Tuesday, March 5, 2024 -
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Find light in dark times

It’s been a few years since I’ve had babies and toddlers in my house 24/7 for more than a week, so I was out of practice when my daughter, The Lass, came to our apartment the day after the Simchat Torah massacre with her two girls, aged two and 11 months.

Her husband, along with 360,000 other reservists — including my three sons — were called up, so it was only logical and good that she come and stay with us.

But, as I said, it’s been a long time, and I was constantly thinking of creative ways to keep the girls busy, especially the two-year-old, whom we’ll call Shirley (as in Shirley Temple). The attention span of a two-year-old is not that great, so there was a need for activity.

When I made the morning coffee, I had her spoon out the ground beans. When I made the bed, I had her help tuck in the sheets. When I made a salad, she held the various vegetables. The trick: always keep her engaged.

But the highlight of the day — the best activity of them all —was throwing out the trash.

“Shirley, do you want to come with Saba to throw out the trash,” I’d say and head for the door. She’d see me and come running with a broad smile, saying “tiyul, tiyul” (outing, outing).

She loves tiyulim, and I love that I can convince her that a walk to the garbage bin is akin to an amusement park ride.

On the way back from one of these tiyulim, I saw a friend in a car parked outside our apartment building.

“What are you doing,” he asked.

“Throwing out the trash with my granddaughter,” I replied.

“That’s just beautiful,” he said, laughing. “I’m sure it’s something she’ll always remember.”

No, she won’t remember. G-d willing, she won’t remember this horrible period either, when her father was absent from home for weeks and her mother, like young mothers across the land, was admirably trying to keep it all together, to keep the children feeling that everything was normal, even though it wasn’t.

Shirley won’t remember this, but I certainly will.

I will remember how her innocent presence brought some joy in dark times, but how looking at her sweet face also brought some sadness: sadness that there are monsters nearby who want to kill her, sadness that her father was in harm’s way, sadness that my daughter has to fret about her husband’s safety.

There is so much pain and sorrow in this country right now, so many people suffering, it is almost unbearable. Were it not for the stories of heroism and altruism and a people finally coming together and Shirley’s “tiyul, tiyul,” it would all be unbearable.

The emotional weight everyone is carrying is extraordinary. Those who feel it the most are those directly affected: the friends and family members of the murdered and kidnapped.

The rest of the country is also deeply affected, and it is a two-fisted punch.

One punch is the pain, sorrow, mourning, and sense of grief that everyone feels nationally. It is a soul-crushing heaviness.

The country’s mood — with the tales of the battles, the stories of the heroism, the interviews with family members, the names of the fallen, and the melancholy music — feels like it does each year on Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, only many times worse.

Except that on Remembrance Day one knows that it is only for 24 hours and will end with the celebratory ushering in of Independence Day. What we are experiencing now is a Remembrance Day that goes on and on and on.

The other punch is the personal worry and anxiety that so many are experiencing. On top of the national grief, concern and frustration, there is the wrenching concern for one’s own sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, husbands and wives fighting and training, and away from home.

During Operation Cast Lead, I had one son in the army and in Gaza. Today, I have three sons and a son-in-law all poised and waiting for whatever may come. They, too, have sons and daughters. It’s worry and anxiety taken up to a whole new level.

“How do you cope?” asked one of those childhood friends whom I haven’t heard from in years, but who kindly sent a message of concern after the massacres.

“You cope because you must,” I wrote back.

You also worry incessantly because there is a lot to worry about.

You also work a lot to keep the mind occupied and prevent it from thinking the worst —though working in the news business isn’t always the best way to do this.

And you talk to the boys, uplifted by the conversations.

I love hearing about all the toiletries they are getting; about having so many pairs of socks donated that they wear one pair a day and then just toss them out the next; about the food prepared by a Tel Aviv chef on one day, and by a Moroccan grandmother on another; about the boots and ceramic vests and watches without a GPS signal and goggles that have all been donated.

That all lifts the spirits.

I love to hear the stories of the high morale, the camaraderie, the melting away of any right-left, religious-secular divisions, the 150% mobilization, and the entertainers who come to sing to the troops.

But most of all, I just love talking to them, hearing their voices, optimism, motivation, pride and patriotism.

A couple of days after this all started, my wife turned to me and said of our move to the Jewish homeland some 40 years ago:

“Thanks for taking me to Israel.”

With three sons in uniform and a daughter with two young children who has temporarily moved in with us as her husband was fighting terrorists, I thought she was joking and being sarcastic.

She wasn’t.

Is that crazy?

No, it’s peoplehood.

Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post.

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Herb Keinon, a Denver native, interned at the IJN before going on to a career at the Jerusalem Post, where he is a senior contributing editor.

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