hope and a heart in tatters

HOPE

Do not be daunted by

the enormity of the world’s grief.

Do justly, now.

Love mercy, now.

Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated to complete the work,

but neither are you free to abandon it.

~ The Talmud

My husband came home from leading Shabbat services yesterday, walking into our home more quietly than usual. His voice barely more than a whisper, he called me into our bedroom to tell me something out of earshot of our children. I thought he was going to tell me that his mother had died, since he was flying out that afternoon to see her.

“There was a massacre in a synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning,” he told me. I looked in his eyes and wrapped my arms around him, and he began to sob as I held him. This strong, calm man who is a leader in our Jewish community; who has a way of maintaining equanimity through the most difficult times. My husband who is a head taller than me and at least one and a half times my weight let me do the only thing I could do in that moment – hold him. Cry with him.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he began exchanging messages with his colleagues, conversations about security, about protecting our children at religious school the next day, about how we come together as a community in spite of, or perhaps to assuage, our fear. He was still sending these messages as I drove him to the airport, and when I dropped him off.

Then I went to run an errand before heading home to our children. Roaming stunned and aimless through the store, I found this little sign, one small but tenuous word: HOPE. This small thing was suddenly the most important thing in the store to me, and I held it as I continued on to get what I had come for. I brought it home and put it on the bookcase in my sunroom.

HOPE

This morning I drove our children to Sunday school at our congregation, the one my husband leads. I reminded my teenager to be aware of her surroundings and to let an adult know if she saw anything suspicious. I let my five-year-old remain unaware of how cruel people and the world can be, for a little while longer.

I parked my car behind one of the two police cars in the parking lot, the one with red and blue lights blinking. The parking lot was full. Parents and children streamed into our synagogue. Our emeritus rabbi and our cantor and a member of our board welcomed families as they arrived. We exchanged hugs.

THE PARKING LOT WAS FULL.

FAMILIES STREAMED IN.

Unintimidated, undaunted, even amid our collective fear and the weight of our sorrow.

Police officers patrolled the area, ensuring our safety. Everybody was talking about Pittsburgh. About antisemitism, about nationalism, about racism and discrimination and fear and fear and fear.

So much fear.

Of the other.

Of each other.

I am proud to be Jewish; I always have been. And today I am scared to even write this, to declare so publicly, in this space that anyone can read, that I am a Jew. Today in America, and in our world that feels like it is on a collision course with nationalism and authoritarianism, that is terrifying to declare.

But…

I am the grandchild of Holocaust survivors and so is my husband. My family on both sides were forced to leave their homes in Poland and in Egypt as refugees in the late 1940s. I work with and on behalf of today’s refugees; today’s immigrants and victims of violence who are here seeking refuge. I have a black son; his ancestors came to this land in chains.

We are Jewish.

This is personal.

And my silence only helps to let them win. But darkness can’t win, and neither can fear. That is not what my grandparents survived for.

So until my heart feels less in tatters and hope feels less tenuous, I’ll keep looking at the little sign on my bookshelf and I’ll remember this:

In my heart, LOVE WINS.

 

Advertisements

ports of call

IMG_1299.JPG

“Have you been to Brindisi?”

His eyes grow wide, he smiles, and there is recognition.

“Of course! Brindisi, Izmir, Haifa, Ashdod, Piraeus, everywhere!

“My father is from Egypt.”

“He is, really?”

“Yes. My family is Jewish, they were forced to leave Egypt in the late 1950s when the country was nationalized.”

His traveler’s eyes – which have seen every port of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf – remain wide.

“My grandmother and her second husband – he was in the shipping business – they moved from Alexandria to Venice. Then to Beirut, then to Haifa, and then to Brindisi. She lived 50 years in Brindisi and is buried there.”

“Brindisi is at the very bottom of Italy. I have been there many times.”

“Yes, on the edge of the heel of the boot. I visited her there.”

****

He was a ship’s captain for thirteen years. Large ships, ocean liners and cruise ships. He tells me about all the people he met from all over the world, fellow lovers and laborers of the sea. People of all religions but you kept religion and politics separate. He has seen what happens when you don’t.

He looks like a sailor. Hearty. Warm. Bright. Strong.

Again, that quality I continue to encounter in the refugee communities I work with: resilience.

He tells me that he swam across a river to escape his country, through one new country and into a third. His wife is still in that third country, where they met, waiting for the right visa to join him permanently.

He tells me that he has a green card but no passport. I understand what this means: He is stateless. Like my father and his family when they had to leave their Egyptian passports and nationality behind.

Refugees.

He can’t work on a ship again until he becomes a citizen.

“Perhaps in two years,” he says.

****

He asks me if I think he should try to apply for refugee status in another country, in Europe, where maybe they help refugees more. (Perhaps he is wondering if there is a place where maybe he can be more sure of what the future holds for refugees?)

“My friends in Germany, they get help paying for apartments, for medical care, for education.”

I suggest that he not do anything right now because everything is changing daily. I make sure he knows not to leave the U.S. right now, though I know he can’t without a passport to elsewhere.

We look at education programs because he wants to learn about something completely different in the meantime, something practical when you live far from the sea, far from your profession.

He tells me that if he were twenty years younger when he had come to the U.S., instead of in his late thirties, he thinks he would have more opportunities, more possibilities ahead of him.

Then he says, “I have one more question. Can you help me understand why the gas company takes so much money from me every month? I am just one person.”

We spend the rest of our appointment switching gas companies to cut his bill in half. I find a coupon code that gives him an extra $100 in account credit.

This makes him very happy, because an extra $50 a month is a lot, not just on principle.