The Person Behind The Posts

Friday, January 12, 2024

Ninety-Seven Days


 Ninety-Seven Days

Ninety-seven walk through glue days.
In a row.
Soul rubbed raw.

For better or worse, the inside of everything is showing now.

My eyes are dust. The harshest images
defy tears.
I cry only from that which is tender.

Too much of this. Not
Enough of that.

Half my heart is severed.
And half soars towards redemption.


Thursday, January 04, 2024

Bearing Witness... While We Still Can (A Photoblog)


This is a map of Gaza and what Israelis call Otef Aza, the Gaza envelope. These are the Jewish communities that wrap around the border of Gaza and are within 7 Km (4 miles) of the rocket launchers in Gaza.

Today, along with dozens of other English-speaking Jews from the Greater Jerusalem area, we visited five of the sites connected with the massacre of October 7.

Our first stop was Kibbutz Be'eri, one of the communities that was the hardest hit. While waiting for kibbutz member Yardi Tzemach to show us some of the devastation of his community, I noticed on the sign that Kibbutz Be'eri was established in October 1946. That's nearly two years before the founding of the State of Israel.

The pastoral Kibbutz Be'eri had 1200 members prior to the morning of October 7, 2023. Twenty-seven hours later, approximately one in 12 kibbutz members were dead.

By the time our group arrived in early January, the bodies and blood had long ago been cleared away. This sign, as well as the Hebrew spray painted on the house announces that ZAKA, Israel's leading non-governmental rescue and recovery organization, certified the house as free of human remains.

What remained were the devastating signs of total destruction. Aside from the live artillery fire from the nearby war in Gaza, the first sound that impacted me was the jangling of nearly 50 pairs of human feet walking over shattered roof tiles. If you have ever been to Israel, you will likely recognize these as the mangled remnants of the distinctive orange roof tiles common to Jewish communities throughout the Land.

I bent over and took possession of a small piece of one of the tile fragments from one of the worst-hit homes, a somber souvenir.

Amidst the utter rubble, it is still possible to pick out what was once the family's oven and dishwasher, with dishes still inside.

Over and over, I was struck by the artifacts of normal life that somehow survived - spots of color amidst so much charred grey.

We heard the story of Yardi's brother Shachar who was one of a small number of men who fought against the terrorist invasion until 2:30 in the afternoon. Shachar was killed at the site of the kibbutz clinic just 30 minutes before the IDF arrived.

Our second stop was Shokeda, a religious moshav very close to Be'eri that was saved by an open miracle. On the morning of October 7, which was Shabbat as well as Simchat Torah, an IDF helicopter was downed, hit by Hamas fire, and landed in the fields of Shokeda. Fifty IDF soldiers emerged from the downed chopper and killed dozens of terrorists before they made it into the entrance of the moshav.

There's a lot of empty land in this part of Israel. Our next stop was a huge tract of land where thousands of cars that were shot or burned on October 7 were brought. At this site, mounds and mounds of burned out automotive carcasses were visible.

And in the middle of all of them, someone climbed up the pile of automotive rubble and planted an Israeli flag.
About six weeks ago, an unprecedented decision was made to bury the cars still believed to contain human remains.

From the car yard, we went to Re'im, the site of the Nova music festival. All across the site are small memorials to the nearly 400 festival goers who were murdered there.

This memorial marked the spot where the dead body of one of the bartenders, Yaron Efraim, was found.
Throughout the field are poles with pictures of the victims.
Some of the poles are further decorated with small remembrances, such as stones and candles.

On this sign bearing the names of the 394 victims, three additional names are handwritten on the bottom left.

Our last stop was just outside of the religious moshav called Shuva, not far from Netivot. In the early days of the war, one family of brothers started feeding soldiers coming directly from the battlefront in northern Gaza. Their early efforts have blossomed and now the site feeds thousands of soldiers each and every day.

After a very hard day, bearing witness to bitter barbarism, being pounded again and again by the price our fellow citizens - the maimed and murdered, the burned, the injured, the captives and the displaced are paying - Shuva was a carnival.

We dropped off the bags and bags of purchases we brought to donate to the Shuva store, where soldiers can come and take anything they need - from tea bags to toiletries to thermals.

Joyful music played. Volunteers cooked and served burgers to the soldiers. We heard from one of the brothers about how their humble project has grown and grown and how the people of Israel just want to help.

This sign reads: v'ahavta l'reacha kamocha - Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Rabbi Akiva says: "'You should love your fellow as yourself' is a basic principle of the Torah.”

