I Fill a Glass with Water

By Erica Kushner, Recent Mazkirol of HDNA

There is despair in my water and I cannot help but drink it. It enters my bloodstream, contaminates my veins and fills my marrow. It sits deep in my bones. 

I feel this is understandable, as there is much to be despaired about. Even before the war, no one would say the situation in Israel was perfect, but now it seems there is a hole dug deeper than we can escape and the dirt we are shoveling out may just as soon bury us.

I feel the privilege of being able to sit in my despair, in my childhood bedroom of my parents’ house. I am not experiencing sirens, the need to run to a shelter, the need of a shelter and having none exist, or the knowledge that there will be more bombs to come raining down upon me. I am not experiencing vitriol from the immediate persons around me, I am not in a city nor on a college campus. Based on my surroundings alone, the worst thing that is happening is the abundance of grass lawns which do not benefit the environment. 

My parents still get the physical newspaper delivered. I read the news, black ink on gray paper. Today, Friday, Oct 27, is the first day the war has not made the front page. The ongoings have not stopped being newsworthy, but they have stopped being front-page-newsworthy. I must open to pages A6 and A7, where there are three articles. I read them. I wonder if they mean the same to me as they do to everyone else who read this newspaper. I read the news online. There is a little red dot next to “Israel-Gaza War” signifying this is live news, breaking updates. Click the up arrow, there have been two more updates while you were reading. The hostages are still being held hostage. There is no clean water in Gaza. There were 12 hours of quiet in this area. The UN says, the UN says. US Jews say ceasefire now. US Jews demand the release of hostages. Sometimes the two overlap. Sometimes the two do not. 

The despair is overwhelming. People are speaking out of fear, out of anguish. In our need to be right, in our need to pick sides, we have lost the ability to see the humanity of The Other. My sister texts me asking why someone would rip down a poster of a child who is being held hostage. I hear Jews and Palestinians, both say, “Am I not a person to you? Why must I continue to prove I bleed the same as you?” After, we fight each other on the internet about who is more human, who is more deserving. It does not bring about any peace, any solace. My parents turn on the radio where the father from a family who went to our synagogue and made aliyah a few years ago is speaking. He says hateful things. It is based in fear, in survival, in vengeance. I think about how their older son was one of my only real friends at synagogue. I understand his words, yet they leave a knot in my stomach. My parents turn off the radio. We do not speak about what he said.

I reach out to my friends, my kvutza. I am desperate to know how they are doing. I do not reach out to my friends, my kvutza. I fear that I don’t know what to say, that anything I say is inadequate. I watch the work they are doing from afar. I try to hold it, a struck match that if it will burn long enough can reignite a sense of meaning, a key to belonging, a small flame to illuminate the smallest of next steps. I am so proud of them. I use the match to light the Shabbat candles. My home will be lit by their labor. 

There is despair in my water, but I must drink it. I cannot escape from it, but I cannot allow it to consume me. It may have to remain in my blood, but it cannot be the only thing there. I run a peula for my chanichimot in Kvutzat 72, I spend hours on the phone with my co-madrich. I watch the Mazkirut Artzit run a “Week of Life” and see so many ma’apilimot and nachshonimot attend or run programming. I read the comments Americans for Peace Now have written in their “Legislative Round-Up” of the week, somehow balancing the seriousness with just enough snark to remind me I am human and more than that, that I am Jewish. We must laugh to keep from crying. We poke at our suffering until we can make it giggle. There is still despair, but it is not deeper than my care for this land or my compassion for all the people who call it home. I receive my aliyah approval notice. It feels selfish that I will likely move during a war, to center my own wants and needs in all this suffering, but yet again, maybe it is more selfish to turn my back and pretend I have nothing to offer, conceited to think that somehow this could have nothing to do with me, that I could be above it. There may not be joy, but there is invariably hope. The future comes, just a step out of reach. We are here to determine those steps, whether we base them in our despair or in our visions for what could be. I think of tashlich, of throwing bread into a local stream to cast off my sins. It is time to cast off my despair, to let the water carry it instead of being imbued with it. I allow myself to despair, I allow it to wash around me. I allow myself to dream and I avow myself to dream of peace and prospering. I allow myself to not know the exact specifications of this dream, but stay vigilant with a tape measure on hand. I drink my cup of despair. I know it will not always be this way. When I refill my glass, one day it will just be water.