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Blood. And slit wrists. That’s all I see. Like a flashback, only it hasn’t happened. A pool of blood. A lifeless body. Pale face. Dark hair. White hands and red wrists.
What do you do when someone comes to you telling you they plan to commit suicide?
She’s sitting on my couch; her shoulders hunched, her long hair shielding her face. The room is quiet save for the ticking of the clock and the pounding of my heart.
I sit across from her my gaze flicks around the room, at the cluttered table, at her, at the scattered toys I had been cleaning up when she knocked on the door, back to her, and to the new rug leaning against the wall still wrapped in plastic.
“How are you going to kill yourself?”
My voice is dispassionate. As if I couldn’t care. As if my heart isn’t thudding in my chest. As if my eyes aren’t continuously scanning the room, searching for an escape, afraid of what she might do.
She shrugs. I stare at her until she looks up and meets my eyes. Her eyes are determined.
Go, give her a hug.
I’m so awkward. I’m so bad at displaying emotion .I can’t.
Stop having a conversation with yourself and go give her a hug.
I get up and slowly sit next to her and then pull her into a hug, squeezing her tightly. Hoping I can somehow convey all the things that need to be conveyed.
My tone hasn’t changed much. I want to change it. I want to sound compassionate. But I’m numb. I don’t know how to inject my emotions into the words. My mind is racing. What do I say? How do I deal with this? I was never taught, never trained, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
It’s not about you; it’s about her. Focus on her.
She tells me she’s planned it for next week. She’s speaking in a monotone. Cold. Calculated. I breathe a little easier knowing it’s in a few days’ time. I was afraid she was going to walk out of my house and do it. My heart is still pounding, painfully. My eyes flicker around the room again and land on the new rug. I am anxious to unwrap and unroll it, to see what it looks like. I want to tell her about it. I want to share it with her. I can’t though. She wants to take her life and I want to talk about the trivialities of my home.
Sarale, stop. Stop thinking about the rug. Can’t you focus on the real issue here?
I can’t focus on the real issue. My heart is still pounding and my mind is still racing. I’m trapped, I’m terrified. I’m watching her. Her fingers are twined in her lap, head down. She looks up for a moment and our gazes lock. I stare at her steadily. Again, hoping that my actions can express more than words can. She’s the first to look away. I feel triumphant. I’ve won this round. Immediately I feel stupid. This isn’t a game.
I say all the things that need to be said, all the things she doesn’t want to hear, all the things she can’t find the energy to care about.
I’m silent. She’s silent, silently twisting her fingers in her lap. The silence stretches.
I want her to cry. I want her to show some emotion, I want her to let it out. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to pound her head against the wall. I want her to stop sitting there like a statue, frozen on my couch.
My mind wanders. Sentences begin forming in my mind. I imagine myself at the computer, writing this into a blog post.
A blog post, really Sarale? All you can think about is how you are going to write about this?
Yes, it will be raw, real.
You need serious help.
Yes, because I am now having a conversation with myself.
I thought only people in books have italicized conversations with themselves. Apparently I’m living a story; it is surreal.
We talk a bit. Short, stilted sentences. Single words falling into nothingness. And then she asks for my help. How does one kill themselves?
My voice is rough, my tone colder than before.
“A bullet to the head is probably the easiest but I don’t know where you’d get a gun. Pills work too, though I’m not sure which ones. Slashing your wrists might work. You could find a knife in the kitchen. But someone might find you before… it takes a while to bleed out.”
“Stop.” She trembles.
I’m relentless. “Do you know where there’s a bridge?”
“I said stop!”
She buries her head, her shoulders heave. I’ve made her cry. I’m crushed, though, before I can feel triumphant again.
“I thought you care about me. Why are you helping me?”
Ouch. I thought I was helping. I didn’t know it was a trick question. I inhale; a deep shuddering sigh.
“I do care, so much. So much that I want you to rethink your decision. I know you’re in a lot of pain and you want the pain to stop. I’m not convinced that you really want to die.”
A sniffle. And then a broken, broken voice. “You’re right. I don’t want to die. I just want the pain to go away.”
I don’t feel triumphant now. Not at all. My heart may just explode it’s been hammering for so long. It hurts, physically. My heart aches. It hurts so much.
Silence. Again. Filling the space between us. She breaks it asking me to rate how much I care about her. One being the least ten being the most.