It was, finally, at Shuva, enveloped in so much kindness, that I was overcome with tears. Click here to donate to the inspiring Shuva Brothers project.

Today, I witnessed the consequences of some of the most debased actions of humanity.

And I ended the day so fiercely proud of the inherent goodness of my people who, though battered and bleeding, want nothing more than to help.

NOTE: The government announced today that they will start allowing displaced citizens to return to their homes in certain parts of Otef Aza as early as mid-February. These trips will only be available for a short time. To join a trip scheduled for late January, contact Rabbi Moshe Rothschild at

Friday, December 01, 2023

Today I Borrow Strength From The Future


Ariel, Shiri and Kfir Bibas, Israel's most well-known hostages.

GUEST POST by Syma Steinberg Davidovich

I made the choice to peek in on the news during the “ceasefire”.

I thought that seeing hostages returning home would give me something to celebrate. My lips say thank You but my limbs speak other truths. My eyes leak and leak with salty, oh so salty! tears.

While I am grateful for every soul back in our borders, I am horrified by psychological warfare. My mind and heart travel to places that threaten my equilibrium. I’m distraught by parents forced to wait for their children to walk off the ambulances that deliver them to their safe embraces - how excruciating those moments of wait are!

My breath skips when I see Rimon Kirsht Buchshtav refuse to follow orders to smile and wave at her captures and instead with one look and gesture - energetically slaps him in the face.

May he rot in hell.

This is no less heroic than those small children who do smile and wave - how much strength does it take to do this for the cameras of the world stage???

I look at my beautiful ginger-haired babies and my heart aches for Kfir and Ariel and their mother Shiri; their names echo in the chambers of my twisted dreams.

How strong are our people! My voice is hoarse, screams left unscreamed, not even surprised by the terror attack in Jerusalem killing three and wounding others yesterday. (There is only truth and no chuckle to the joke - we cease and they fire.) Our enemies are many. Thank you HaShem for the revealed and hidden kindnesses and miraculous salvations taking place all around us.

My Chanukah box has been left, abandoned in the closet. I’ve been unable to muster the strength to pull out my decorations as I normally do on Rosh Chodesh Kislev. Today I pull it out. Today I borrow strength from the future. Today I unwrap the symbols of my faith — my ancestral DNA is packed with victories over all other heinous enemies and nations that threatened our survival. I dust off the chanukiyahs and remember that small lights conquered vast and deep darkness.

This is a war that has been won by our people many times, and I renew my conviction that we are participating in the last and Final Battle, and I know that it only ends in Hashem’s Glory. I can almost say “dayienu”when I pass the billboard covering the tallest hotel in the center of Jerusalem proclaiming “Shema Yisrael. HaShem Elokeinu. HaShem Echad.” a mantra that has been reverberating louder and more prominently throughout the generations and into this now moment, keeping to the beat of my heart.

I purchase pure olive oil to remind me of how abundant and prosperous and anointed and absolutely royal we all are. I breathe new life into our home full of this holy holiday spirit, and prepare to greet the Shabbos Queen, grateful that She is near again, and pray for more miracles to manifest.

Please HaShem, take these fragments of unfinished prayers and form them into a song of praise and hope.
Our home is blessed with the smells of holy rituals and traditions and the tears that continue to leak from my eyes, taste a little less salty.


Rosh Chodesh Kislev - the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev which generally falls in late November/early December. Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev.

- A reference to the 9-branched Chanukah menorah, as distinct from the 7-branched menorah in the Holy Temple.

Dayienu - Literally "enough". Dayienu is the refrain from a cherished song in the the Passover Haggadah.

Shema Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad -Literally "Listen Israel! The Lord is Our God. The Lord is One." Shema is the most basic and lifelong expression of faith and the one Jews teach their children as soon as they can speak.

Friday, November 24, 2023




Since the war started, I haven’t known what to say when, in greeting, a person inquires, “How are you?”

For weeks, I’ve been avoiding answering by saying, “Next question.”

It just occurred to me how I’m feeling.

I’m utterly raw.

I cry watching videos of soldiers on 12- or 24-hour leave surprising their children, grandmothers, parents and siblings. I cry watching videos of the endless kindness pouring out of my people. I cry when a non-Jew openly acknowledges that we Israelis are the good guys in this existential war.

These tears are prayer.

I feel sick reading about the moral darkness that exists in our world. I feel sick seeing people tearing down posters of hostages with a sense of righteous indignation. I feel sick witnessing the crude illiteracy of so many who actually believe they are standing up for what's right.

