Survival of the fittest. I sometimes wonder if that’s the reason I’m here in front of this computer, having these thoughts, writing these words. I’m talking about the Jews, of course. (When am I not?)
Is the gift of DNA the reason we’re still here—some sturdy genetic bonus we receive from God? Is that the reason our ancestors withstood the privations of their particular moments in time: the famines, the grinding poverty of the ghettoes?
Or maybe it’s about luck. About the person who just escapes the gas chambers by being fleet of foot and/or having a face anonymous enough to disappear in a crowd. Blond hair that marks one a Christian. A talent for accents. Ingenuity. Smarts.
Because even holiness cannot always save one. Think of all the famous rabbis who died in the Holocaust, their lines dying with them.
I don’t understand it and I don’t have the answers.
I don’t know much at all except that I’m here, you’re here, and it’s a miracle. And it must be we can take it.
It must mean we, the Jews, can take being the object of hate. The most hated. Most persistently hated people of all recorded history, and yet we survive. The hatred didn’t and doesn’t kill us. A small remnant of us remains, always remains, to carry on.
I am that remnant. We, the Jews, are that remnant.
But of course, it’s a responsibility. So I feel my pulse from time to time and wonder that it beats there, under my fingers, under my skin.
Like a Timex watch. I/we just keep on ticking.
Until something went wrong. Because something went wrong when this new wave of terror began with its daily litany of ramming attacks, knifings, stonings, and shootings. I developed a headache. The mother of all headaches, actually.
And it wouldn’t go away.
It shadowed me all day as I did my work, painful and brutal as I shared the news, as I mothered my children and was a wife to my husband. Even in my dreams, it was there, the headache, despite Tylenol PM or Migraleve, dogged, persistent, and unashamed.
And ashamed I was, for I’m too tough to let the obvious reason for the headaches affect me so.
It made me angry at myself, this obvious physical failing in response to terror. It meant that on some level, the terror was working. It meant that the terrorists had scored a victory by affecting my daily life.
At my husband’s urging, I saw my doctor. He gave me Imitrex. It too, did nothing to stop the headaches.
Every day my best friend Leora would ask me, “How’s the headache?” and every day I had to tell her there was no change.
And then Sunday, my colleague Brian of London asked a question, “Isn’t anyone going to write about the terrible murders?” And when I saw the question I knew without a doubt that it had to be me.
There was no getting around it.
I had to do it. I had to write about the Litmans and that was bad, because it was going to make me lose sleep. I would toss and turn thinking of my own words and how they had made that murder real to me, in a way that reading the news would not. I would dream of murder.
But it could not be avoided.
I was the one who had to write about the Litman murders, just as I had written about the Henkin murders, the murder of Adele Biton, the murder of Yemima Mosquera, and the murder of Chaya Zissel Braun. I had to write about Rabbi Yaakov Litman and his son Netanel because I’d written about the murder of Dalia Lemkus and the attempted murders of Ayala Shapiro, and Yehuda Glick. I’d written about the kidnapping and murder and funerals of our three boys.
I had become the murder specialist albeit self-appointed, just as my late uncle, sports
My headache pounded inside my head fiercely all that day, as it did every day, toughing out my work day, waiting for the evening when I could write that terrible murder piece. “How would I do it?” I thought as I’d thought every day since the Henkins were murdered. “How would I manage to churn out any decent copy with this terrible, awful, no-good headache?”
I didn’t know. I never know. All I know is I sit down and I start typing. And I type and I type and the words come until it’s done and I click the publish button.
And it was the first piece of writing I’d done in days that felt like anything real or true.
I didn’t think I’d sleep that night. I usually don’t after writing a blog like that. A terrible story, made real in my head, by my own words.
But to my surprise, I slept like a baby.
And the next day, it was late in the afternoon that my best friend Leora asked me, “Headache?” and though I started to write, “No change, thanx for asking,” I stopped and thought and that is when I realized that the headache was gone.
Just gone. Poof.
I was afraid to say anything, to jinx it. But I did tell her. And the only thing that had changed was that blog I wrote, with its terrible words. The words that rang true about a double murder on a road in the hills of Hebron and a wedding that wasn’t.
And that’s when I knew the reason that I am alive. The reason that I survived as a Jew. The reason that I can be here, writing these words.
The Murder Specialist
It’s because I’m the “murder specialist.” I’m the one who can write about murder. It’s a gift I wish were unnecessary, a gift that an end to terror and bloodshed would make redundant.
What a wonderful thing that would be: to have a terrible gift and never need it.
But unfortunately I had to write what I wrote, and once written and my duty discharged, my headache left me as sure as my hands are typing this blog piece.
I may never understand it. But there it is.
I wrote a blog and my headache is gone.