly where they were at the moment that they learned of the JFK assassination? I can envision clearly the precise moment on September 11, 2001, that I heard about the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Why do we do this? It’s probably because we have a sense that these major events are not just happening: They are happening to us. Even if we are far from them physically, we instinctively feel as if we are experiencing them, wherever we might be. To say that I remember where I was on September 11th is actually to say, “This is where September 11th happened to me.”

That is how I have been experiencing this terrible night as well. We had just finished celebrating my oldest son’s graduation from sixth grade. (In Israel, kids graduate elementary school after sixth grade. Seventh and eighth grades are on a continuum with high school.) The kids, wearing their bright-orange class T-shirts, were slapping five, trading emails, and taking pictures with each other and with the teachers.

Then the text messages started coming. One by one, parents who seconds earlier had been laughing with their children began gathering around their phones. Faces fell. Mothers began crying. One mother who had made aliyah from Britain came over to us, and smiling though her tears, she said, “This is the way it is here. Ups and downs coming at the same time. You’ll be in the middle of a simcha and suddenly hear terrible news.”

That was my experience tonight. Our dance is turned into mourning.

But tonight, I think that there is more to it than simply wanting to claim a moment as our own. Here in Israel, the last two and a half weeks have been filled with a wide array of emotions: tension and anticipation, anger and even some sadness, but the emotion that has probably been most palpable during this time has been love. The charge to bring back the boys was led by their remarkable, strong, articulate mothers, who have radiated love for their children. This country has responded by embracing the families and loving their children as well, as Iris Yifrach, Eyal’s mother, said last night to a crowd of tens of thousands in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

It is remarkable to see [almost] an entire country join together to love three teenage boys; to know that behind every prayer, every song, every headline and hashtag, was the sense that we had gained three new brothers and they had gained thousands of brothers and sisters throughout the world, as Gilad Shaer’s mother said at the same rally. Tonight, all of Israeli society is joining together in grief over three boys who taught us how to unite in love.

Maybe that is the secret of this country’s resilience. Yes, Israeli society is notoriously loud and abrasive, but maybe, just maybe, in these heartbreaking moments, we discover another side: That, in the words of Song of Songs at its core, it is suffused with love. A love that unites us in grief and gives us hope for a brighter future.

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