My answer is immediate, before she even has a chance to finish asking. “Ten, eleven, a hundred.”
She laughs. It’s a short breathless sound, more like choking.
“I’ll stay alive for you, because you mean a lot to me.”
My heart becomes heavier. No. I can’t. I can’t shoulder this responsibility. It’s too much. I can’t be the only reason she is alive. No. I can’t.
“For now,” I rush to say.
When she leaves I pick up the toys from the floor and roll out the rug. I need to do something normal. I need to feel normal. I need to worry about the décor in my living room. I need to worry about something inconsequential.
I frown at it. The color is too dark, darkening the whole room. I didn’t even pause to think that maybe it’s my mood that is too dark. It doesn’t look good lengthwise so I turn it around. It doesn’t look good that way either so I turn it back. I push it closer to the couch and then pull it back towards me.
Forget it. It’s no good. I’ll return it tomorrow.
Tomorrow. I have a tomorrow. I have another day to work things out. I helped her have a tomorrow. And for today that is enough.
My baby was born small and early. He’s in the hospital until he gains enough weight to go home. It’s difficult, I’m not going to deny it. I come to the hospital in the morning and leave in the evening. It’s exhausting. It’s like the hospital walls suck up all your energy so that you leave completely drained.
This has been a learning experience in many different ways. For one I now understand what it means to be awaiting the coming of Moshiach.
I wake up in the morning and think: Maybe today, maybe by some miracle he gained enough weight overnight and can come home today. I come to the hospital, put my stuff down, and anxiously ask the nurse,
“How much does he weigh?”
She smiles and tells me. He’s gained a significant amount since yesterday.
“He’s gaining really nicely,” she tells me.
I thank her happy that he’s gaining but at the same time I feel disappointment. He’s not coming home today. Another long day in the hospital. And then a seed of hope pushes forward. Maybe tomorrow. He’s so close to his discharge weight, maybe he’ll come home tomorrow. My faith is restored. He will come home, and soon. I know he will.
I go over to his crib to wish him good morning and feed him.
This scene repeats itself daily. I re-experience those emotions every day. The anxiety, hope, disappointment and then again the inexplicable hope.
Moshiach is coming. Possibly today. Maybe tomorrow. But he will come. I know he will.
On the same theme of redemption this experience has taught me what Golus means and the pitfalls of Golus.
I wake up in the morning and pack up to go. I have a bag full of food, a cooler with milk I pumped during the night, and some entertainment to pass the long hours in the hospital. I grab my stuff and hurry out the door to make it on time for his morning feeding.
This is exile. I’m forced to leave my comfortable environment and go out to a strange place. A place where other people are in charge and there is a whole new set of rules. It’s not my place; this is not where I belong.
But then it becomes routine. Rush out the door at nine thirty, come home at two for a much needed nap, and return at six thirty for the evening feed.
Repeat every day. It’s not so strange anymore. I have my spot, the chair behind the curtain to give me some privacy. I know the nurses; they know me. It has become regular.
This is the pitfall of exile. I’ve forgotten it’s exile. I’ve forgotten that this isn’t the way things are meant to be. I can’t forget because then I become complacent. No. I want my baby home. That’s where both of us are meant to be.
Golus. We become complacent forgetting that this is exile, this isn’t where we belong. Hashem, enough. We want to go home.
Thank you to fifty percent of my Facebook friends for reminding me. Should I actually click on the link to chabad.org and read the article?
What does it mean?
The king is in the field?
If I put a question mark at the end it turns it into an incredulous tone. Can it really be that the king is in the field?
It’s obviously a metaphor.
A field is a wide open space, it doesn’t belong to anyone in particular. It’s emptiness, vastness, freedom.
The king who is normally cloistered in his palace is now in the field, open to visitors. He’s accessible, approachable.
All I have to do is close my eyes and imagine.
The field stretches, seemingly endlessly. The grass is browning and crunching under my feet. The sky is blue, scattered with clouds and rays of sun. I can feel the kings presence. I hesitate. Do I have the audacity to approach the king with my sob story? with my excuses? with my bumbling effort at a fresh start?
His presence is so palpable and surprisingly not intimidating. He smiles, invitingly waiting for me to step forward and address him. Trembling, I lurch towards him and speak.
