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‘Wanting to scream’: to be a Jewish Israeli mother

To be a Jewish mother in Israel is to marvel as your children play in the arenas of our ancient joys and tragedies. You watch them run through splashing pads where once the Romans marched against us, you watch them roam the valley where a young David felled a giant with a stone.

You watch your children, you watch the past and future meet, and you whisper: “we are home.”

But to be a mother in Israel is also to always know that your children are in danger. It’s to tell them “here is what you do if you hear a siren.” It’s to tell them “if someone attacks us with a knife, don’t stop to help me. Run!”

To be a mother in Israel is to watch your children’s eyes, to watch the innocence in them, when they ask you impossible questions. “Do all Arabs hate us?” asks a five years old, and while you want to say a simple “no,” a true answer must go deeper still.

You watch the news from Lod, Acre and Haifa. You know that what is truly burning is more than cars, homes, and Torah scrolls. It’s trust.

You want your children to grow up to trust all those who share this beloved, complicated country, all those who will share their future. You know: we are all here to stay. There will be no peaceful life if we do not make it work together. But how can you gift them trust that tastes like ashes on your tongue today?

To be a mother in Israel is to hold on to hope. It is to say: I will not let those who roamed the streets of Lod to take my faith away. I will look for every Arab voice that rose in condemnation of these pogroms. I will listen to every overture of friendship. I will believe, believe, believe— because to do otherwise is an alternative I can’t accept.

To be a mother in Israel is to watch some of your fellow Jews attack the innocent in the streets of Bat Yam and scream in pain and horror. To be a mother in Israel is to hold your child in your arms and make a silent promise: I will not allow you to be a naïve and helpless victim. But neither will I let you lose sight of who we are to the point that you harm innocents.

To be a mother in Jerusalem is to know that for once I’m very lucky: unlike so many other Israeli mothers, I didn’t have to rush my kids to a safe space last night. But it’s also to stay awake regardless, pained and grieving, because another mother – a woman I don’t know – has lost her five year-old son, Ido Avigal.

You can’t stop thinking about it. You can’t stop whispering: five years.

It’s all she had with him. You are a mother, so you know: a mother measures five years in milestones and cuddles, in letters learned, funny anecdotes and all those times when it hits you that you love. So much.

A mother measures times in hugs.

You hold your infant to your breast and then your toddler on your lap and then your “you’re almost six! What a big boy you are!” close, close, close, and your arms remember all those older hugs, and you marvel: can you believe he used to be so small? Look at you, my beloved. Look how wonderful and grown you are.

You hold and hold and it’s never enough and you marvel: this boy, who was once but a dream and then but a tiny little presence within me, lived for five full years of hugs under the sun.

A mother also measures age in all the things to come, the things that aren’t there yet. Next year you’ll go to first grade, love. Soon you’ll be old enough to stay with friends, love. You will understand when you are older, love. Oh, the things you’ll do, my love. Oh, the wonderful adventures ahead.

Five years should mean that there is still so much ahead, so many roads to walk, so many hugs to share.

But for this woman I don’t know, this woman whose house was felled by a rocket, there will never be more time to hold her son. We all watched the iron dome videos with awe in recent nights. And they are indeed amazing… and every interception means lives saved.

But for one woman out there all those marvels just don’t matter anymore. She only had five years.

To be a mother in Israel is to think of her, and of her sweet Ido, and want to scream. It is to want to claw your throat, to claw the sky, to claw the whole world with the shards of his short life.

To be a mother in Israel is to get up from your tortured night and make your children sandwiches, because life must go on, and this is not your first experience of war and aggression, and you know the value of routine.

To be a mother in Israel Is to hug your children one extra time before they leave you for the day and pray for a future where no mother – none – will have to mourn her child in this land.

Rachel Sharansky Danziger is a Jerusalem-based writer and educator who blogs about Judaism, storytelling and daily life. Her work can be found on The Times of Israel, Project 929 and other online venues.

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