An Ongoing Series: Tune into the thoughts and feelings of one mother of young children in Jerusalem.
Editor’s Note: When Elisheva approached us with the desire to write a journal, a couple times per week, on her thoughts, feelings, and experiences as a young mother in Yerushalayim, we said yes. Like we wrote in this post, on Between Carpools, it’s not our place to report news. But we are searching for ways to connect in any way we can.
There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters who are experiencing all different types of extreme, life-changing and heart-wrenching trauma at this time. Some of those experiences are shared by other readers in the comments section of this post. This is not that. It’s a little peek into the life of one everyday woman’s experience during hard times for klal Yisrael.
For the next couple of weeks, Elisheva will be sharing with us. Keep checking back for updates (new entries will be at the top of this post).
Sunday, October 8th
I started writing down my thoughts and feelings on Sunday, as a Jerusalem writer and mother…and it occurred to me that I want to share my thoughts with more frum women.
It started off as the most inconspicuous day.
Shabbos, Simchas Torah. I had been up with one of my baby twins in the early morning and I was going back to sleep as my husband got up to go to shul. I didn’t know the exact time—maybe 8.
And then the first hint that something wasn’t right began dawning.
A siren sounded through the air.
“An ambulance?” my husband suggested.
I nodded, naïve new ‘settler’ that I am. But I pinned the occurrence to a bulletin in my mind with a question mark. Something about it had rubbed me the wrong way, but with early morning fuzzy brain cells, nothing concrete had registered.
About an hour later, my six-year-old woke me up. He was dressed in his crisp white shirt.
“Can I go to Shul?” Since it was less than a five-minute walk, I let him go.
“Have a great time.” I mumbled as my head fell back on my pillow.
Three minutes later I was about to doze off into dreamland when that siren sounded again.
Another ambulance? I thought. It can’t be. And, it doesn’t sound like an ambulance. Comprehension began bleeding into my consciousness, like spilled ink expanding on a white paper.
And then came a bang.
My bed shook slightly. The baby’s bottle on my bed teetered and fell over.
A rocket. Was that a rocket?
I ran to the window to see if there was any indication of anything out of the norm. A man in a Tallis and a couple strolled outside. The sun shone down fiercely. A beautiful hot day in Ramat Shlomo.
But my son. What about my son? Was he okay?
My twins and my other children chose that moment to start waking up. If there was no chaos outside, perhaps it wasn’t a missile? After all, I only had lived in Israel for ten months, how should I know?
I got caught up in tears, spilled pudding and missing socks as I tried to sneak a coffee in between giving the twins a bottle.
Then came a knock. My sister-in-law peeked in her head.
“You know that, before, was real, right?”
My eyes opened wide, and I felt a click inside myself that surely was loud enough for my sister-in-law to hear.
“But Meyer, Meyer was outside– during a rocket attack!”
I decided to quickly finish dressing my half-dressed children, drop them off by my sister-in-law down a few flights in my building, and run to go find him. Even though my rational brain assured me that he most likely made it safely to shul, that the missile had clearly not fallen directly on Ramat Shlomo, I still wanted to see him with my own eyes.
“Meyer, Meyer, I don’t think I even kissed you goodbye,” I thought, blinking back tears as I put on my baby’s onesie.
It was a cliché moment, but one that I treasured, a moment that awakens you to the value that had been yours for the taking.
Then the siren sounded again.
I scooped up my twins and dropped the socks I had started putting on my four-year-old.
“Quickly, to the study,” I said, shepherding my children to the bedroom with the sealed window.
The tears sprang to my eyes again. This was unreal, a scene that had nothing, nothing, nothing to do with my life, especially since I am American.
“I’m scared,” my little children said.
“Do you know that Rav Chaim Kanievsky said that having a child with Down Syndrome is like having extra Shmira in your home—do you see how much Hashem loves us?”
One of my twins had been born with Down Syndrome. It had been a big nisayon for me that I had still been working on myself to fully accept, but that moment I felt Hashem’s hug so tight.
