Sharing Sorrow

God, in His infinite wisdom, created human beings with the ability to feel, to empathize, to share sorrow and joy. How many times have you told people that your happy occasion was enhanced by having them share in it? How many times have you felt comforted by a gentle hand, a warm hug, a sympathetic smile?

Last night as I was mixing the challah dough I prepare each week, my phone began to beep. I will admit, I have PTSD (post trauma stress disorder). Not diagnosed, but there, as it is for so many Israelis. It is the way I react to emergencies, and most especially sirens. I’ve lived here for more than 20 years. I hear sirens long after they pass by on the highway far below my city. They echo in my head and I think I’m still hearing them so I stop and listen carefully only to find there is no sound at all.

When I’m outside and I hear an ambulance siren, I stop and watch, wait, count. One ambulance is a woman giving birth, I tell myself, and wish her well. Two ambulances are a car accident; I hope they’ll be okay.

Three ambulances flying up the mountain to Jerusalem means a terror attack. Of course, it doesn’t. It could be an accident involving a bus or truck. It could be anything but automatically I remember all the times that it was an attack; a restaurant, a mall, a bus exploded. So many times; so many dead and injured.

My heart begins to race; I fumble for my phone to check the news. I have heard explosions and checked the news; it takes a horrible few minutes until the first map appears on the television screen or the first sound of the radio speaker stopping to say, “there are reports of an explosion…” and so those first minutes are always the worst. What has happened? Why won’t you tell me?

There is a tone in the voice of the speaker as the attack is announced. It is mixed with so many emotions. Perhaps I am projecting and the emotions I hear are the ones that come from within. There is shock. No matter how many times it happens, I am still shocked. I want that shock. I never want a day to come when I am not. And as the shock settles down, there is pain and sorrow and worry. Who? How many? Oh God, not again.

There is anger, such anger. Why? Babies hurt or babies left as orphans. “What madness possesses you?” I want to scream at the terrorists. What do you gain? How will this help?

So the phone beeped last night and I saw first that there had been an attack with dozens wounded. My heart started to race, as it does at times like this. My stomach churned. France…France. It happened there, not here.

nicecrashAnd the pain didn’t lessen, the anger, the shock. That’s what I want to tell you. It didn’t change just because the injured are technically “yours” and not “mine.” Yes, I will admit the worry lessened a bit. The chances that I would know anyone dramatically dropped to close to zero. My husband is home, my children all safe. Thus it is with human beings, and I won’t apologize for that.

But what I will offer to Nice and to the French people is what I have learned over my twenty years in Israel. Don’t let the anger consume you. Today, the sun rose over your beautiful country, as it did over mine. Today, you are free in a way that they never will be. You have the capacity to celebrate life; something they don’t. Life is your ally, hate and death is theirs.

Today, the pain will consume you, the anger choke you. Years later, you will remember where you were when this happened, what you were doing. Stop at this horrible moment and look around you. See who cries with you; remember who celebrates your agony.

Israel shares your sorrow. Deep down inside, I want to ask why you don’t seem to share in ours, but I won’t right now because your pain is all-consuming, and I feel it from here. They were innocent people; families out celebrating. They did nothing wrong. It doesn’t matter why they were walking there or where they live.

If they lived in Paris and not Nice, would that change the horror? If they came all the way from Jerusalem or London or New York, would that justify killing them?

What you know in your heart right now, you have to remember after the shock fades, after life returns, as it always does, to normal. There is no justification for terror – no matter where the girl’s bedroom was, no matter where the father was driving, no matter what avenue they chose to walk down to celebrate on what should have been a wonderful day in France.

I think I will always count ambulances; always grow tense and apprehensive once I see more than one racing to some tragedy. I will also always mourn the deaths of innocents in terror attacks – no matter who they are, where they come from, when or how they were attacked.

The only thing I will not question is the “why”? There is no “why” in a terror attack. It really is that simple. I don’t care why this Tunisian Muslim rammed his truck into hundreds of people, killing at least 80 of them. I don’t care why Saudi terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center. I don’t care why Palestinians shot Rav Miki Mark or stabbed Hallel Yaffa Ariel.

Their “reasons,” their “justifications,” their “explanations,” are an obscenity as innocent people lie bleeding on the ground…and it really doesn’t matter where that ground is.

From New York to Washington to Jerusalem to London. From Tel Aviv to Kiryat Arba to Otniel to Afula. From Brussels to Madrid to Bali to Istanbul and now to Nice. There is no justification for terrorism. It isn’t about the occupation; it isn’t about God. It isn’t about some perceived injustice; and it isn’t about finding a path to peace.

It honestly doesn’t matter what it is about. All that matters is that 80 people were murdered last night, hundreds wounded and terrorized. All that matters is that today, Israel and people around the world share in your sorrow.

Today, there are only two groups of people in the entire world. Those that mourn, and those that celebrate. France, open your eyes and see these groups. Europe, take notice. America, remember.

Israel shares in your sorrow and we pray for the speedy recovery of all those who were hurt.

May this be the last time. Yes, yes, I know it won’t be. But like the PTSD, hope springs eternal. I always hope and pray that they will realize that all this violence, all this hatred, all this terror, really won’t deliver their greatest wishes. They won’t destroy us.

Tomorrow, even today, the sun will shine. We will go out and buy food and prepare for the weekend. We’ll celebrate the summer and prepare for the fall. We’ll bundle up in the winter and wait for spring and year after year, we will live free while they remain prisoners of a backward and misguided theology that has nothing to do with what God really wants from any of us.

Today, decide what group you want to be in – mourn or celebrate – and hope, desperately hope, that this time the world will notice. Hope and pray that this will be the last time we bury innocents who did nothing wrong. And remember, there are many who share in your sorrow, who send our condolences and our prayers.


Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.

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