October 26, 2023
A friend of a friend recently reached out to me for help. This happens a lot. She was trying to get a vest and body armor for someone up north, on the border of Lebanon. “He’s my fiancé,” she told him on the phone. I told her I would do what I could. Her voice cracked. “Thank you thank you,” She said. “Noam, please I don’t want something to happen to him.” And my heart broke a little more.
I saw another friend who came home for a 24 hour break from one of the borders. He stood in the kitchen and spoke like a man of 60, not a boy of 24. He buried his friend the day before. What is there even to say? And yet he’s also ok. I know he’s ok. But what does it even mean to be ok at this point?
Another friend came to visit. He spent 24 hours in the south providing security detail for a crew of people recovering bodies from the kill zones. As he describes, it takes at least 6 people to hoist a body onto a truck. They were only 7 total. So they got their hands dirty. All night. Until they realized that they needed to separate the soldiers from the civilians. So they stopped at a gas station to re-sort the bodies. He said that the gas station had been looted by Hamas – bullet holes through the glass, merchandise strewn about. No one was there. Gd-knows what happened to the owner and workers. But it was also 4am and they were tired. So he went and made a cappuccino for each of them, his old barista skills coming in handy. When asked by someone whether it was stealing what he was doing, he thought about it for a moment, and then quoted a line in the Talmud about whether soldiers going through an orchard can pick from it. The answer was – as long as it’s a Jewish orchard, one can assume that they would want for the soldiers to take. So drank those cappuccinos they did. And then they continued along with the bodies.
I find myself trying to hold things that feel paradoxical. I’ve come to reflect that it is the only the mind that finds paradox. It is only the mind that compares one thing to another, finds contradiction, demands coherence. Present moment experience holds potential for everything. The mixture of thought, feeling, and sensations that paint our life moments to moment. There is no paradox here, because they simply are. We cannot deny the existence of something even if the mind cannot understand it. Can my heart break for the mothers and children of Gaza waking up to the sheer earth-shattering terror of falling bombs while also allowing myself to raise money to arm soldiers to ensure that fewer of them die and that Israel survives this war? Both arise for me. At times close-hearted anger arises. At times open-hearted compassion. At times tremendous fear. At times a kind of cold stoicism. Is it possible to be of this world yet not lost in it? Is it possible to live as though we have already died? Is it possible to allow life to rip us apart and never have to put the pieces together again? Never have to make sense of it. Yet also to make sense of it with words and ideas when necessary, when asked, when the world requires it. But to also allow for that space in the heart that could never understand. That little child that screams out, WHAT IS THIS PLACE?
To be in Israel now seems to me to live in that paradox. Millions of people who simply continue to live, dealing with their personal problems, at times ashamed that their attention is drawn towards personal things. Laughing and forgetting entirely about it all sometimes. Incapable of thinking about anything else sometimes. I look out my window now and look over Jerusalem and it feels like it could just be any other Thursday. The breeze blowing. Children laughing. Cars driving by. It’s all just ok. And it's not ok.