Bang. Bang. Bang. The explosion came.
Baruch Hashem, once again there was no direct hit in Ramat Shlomo.
The sirens and explosions were heard a few more times over Yom Tov, over the Ana Hashem Hoshiya Nas and amid dancing. (And yes, eventually I reunited with my son and held him in a hug for a while).
The extent of what had happened became apparent after Yom Tov. Israel was at war. Hundreds dead. Hostages. We still had our house in Cleveland, and I must admit that we looked into flying back, but with flight cancellations, the rockets hitting Tel Aviv, and American airlines closing down, it wasn’t feasible.
My direct concern was how I would handle having my children home for longer. The constant cooking, cleanup and noise is something I struggle with. Dealing with feelings of being stuck in Israel in the midst of a big war didn’t help. Some people have no issue with ‘doing’—you just do it because you have to is their motto. But for me each step I take begs for meaning and connection. It sometimes feels like I need to swim through an ocean of complex and contradicting thoughts and feelings before I could feel ready to accomplish something. The lack of space and quiet to process everything really takes its toll on me. I was proud of myself that I gave myself permission to have that quiet a few times during the day, expressing my need to those around me so they could help make it happen.
I so badly want to say something inspiring. I wish I was one of those people who could say that their Emuna is pulling them through. But my feelings right now are low and dark. I’m feeling dread, and uncertain, and scared. I’m battling my Yetzer Hara that is thinking of all the could have, should have would haves. The negative thoughts have broken loose. I’m running low on iron domes to neutralize them. And so, maybe this is something I have to offer: the battle inside, the battle outside.
We do our part, one step, offer whatever miniscule thing we have to offer. One step into those oceans of thoughts and feelings.
And let Hashem do His.
Hityatzevu UReu Es Yeshuas Hashem.
Sunday, October 15th
I will admit that I read the news. A lot.
Why? How will it help? Will it change what happened?
I feel like my brain is looking for a missing piece. Like, I know everything is from Hashem and Hashem is good and so there must be something here I am missing. But I’m not finding the missing link in the headlines, in fact, it creates more havoc and chaos in my brain, as the headlines worsen.
There is something I have realized. I love beauty and I love logic, and although they appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum—logic is cold, dry facts, while beauty is something that touches the heart—they both have something in common, and that is balance and symmetry.
I still remember algebra classes in high school. In order to discover the value of ‘x’ you need to figure out how to balance both sides, how to make them the same.
But, I think I have discovered the value of ‘x’ in this horrifying equation, the missing link which has thrown everything helter skelter.
We think that something is perfect when it doesn’t require something else to make it whole, but can anything truly be whole if it is lacking love?
I took a deep breath. I knew I had to stop reading the news and look inside if I was to begin making sense of anything.
I started thinking about my baby with Down Syndrome, how I do really and truly love her. I didn’t get a Mazal Tov and excitement when she was born; in fact, quite the opposite. I still get pity glances and people making awkward comments. It’s not like with her twin, who people have no issue commenting on how cute and adorable he is. With a special needs child, there is more of a sense of uncertainty in terms of the nachas you get and will get from them in the future and you realize so strongly how you give and do for your child just because they are yours and you love them, not because of any expectations of nachas.
I was suddenly overcome with emotion. I said, “Hasem, I see mothers of special needs children everywhere, I read about them as well. We struggle, but at the end of the day we give our child our all. And I can say I really, truly do love her despite the pain that she wasn’t the baby I expected to have. Hashem, maybe Klal Yisroel isn’t what You expected. Maybe we aren’t giving You nachas. Maybe we haven’t properly crowned You our King. Maybe we are relying too much on our own strength in this time of desperation. Maybe we don’t know how to cry out to You anymore; our hearts have become rocks. But Hashem, if mere flesh and blood can love a child so unlike they expected, surely You Hashem can love us and save us just because we are Yours.”
Maybe this is why R’ Chaim says that children with Down Syndrome bring extra protection. They bring so much love into the home, and represent a parent’s unconditional love for a child, not love for the sake of getting nachas in return.