I’ve come because you are here, I’ve come because I can, because I’ve been waiting all year for this opportunity to speak with you.
There is so much I can say, I should say yet it is so difficult to express myself. There is so much that I’m afraid to say, to admit.
Dear King, I’ve screwed up, many times. You’ve told me not to do certain things and I’ve gone ahead and done them anyway. Please, don’t take it the wrong way; I didn’t do it to make you angry or to purposely defy you. It’s just that… I did it. I knew I shouldn’t, I sort of hoped that I had enough strength of character not to do it, but I screwed up. It’s so lame. I don’t even have any proper excuses.
I’m sorry. Really, I am. I can’t even say that I didn’t mean to do it because I did. I did it knowingly. Yet it’s written that a person doesn’t sin unless a spirit of folly enters them. Right?
My spirit’s been pretty folly-full. I know that. And I know that you know that too.
I want to change. I want to be a better person. I want to have a better relationship with you. I don’t want to have to rely on this once a year arrangement where I can cry, beat my chest, say I’m sorry, and wipe my slate clean.
I pause; my thoughts swirling, I’m trying to pick up on one stream of thought. Trying to express that feeling, that movement in my heart
And yet with all the things I’ve done wrong you’ve come out here, onto my turf, into this g-d forsaken earth. You’ve given me a chance.
So really what I’m trying to say is this:
When you go back to the palace, I’m coming with you. I’m coming back with you onto your turf. Because I love you. Because you love me. Because we both know that we’re meant to be together. We’re in this relationship together and I’m committed to our relationship.
So it’s become tradition that when someone leaves they leave a love note pinned to the bulletin board. Almost as soon as I came back from my trip to NY I started planning in my head what I would write. I wondered when the girls put them up; I never saw anyone do it. I always just came in the morning and saw it there already. I imagined myself creeping up in middle of the night while everyone is sleeping and sticking it on the notice board.
Anyway, as I was saying, I was planning this letter for a long time. Every once in a while a good line would pop into my head and I would be like: omg, I should totally write that. But now as I sit at the computer, with my contact lenses going fuzzy, I’m blanking out. There’s so much to say. I’ve been here for so many days, so many hours, so many minutes. A minute, here, can be so filled with learning and growth. How do I quantify my time spent here? How do I express it all in one letter? If I want anyone to read this I should probably keep it short. I don’t know if I can.
I came to Mayanot last September with the title Shlucha. I felt ill-suited for the job. A Shlucha is meant to be a role model and I didn’t feel that way. I felt lost and confused, trapped in my Judaism. At times wanting out, envious of those who lived the glittery (in my opinion) secular lifestyle, and at other times terrified of leaving what was familiar, of hurting my parents, of being considered a failure. I was disillusioned by the life I lived and came to Mayanot as the last resort. If Mayanot couldn’t save me, nothing would.
I started to learn, to really learn. I’d learnt Chassidus all my life but it had always been abstract, something that was intellectually satisfying but not practical. That changed when I came to Mayanot. I learnt so many new things. I learnt that Chassidus is applicable in my modern life, that G-d wants a relationship with me, that G-d cares about what I do, I can make a difference in my life and in the world, I can change, I can become a better person.
My experienced here became a journey of self-discovery. My questions became: What does this concept mean to me? Can I apply it to my everyday life? How do I apply it? How do I deepen my relationship with Go-? And then came the urgent realization that I need to share what I’ve learnt with others.
Slowly but surely I changed. It wasn’t something conscious. When I looked back at the weeks that had flown by I realized that I had internalized certain concepts, that they became a part of me, that I started thinking differently, I had different perspectives than previously, I felt differently about certain things, feelings I had never felt before. It was so real to me, so true. Judaism had stopped being restrictive, it became something I lived, it became who I was.
I don’t know when exactly it happened, or how exactly it happened, but it did. Day by day. Walking through the door, drinking from the water fountain, smiling to the people around me, being within the walls of Mayanot, attending Farbrangens and classes, using a glass mug, somehow all these things were a part of it. They became a part of me, and I a part of it, a part of Mayanot.
Tonight is my last sleep in Mayanot (that’s if I get to bed). Mayanot has changed my life irrevocably. As I leave now I’m different than the timid, uncertain girl that first walked through the Mayanot gate. I now have a new self-confidence in myself and in my ability to motivate myself and others. I do feel like a role model because I know who I am. I feel like Mayanot has handed me the truth and now I hold it tightly in my fist. I never want to let go of it.
