Couples Counseling

There’s only so much you can talk about a topic before it starts to make you sick, before you want to just lock it away in some dark corner of your basement and pray you never have to see it again. Especially if you’ve devoted years to the subject. Or, perhaps, a lifetime. It starts to eat away at you, tearing off little pieces of your soul which leave you, borne on your tears. It’s how idealists become cynics, activists become bitter, and the passionate become apathetic. It’s how someone who, deep down, truly cares, comes to look at tragedy, at suffering, and simply walks away. It’s anger replaced by depression, drive replaced by defeat, dreams crushed by reality.

It’s why, since Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel were kidnapped, I haven’t said a word to anyone about the tragedy. I joined in with everyone else saying tehillim, and praying for their safe return, and I have to say I did appreciate the unity we as a people managed to exhibit, if only for a week or two, but when they were found dead, I knew that was over. I cried when I saw the news, especially when I found out that they had been dead the entire time. It wasn’t just for our nation’s bereavement, and the incredible pain the parents of those boys would be experiencing, but for what was inevitably about to follow—Jew fighting Jew as bitterly as Israel would fight the Palestinians over how exactly Israel should fight the Palestinians, and whose “fault” the kidnappings were. And my people met my expectations. Within an hour, whatever unity we had, whatever common experience we’d shared was over. We were back to fighting.

I’ve been watching the arguments in shul (synagogue), and online, in stores, at my office, and I must give credit where credit is due. Hamas sure knows how to bring us to our knees. Their rockets don’t do much thanks to Iron Dome, and they’ll never get what they want through their relatively small terror attacks, but they’ve got us pegged. All they have to do is kill a few of us, and watch as we tear ourselves apart. They don’t have to blame us for forcing their hand, we’ll do that on our own, and we’ll do it better. They don’t have to worry about disseminating their propaganda, calling Israel illegal occupiers, or accusing Israel of apartheid—they know that the Jews, capable as we are, can do whatever they can do, and do it better. They know that they don’t have to waste time tearing our families and friendships apart physically, because we’ll do a much better job of it emotionally and spiritually.

But the crowning jewel in Hamas’ arsenal, a weapon so powerful it managed to drag me out of my silence and back onto my blog, is far and away the Niturei Karta (Lit. Guardians of the City; They are of the belief that the State of Israel has no right to exist until the Messiah comes and establishes it). I’ve read about them in news articles and magazines, and seen pictures of their infamous meetings with terror leaders in Palestine and Iran, but it was different seeing them up close, on my turf. I was driving by the UN, stopped at a stop sign, looked out of my window to the left, and there they were by the Sharansky Steps, two chassidim (Hassidic Jews), one waving a Palestinian flag, and the other a sign beseeching people to boycott the “Satanic” State of Israel.

That hurt. More than the hundreds of rockets I knew had fallen and the millions forced into bomb shelters, seeing them hurt me. I expect an enemy of Hamas. I expect them to try and hurt me. I don’t expect it of my fellow Jew. And yet, there they were. And in that moment, what made it hurt even more, was imagining a terrorist seeing that image and laughing with glee and triumph because he knew that he had managed to reach across the world and hurt more Jews without even trying, through a proxy that makes him even happier for the irony—A chassidic Jew.

And you know what? The two of them there was worse than a whole protest. I’ve been to protests. They’re fun. You go not only because you believe in the cause, but because your friends go; they’re there to support you. Protests feel lonely when they’re poorly attended, and you start to lose your resolve, and you feel silly standing there with your sign, shouting at passersby who at best don’t care and at worst hate you for your message. Seeing only two of them standing there told me that they believe so strongly in and are so committed to their message that they were willing to stand there alone delivering it. That takes a special kind of commitment—it not only drove the knife deeper, it twisted.

I know unity is a little too much to ask from the Jewish people. We’ve been fighting for as long as we’ve existed. It’s too much a part of who we are. What I can ask, though, is that we fight like a couple who love each other very much; they fight, but they never hit as hard as they could. They keep what hurts the most on the tip of their tongues but never let it out because, while fighting may be part and parcel of being in a couple, that doesn’t mean it has to hurt more than absolutely necessary. They fight in a way that makes it possible for them to still love each other in the morning. And I suppose that’s the best I can hope for the Jewish people—that we only fight like we love each other.


The Gift of Tears

‘For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water; because the comforter is far from me, even he that should refresh my soul; my children are desolate, because the enemy hath prevailed.’

I couldn’t say those words. I was sitting in my room, alone, reading Eicha, and I could not say those words. Every time I tried, I choked up. I was remembering all those years I cried alone, as I was crying last night, and there was no one there to comfort me. I remembered the stories of what happened to my friends, how I felt hearing them, how powerless I was to make the people I loved feel safe. I remembered the phone call I got a few months ago from someone I love more than anyone or anything in this world, telling me about how she had been raped the previous night. I remember crying with her, beating the walls because I couldn’t beat her rapist.

I remembered my grandfather and the stories he told about being in the concentration camp at 19 years old. The atrocities he described, the bravery that people exhibited when the world lost its humanity, the lengths to which people went to preserve their faith, and the horrifying barbarity to which the world succumbed. But also the despair following the Holocaust; how so many people, the remnants of a world torn apart, had lost sight of a god who couldn’t possibly have existed and allowed such atrocity. True, we’ve rebuilt both spiritually and physically, but we lost a part of ourselves in the Holocaust.

Who ever cries about anything; when is it ever acceptable? Every morning, I put on my happy face and go about my business. I don’t let people see underneath because it would scare them and depress them. Most people are like that, really, hiding the part of them that isn’t happy, either because they know people don’t want to see it, or because it betrays a weakness that they don’t feel they can afford. Twice a year it becomes acceptable to cry, to remove the mask and show what’s underneath. On Yom Kippur we cry for forgiveness, and on Tisha B’av we cry in mourning for the losses we’ve suffered.

People dread both days because of their sepulchral nature (albeit for different reasons), but in truth both are a gift of sorts. We all do things we feel guilty about, but since guilt is generally at odds with our constant pursuit of success, we push guilt aside, or justify our actions to make them easier to live with. Yom Kippur is the one day a year when we can bare our souls to ourselves and our God, face our demons, and beg forgiveness, without worrying about what others may think or how it may adversely affect our lives, because everyone else is similarly confessing their own sins and iniquities. Thus, instead of causing divisiveness, this communal confession actually becomes a bonding moment between a “nation of sinners,” thereby bringing us closer to each other, and God.

Tisha B’av, too, allows us a day to express publicly what we keep hidden in the innermost recesses of our hearts. Crying is an intensely intimate experience, not just for oneself, but for everyone else around you. It’s something most people never let themselves see, let alone other people, but one day a year, we all sit on the floor, mourning, crying together over the losses we’ve experienced, both personally and as a nation. It raises us together to a different level, a level that that is equal and free of class, or caste, or position. We all sit on the floor and show our deepest vulnerabilities. On both days we are united by tears.

Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av are gifts that, while they may start of as an imposition, end as uplifting and unifying experiences because they force us to embrace the gift of tears.