Wednesday, October 18th
Last Thursday, my boys (4 and 6) went back to school.
When my four-year-old’s backpack went missing as they were ready to leave (we had all seen it just three minutes before…) I totally lost it.
I needed that backpack. I needed it so badly. A nice, new backpack I had gotten my son.
I needed the control, I needed the certainty, I needed the security.
I burst out crying when we couldn’t find it. I think the realization that I’m missing those 3 essential ingredients in life right now to such an extent that I had been relying on my kids’ backpacks to be in the right place to give me some semblance of normalcy, was what brought me to tears.
There was a point, after finding out about the attacks last Motzei Shabbos and on Sunday, that I started feeling like how could I ever have cared about mundane things like finding cleaning ladies and matching clothing?
And then, wonder of wonders, my cleaning lady agreed to come Monday morning, and my kids all decided to put on one of their matching outfit sets and my mood of gloom and doom from the other day dissipated. Even though having your house cleaned with all your kids home is like ‘plowing the roads while the snow still falls’ I still felt better—perhaps even just the feeling of routine or familiarity did it. I hope I won’t underestimate the power of the little things in life again. Anything that gives a sense of routine is so calming.
Later on Monday, neighbors offered to take out my kids, including the twins, so I had time to rest and I called my friend from Cleveland, recounting to her everything I went through the past two days. The sirens had gone off again earlier that day, and as I was telling her about it, the sirens went off once more.
“Oh my gosh—do you hear that?”
I run to the mamad—that’s how the room without windows is called—and stayed there, glad that I had my friend on the phone.
Now, I must admit that I’ve had my fair share of excitement this year, much too much of it. We moved to Sanhedria Murchevet from Cleveland this past Chanukah, with three children, and me six months pregnant with twins. I had the twins Purim time, and was pretty shocked to learn that my baby girl had Down Syndrome (the doctors had told me there was less than 10% chance based off of something they noticed on an early ultrasound). In the beginning of June we moved to Ramat Shlomo. Add a war to the mix…
At nighttime, I locked and bolted the door shut. I must admit that I sometimes didn’t even lock the door at all before this. My three older kids slept in my room with me and my husband, on the beds and floor, which made me feel better in case if the siren sounded in the middle of the night (the baby bassinets were right outside my door, as there wasn’t enough space inside the room with my other kids there). It’s hard to fall asleep, and most nights the week after the attack, my eyes don’t close before 2 or 3 AM, trying to quiet my overactive thoughts and imagination.
One thing this year has forced me to work on is living in the moment, trying to glean what each moment holds for me instead of being dependent on specific external things. At the same time, it has gotten me to appreciate the external comforts and routines that I had lost and counted on, as I scrambled to find replacements. Backpacks on hooks, a fresh, clean home, kids going to school. How I hold these things dear in my heart as they slip back and forth through my fingers, a thing of uncertainty at the moment.
At the same time, as I wrote down my thoughts, a flash of insight, the kernels of opportunity began to hatch. I can share these thoughts, prayers, yearnings, feelings with more women– offer validation, support, inspiration, maybe, just maybe, even a measure of healing?
In the grimmest moments, can we search to see the light?
Sunday, October 22nd
My shoulders hurt, one particular spot wouldn’t go away. I tried massaging it but nothing helped.
I focused on the shoulder pain and the feeling that came up was an achrayus to carry the pain of Klal Yisroel—the hostages, the pain of the families whose lives were destroyed and lost loved ones, the soldiers and their families…
The shoulder pain was an indication that I needed to give over some of that achrayus to Hashem. But, this made me realize something. Many people are wondering ‘what should I do’—without realizing how much we do just by being who we are—without realizing how much we carry Klal Yisroel in our hearts and consciousness and we can’t underestimate that. It’s giving on an emotional level and it strengthens our feelings as a nation that we are not alone and we are in this together.
I had let my guard down.
It had been a few uneventful days. No sirens, no explosions. The schools were opening and slowly increasing their hours. On Monday the babysitter even started, and the cleaning lady came once again (Thank Hashem).
