Over the winter break, I was fortunate enough to go on the Yeshiva University Sacks-Herenstein Stronger Together Israel Solidarity Mission. Through an incredibly dynamic and powerful week of being immersed in the current reality of our homeland, I was able to emotionally experience many sides of this war. From picking beets, running carnivals, and bearing witness — seeing the atrocities committed in Kfar Aza; Sderot; Re’im Forest, where the Nova music festival took place; Kibbutz Kissufim and more — we were able to put a name to the face of this ugly war.
Walking into the Re’im Forest, where the Nova music festival took place, was eerie. Knowing that just three months before, terrorists rampaged the same grounds, brutally murdering hundreds of our brothers and sisters was chilling. Stakes stabbed into the ground held images of those murdered on the very same ground. Bearing witness, all kinds of Jews gathered together to share in the same pain our nation is experiencing.
Upon entering, a large black poster with white writing and the face of a young woman caught my eye: Eden Ben-Rubi it read. A 23-year-old woman, originally from Thessaloniki, Greece, had moved to Israel at a young age and lived in Rishon LeZion. She was an artist, a graduate of Merhavim School of Arts in Rishon LeZion. She is survived by her parents and 15-year-old brother. With Eden being such a popular name in Israel, seeing many of our people killed or taken hostage with the name was, unfortunately, not surprising.
Staring at this poster felt like a mirror; it could have easily been me. A different Eden: an Eden with just as much reason for terrorists to kill, my Judaism being reason enough. Hanging on the pole of the poster was a white sweatshirt that had the name Eden with the letter “D” drawn in the shape of a palm tree. It looked so ordinary, so normal, as though this could have been my own bat mitzvah sweatshirt. This sweatshirt was covered in signatures and messages made out to Eden Ben-Rubi, expressing how much they miss her. One signature in particular stood out to me. It read,“Eden Ahuva Sheli, Keren Shemesh” and was accompanied by a hand drawn heart and sun. Keren Shemesh: a ray of sunshine. I had heard this phrase in songs before but the simple image now brought it to life. The idea of a Keren Shemesh is so abstract but simultaneously so tangible. To be a Keren Shemesh is to be someone who lights up those around you and emanates a joy for life. From the multiple signatures on the back of this sweatshirt, it was clear that Eden Ben-Rubi was an individual who embodied just that.
The Sacks-Herenstein YU Stronger Together solidarity mission showed me that one of the only things getting our people through this immensely dark time are the rays of light. The rays of unity of our nation, the rays of chesed, and the rays of hope. It can be easy to fall into a feeling of helplessness from afar, but we must steer our lives toward a different path. Every action we do matters, whether that means saying hi to someone in the elevator, smiling at someone who looks a bit down, or asking a friend how their day is going. With every one of our efforts, no matter how small we think they may be, we are playing an active role in building up our community and nation. It all starts with our behavior.
In Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ book “Celebrating Life,” he wisely said: “To change the world, first we have to change ourselves” (pg. 183). In a time like this when we could feel so helpless, we have to remember that we can change the one thing we have control over: ourselves. We can channel our desire to heal a fractured world by making ourselves the best conduits for that repair as we can and lifting up those around us.
I want to live my life by the phrase “keren shemesh.” I want to try to do everything in my power to lift up those around me, bringing light into the world through chesed and inclusivity. As a people, we have to do everything we possibly can to bring a little light into this very dark world. We all must take it upon ourselves to be a unique ray of light, our own Keren Shemesh, and to live our lives for those who tragically don’t get to anymore, like Eden Ben-Rubi.
Eden Lippe is from Fair Lawn, where she grew up with her parents and seven siblings. After attending Baer Miriam Seminary for a gap year, she is now a junior at Stern College for Women pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art history with minors in studio art and Jewish studies.