The best part is that the changes don’t stop here. Mayanot has given me the ability to continue on changing, to learn from every encounter, every experience becomes a story with a moral. Everything is a lesson, something that I can grow from. This is a gift I will forever treasure.
Thank you Mayanot for being here for me and for others like me who are seeking the truth. Thank you for your warm accepting environment that lets us grow at our own pace in a way that we can change our lives in a real way.
Good luck Mayanot. I bless you with success. May you have the ability to reach out and touch so many Jewish women so that they in turn go out and touch so many more.
Goodbye Mayanot. Although I am leaving physically I am comforted because I know that a piece of Mayanot is lodged in my heart and is there to stay, forever.
With a prayer in my heart, a blessing on my lips, and tears in my eyes,
I gaze into the Chanukah flames
I hear them whispering…
And so I sit
Listening, oh so closely…
…Night in ancient Jerusalem. A crescent moon and a few lone stars shine over the dark and deserted streets. In strategic points across the city spirals of smoke can be seen rising from large pagan alters. Even during the day the streets are nearly empty; it is a city in mourning, huddled within herself, trying to find comfort and protection from the Greek enemy. Yet Greek culture can be seen pushing its way into the Judean city. The alters manned by Greek soldiers, men dressed in short robes, the smell of roasting pork, and doors painted over with Greek inscriptions.
In the center of the city in one of the main streets there is a house with such an inscription. Just above the inscription is a wreath of roses. It is a large house, one of the largest on the street and obviously wealthy. It is the home of a man once called Eliakum Hakohen now known as Yakum the Hellenist. Once one of the respected Kohanim in the Bet Hamikdash; now one of the respected governers of King Antiochus.
Inside the house, in the large sitting room, reclines Michal, wife of Yakum. She gently rocks her newborn baby, quietly humming a sweet lullaby to her child.
“Sleep my sweet child.” She stood up and gently laid him down in his basinet. Then she sank down on the sofa and sighed deeply. She should really go to bed, she knew, but the memory of a conversation she had earlier that day with her husband disturbed her.
“Elia… err… Yakum, you know our baby will be eight days old tomorrow,” she began tentatively.
His reply was brusque, “Don’t even say what you’re thinking. The answer is no.”
He cut her off sharply, “I said no. No child of mine will be circumcised. It’s against the law. I will not hear another word on this matter.”
Michal bit her lip and remained silent, though she knew that she would have to go against her husband’s command. No child of hers would remain uncircumcised. She was a proud Jewish woman and nothing would stop her. She regretted having to resort to an alternate plan, one she had created when her grandmother had visited her the day before.
The baby’s wail disturbed the quiet and Michal wearily stood up and lifted him out of his crib. She sat down heavily on the sofa and cradled him in her arms. Immediately his cries ceased. Slowly her eyes began to close as sleep overtook her.
Michal awoke with a start. She lay the baby aside and peered out the window. It was very dark; just before dawn. Her pulse quickened. It was time to execute her plan. She seized the child and noiselessly slipped out of her house, baby clutched tightly to her chest. Please, please don’t cry now, she begged silently of her child. Her heart pounded and she rounded the corner and hurried down the desolate streets. The sun was soon to rise and it was imperative that no one see her.
“Please G-d,” she prayed, “Please help me. Keep me and my child safe.”
As she rounded another corner, her heart stopped. At the end of the street she saw an alter with smoke rising lazily from it. No, she wasn’t going to sacrifice a pig on their pagan alter. Truthfully though, did she really have a choice? She was the wife of Yakum the Hellenist and King Antiochus’s governor! Everyone believed that she was the pampered wife of Yakum and a staunch Hellenist. No one would believe her if she were to tell them that she was a prisoner in her own opulent home, that she was a practicing proud, albeit hidden, Jewess.
Michal’s steps slowed with indecision. What should she do? Sacrifice a pig as she was expected to? Or stand up to her hidden faith and lose her life and her child’s?
As she neared the alter, her heart began to hammer in relief. The Greek soldiers manning the alter were deeply asleep. She quickened her pace once more, stepping around the soldiers, murmuring a quiet prayer of gratitude.
As she neared the outskirts of the city the baby began to weep.