The house was in order, backpacks where they should be, split pea soup on the stove.
Wait…was I actually getting hopeful? Would my life ease into a normal routine once again?
I receive a phone call from a neighbor.
“Carnival in my house at 3.”
I hadn’t gone walking more than a few steps out of my apartment building since the war started. I hadn’t let my kids walk to their cousin’s homes either, so a kiddie carnival seemed like the perfect way to ease the tension of the last few days and stash them away until…well, I knew that the country was at war and that life wouldn’t be the same, but could a ‘new normal’ be defined?
Ramat Shlomo’s American presence has been increasing as families search for affordable housing. The carnival was a perfect way to get to know more English-speaking neighbors. I was schmoozing, getting myself acquainted, my kids running around with tickets, a delicious breeze surrounding us.
And then a loud explosion ripped through the air.
“Quick, everyone inside, run!”
“Wait—what was that?” Usually, a siren precedes a rocket explosion, but we had heard none.
“Was it an airplane?”
A few minutes later, another one. Mothers and children ran inside, but still unsure if the sound was a rocket explosion.
Later, when I came home I saw an email from my brother, who lives in the north with his family.
Are you okay—the email read—heard there were sirens in Yerushalayim, did you go to the Miklat?
Wait—so it had been rocket attacks—but why didn’t we hear the sirens? And it had sounded so loud!
I had been doing okay, despite the war, but that explosion which caught us by surprise without a siren (or, for some reason, we hadn’t heard it) knocked me out. I walked around like a zombie for the next two days, thinking if it was really the right choice to stay in Yerushalayim (since the beginning of the war, the U.S. had arranged ways for citizens to leave). Who said my emotional system could handle this? I found myself crying, remembering ‘normal’ days back in Cleveland, driving to the store, sitting outside with neighbors, once again missing things I had taken for granted. Hashem—could there be another way? Could there be a way to learn to enjoy life without our world falling apart?
I guess it starts by enjoying this moment exactly as it is, explosions and all.
Of course, enjoying is a relative word. For me, sitting with sad feelings and validating them is actually enjoyable, as I feel heard and seen (don’t worry—I enjoy normal things too, like polishing off a bucket of ice cream), which I feel is much better than sitting and analyzing my options and not living.
The confidence that Rabbanim have that Yerushalayim is a safe place, a secure place, the reassurance from Rabbanim that I am safe helps, and hearing that in the times of Mashiach Yerushalayim will be a refuge finally lifted my spirits.
I think I can do this.
I choose to do this.
I don’t know how long that feeling will last, but, for now, I’m going to get up and cook for Shabbos.
Sunday, October 29th
It’s been over a week. Baruch Hashem, at least in Yerushalayim things have settled down. I’m back to my routine, back to the rhythm of life. I know there is still a war, and it’s not like that everywhere, and while I know it’s not the end—no one knows what is to come—for now, I am signing off.
I took Pnina Esther (Nini), my baby with Down Syndrome, to Shalva this past Sunday. Shalva is a center dedicated to special needs children. I take Nini there for PT, OT and speech therapy. It is a beautiful building, and in the world of Shalva, I meet children with Down Syndrome and other young mothers with children with Down Syndrome. They are adorable beyond what I could have imagined. How can something that I perceived as a difficult nisayon become so wonderful? In the world of Shalva, Down Syndrome is celebrated.
I take Nini to speech therapy there. She looks the therapist in the eye and gurgles at her, telling her a whole ‘story’. I can’t help but hold her and hug her, and then look out the window and wonder how could it be in a world with such darkness there is so much light? On one patch of earth deaths are mourned, on another a smile ignites life. How can I just move on, ease into routine while the earth around me is still on fire, still soaked with blood?
People wonder ‘what should I do’—it is in that place between darkness and light that our actions matter. It’s there that the battle lies, and when we underestimate our light that we allow the enemy to penetrate.
So, the battle continues, the battle inside, the battle outside. I’m going to continue pushing despite the pain, to do what I know is right and continue to build.