by Tahni Paluch, on my gap year in Israel doing mechina
Friday, 6 October.
My friends and I excitedly packed our overnight bags and headed to Jerusalem. We were to spend Simchat Torah in the buzzing neighbourhood of Nahlaot, sleeping on a shule floor.
We enjoyed a beautiful kabbalat Shabbat led by an inspiring woman named Rika, and then set off for our first shule of the night – Mayanot. The atmosphere was electric, with women of all ages singing and dancing together. We were all united in our joyful celebration.
Already, we knew that Simchat Torah was to be one of the highlights of our program. The streets were thronged with crowds singing and dancing, and from every corner one could hear “Am Yisrael Chai”.
The night was one of laughter, fun, and unity.
Saturday, 7 October.
I woke up at 8am to loud whispers all around me. The news began to spread. Rockets, terrorist infiltrations. Yet at that point, none of us comprehended the gravity of the situation. How could we?
Around 8:20am, the first rocket siren went off in Jerusalem. Stunned, we rushed to the shule’s shelter. More news began to pour in: Rocket hits across Israel. Partygoers massacred. Families besieged by terrorists. And we began to see the videos. Each one worse than the other, yet we couldn’t stop.
The Israelis amongst our group spent the day calling their families. Some found out that friends were murdered and relatives were missing. Paralysed by uncertainty and concern for our loved ones, we stayed locked in the shule for the whole day. Emotional goodbyes were said to our madrich and program director, both of whom were called up to the army. And as news emerged overseas, frantic calls were received from our family and friends back home.
A few days have passed, and the situation in Israel – and across the world – has worsened. As I write this, there is a pit in my stomach. I’m appalled at the videos I’ve seen of “Pro-Palestine” rallies and disgusted at the comments I’ve read praising “the freedom fighters of the resistance”. I’m scared for my family and friends and heartbroken for those close to me who have lost relatives and loved ones.
At the same time, however, I am comforted by the solidarity and unity we are currently experiencing. We’ve all seen the videos of Ishay Ribo performing to soldiers, partook in mass vigils and contributed to global volunteering projects.
I will never forget these days, but I know that we will survive them and emerge more united than ever before. This week, we have seen a lot of evil. Amongst the darkness, however, we have also seen the capacity for good that we as a unified Jewish people have.