“No sweetheart,” she moaned, “You mustn’t cry now. We’re almost there.”
Day was beginning to dawn and the first early risers were emerging. Michal took a deep breath, trying to calm the thumping of her heart. If she were caught… the outcome was too gruesome to contemplate. She lifted her eyes heavenward,
“G-d, I’m doing this for you and only you. I don’t even know what I’m going to say to my husband when I return home. I have nothing to answer to him. I can just imagine his reaction when we wakes up and sees both of us gone. He might even hand me over to his Greek friends. I’m begging you dear G-d, please, please watch over me and my child. Keep us from harm.”
She frantically rocked her child, willing him to be quiet. Yet his cries intensified. The streets were beginning to become more populated and people were now staring at her hysterical baby. Michal pulled her kerchief lower over her head, praying that she not be recognized. The palpitations of her heart increased. She wasn’t going to make it… someone was going to report her and then it would all be over…
And then the city gave way to narrow pathways and rolling hills. Michal glanced over her shoulder and ascertained that she was not being followed. She sighed in relief yet continued her hurried pace.
It wasn’t long before she came to a large boulder. She knew that just beyond was a small cave and he was waiting there for her but how would she get it open? She shifted the baby over and tried moving the boulder aside but it was too heavy for her weakened body. She leaned against it, panting.
Then suddenly, she heard footsteps. She froze. So this was the end… Her thoughts ran in a disjointed manner. After all her precautions she was still going to get caught… someone had followed her all the way to the outskirts of the city… they were going to kill her and her baby…maybe her husband had found out…it was easier for him this way to get rid of his cumbersome Jewish wife… tears filled her eyes as she began to whisper the Shema.
“Michal, is everything okay?”
She lifted her head proudly. She was ready to die sanctifying G-d’s name. “Yes,” she said defiantly.
“Michal, are you sure? Do you know where you are?”
Michal blinked and looked up at the man in front of her. It wasn’t a Greek soldier. The tall lean figure, the long white beard, it was all so familiar. She gasped, “Oh Grandfather, I thought… I was so scared… I didn’t realize it was you!”
He chuckled. “That much I was able to tell. Now I assume you would have some trouble with this rock.”
“Yes,” she said stepping aside.
Without too much effort he moved aside the boulder and ducked into the small cave. She stooped down and followed him inside.
He looked at her gravely.”Now, you’re sure you want to do this?”
“Are you certain? It’s extremely dangerous.”
“Are you absolutely positive you want to do this?”
“Yes!” she cried desperately, “My son is Jewish and today he is eight days old. He must have a Bris!”
“Do you understand what were to happen if you were caught, heaven forbid? Do you know that if the Greeks find a child that is circumcised, they throw the mother and the child down from the top of the city walls? ”
“Yes, I fully understand the ramifications.” Tears glistened in her green eyes. “You said you would do this for me, why are you asking me so many questions? Please, go ahead. I want my son to be entered in the covenant of Avraham, I want him to be a real Jew.”
“If you say so.” He gave her a hard look one which she returned.
He saw her determination and nodded once. He produced a sharp knife and ran his fingernail against the blade and nodded once more.
“Hand me the child, please,” he said in a surprisingly gently voice.
Wordlessly, trembling, Michal handed her baby over. He lay the baby down on the rough floor of the cave and kneeled over beside him, ready to begin the ritual. Michal watched; her hands clasped tightly together, tears streaming down her face.
With a swift motion the circumcision was done. The cries of the baby filled the small space, echoing off the walls.
“And his name will be called in Israel…” he paused and looked up at her.
“Yochanan,” she whispered in a choked voice.
He bandaged him up and handed him back to his trembling mother. She rocked him gently and slowly his sobs began to subside
“Thank you,” she whispered her eyes upon her child.
“Quickly return to the city. It is still early. Remember to try to be casual, as if you’re taking your baby for a walk. Don’t do anything suspicious. May G-d watch over you.”
She looked up into his wise old face. “Thank you Grandfather.”
“Be well, may G-d be with you…”
…With a loud crackle the first candle waved goodbye. I sat, palm stuck to my cheek, watching as the other candles sputtered and died away.
Yet they remained blazing inside my heart and soul.
I felt invigorated by her Emunah and Mesirut Nefesh.
This wasn’t a story of long ago. This is a story that I was going to continue…