March 3, 2024
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A Bar Mitzvah Blessing in the Midst of Grief

Earlier today, on Jerusalem’s promenade overlooking the old city, I officiated at the bar mitzvah of Noah Kaye, a lovely young boy from NYC whom I’ve seen grow up over the years. Noah and his family are part of the Sto­rahtelling Lab/Shul community. Before we be­gan the ceremony I asked Noah’s grandfather Isaac to give his grandson a personal blessing- -one good piece of advice for life. Isaac quoted his own father Shlomo: “Fighting is easy, mak­ing peace is more complicated. Always try to make peace.”

At the ceremony Noah translated the To­rah story of Balaam, the one-eyed prophet who was hired to curse Israel but, thanks to his stubborn talking donkey, changed his mind, and blessed us instead with immortal words: How beautiful are the tents of Jacob.

‘May you always know how to turn curs­es into blessing, face each challenge with cre­ativity and find the good in everything” I told Noah, after he completed his stunning rendi­tion of the Torah story, and after we prayed together for healing and for the safe return of the three kidnapped boys.

A few hours later I was sitting with a few friends at a busy Jerusalem cafe, with a large crowd watching soccer on a large screen. Ni­geria vs. France.

Then a news flash buzzed on my iP­hone. And I started crying.

Around me, the game still went on, at a table nearby people were singing to a new­ly-wed couple. For a brief moment, the soc­cer game was replaced by a news channel then the screen went blank. Slowly, the mood changed around us. The singing stopped.

An hour or so later, after roaming the streets of Jerusalem we stumbled upon a large group of Israelis watching yet anoth­er soccer game on a large screen, cheering, tense. What’s the score? someone asked.

And in typical Israeli dark humor some­one replied: “We’ll know tomorrow morn­ing.”

What’s normal? What of this makes any sense? Yes, life went on in many bars and restaurants tonight in the middle of Je­rusalem. “It’s horrible,” a friend said to me, “but life, for now, goes on. Tomorrow they may call me up for army duty.”

Just this past Friday I sat with my brother and debated the existence of ‘pure evil’. Whoever kidnapped those boys, Ha­mas or not, he said, was guilty of pure evil. They were targeted, with clear intention of harm. How is that different than the blood of the three Palestinian boys killed during the search raids on Hebron, I asked. The in­tent may be different, but blood is blood, and evil no longer has a priority or purity attached to it when kids become war vic­tims. He argued that intent matters, Hamas plays dirty while the IDF is never guilty of such malice, and that the enemy at our gates is here to destroy us. Period.

Our conversation ended abruptly. He got a phone call from the mother of the one of the three boys, a close friend of his, who needed his counsel and attention before Shabbat began, the third shabbat without the boys, the last shabbat of hope.

Tonight, memorial candles burn in homes and city squares and streets, the media re­ports compete for horrid details, the loss is harrowing and the fear of what will happen next is stark and real.

What’s the score? How have we all not tired of keeping scores?

How long before these curses turn to blessing?

I think of Grandpa Isaac’s advice to his grandson Noah, just today—but yet so long ago—peace is harder, but much more worth it than the fight.

I invite you, friends, near and far, to take a moment now, or three, with me, as you read this, to sit silently, close your eyes and ask for peace, within and beyond.

Light a candle, with me, for the mem­ory of these three newest victims and all the others of this conflict in the past few weeks. Maybe we can prevent more blood­shed in the weeks to come through our in­tention, through our hope for kinder days.

It’s impossible to fall asleep tonight. My heart is heavy thinking of the broken fam­ilies. I think of the soldiers and the people up tonight in preparation for whatever lies ahead. I fear, like all of us, it won’t be in line with Grandpa Isaac’s blessing.

I personally see no point in vengeance, in endless circles of retribution. There is no jus­tice to be gained, even when decisive meas­ures will and must be made to bring the mur­derers to trial and stop such future actions. More blood will not bring the boys back. This is just one person’s opinion. A former soldier, so tired of recycled rage. There must be an­other way—Grandpa Isaac’s way.

I pray for courage and compassion, patience and prudence in the minds and hearts of all decision makers, and all who are on the front lines for yet another round.

The crescent moon is still up. From the old city I hear the early morning calls to prayer—it is almost the third dawn of Ramadan. What will tomorrow bring to this ancient land of broken hearts and promises? How will we not fuel the flames of hatred as we grieve and mourn and hold each other’s hand?

Ramadan will end again and so will soccer season. Scores will be settled… or they won’t. Soon the three weeks will commence—memories of Jewish perse­cution, loss and exile, mingling with the summer heat, culminating with anoth­er fast. Prayers will be prayed. Some boys will celebrate their coming of age and oth­ers will be buried. Blessings and curses will take turns.

Sit with me tonight, in silence, pray for patience, healing, courage, kindness, con­solation, hope. I welcome your reactions, thoughts and prayers. May all memories become blessings.

Yehi Shalom: Pray for peace among your multitudes, for serenity in every home.

By Amichai Lau-Lavie

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