I wake up thinking about whether the women in captivity are sitting in bloody clothes when they get their periods, whether they are still being raped and how any of the hostages will recover any semblance of a normal emotional life if they get out alive, please God.

And I use my words and my imagination to manifest the Final Redemption as the concluding chapter of this nightmare.

How am I? 
I’m raw, perpetually alternating among competing emotions that cannot coexist.

My heart is in a ceaseless tug of war. 



Thursday, November 16, 2023

Days of Darkness and Also of Light

There was a terror attack near our home today. Three noxious beasts left Hevron this morning in a vehicle packed with axes, guns and copious amounts of ammunition. They were stopped at a security checkpoint before entering Jerusalem, the same checkpoint we pass through every time we travel to meet friends, go to a doctor's appointment or see a movie. 

All three savage terrorists are dead now. Before breathing their last, they managed to inflict gunshot wounds on five security officers. One of the soldier who was guarding Jerusalem died of his wounds. Others, including two civilians, were treated at the scene.

These repulsive, reprobate gunmen clearly had aspirations of killing lots of Jews today.

I found out about it as I was leaving for my volunteer shift at the local charity bookshop. The northern gate was closed, all the WhatsApp messages said. Try leaving through the southern gate.

I sailed through the southern gate. There was no traffic on the main highway. Five minutes later, I pulled into the neighboring community where the bookshop is located.

It was clearly not business as usual.

The yellow entrance gate was tightly sealed and the area was thick with army vehicles and security personnel. They denied entrance to the delivery truck in front of me. I was permitted to enter only after the officers checked my trunk.

The shift was a bust. None of the usual hum of customers, coming to stock up on reading material for Shabbat.

I left early.

As I reentered my community through the southern gate, I was rerouted by strategically placed roadblocks, clearly intended to slow entering vehicles. Right across from the guard house was a soldier, hidden behind sandbags, his gun loaded and pointed right at me.

And I was grateful he was there.

It's not normal, the things we get used to.

A few hours later, a soldier mom in our community posted that she and her husband were given last-minute permission to go see their son on his base in the south.

"Anyone have extra food for soldiers??" she asked. 

The replies flooded in.

"Ok, I'll make cookies now."

"I'll make rice."

"I'll make a tomato salad."

"I have care packages ready to go. How many and where to drop off?"

"Grilling eggplant for you."

"I just took out shnitzel and challah rolls."

"I have gluten-free tehina sticks I made for chayalim (soldiers) in the North. You can take it and I'll make more."

Points of light... an otherwise dark day.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

This Bread Is Moldy And I'm So Proud Of My People



My brain on Day 16 of war.

I need frozen broccoli
and I should go say ten chapters of Tehillim (Psalms).

The laundry basket is overflowing and the images of burned bodies I accidentally saw on social media are seared into my eyelids.

Our safe room needs to be stocked with bottled water and non-perishable food and how will life change when Moshiach (the Messianic Redeemer) comes?

I’m learning more Torah than ever before and maybe I can make challah rolls for chayalim (soldiers) on Thursday afternoon this week.

We need milk and how will I react if one of the bodies identified will be someone I know personally?

I have a work deadline to meet and if I die al kiddush Hashem (as a Jew in the Land of Israel) during this war, what will my soul experience?

I hear birds chirping and what will happen if Hezbollah opens a front in the North?

I should take a sweatshirt and please Hashem release the captives!

I shouldn't forget to take my vitamins and will I ever see my relatives in America again?

I'm looking forward to the winter strawberries and cauliflower and we need a plumber who isn't on miluim (reserve duty).

Have we bought enough bottled water for our war supply and I've been to the toilet five times this morning because that's how I experience stress in my body.

I need to go to a medical appointment in Jerusalem and I'm going to say Tefillat haDerech (the prayer for protection while traveling) with extra kavanah (focused concentration).

These sheets need to be changed and what is I24 News reporting today?

I can't keep up with my WhatsApp messages and are the hostages being tortured?

I have so much work to do and should I judge people who openly side with our enemies as malicious anti-Semites or merely misguided?

I need to charge my phone again and how are we supposed to understand the massive intelligence failure?

I need a shower and is this the war of Gog and Magog (the final war according to Biblical prophecy)?

This bread is moldy and I'm so proud of my people.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

An Art Story That Is Also A Jewish Story

Walking in the shuk in Jerusalem today, DH stops me at a vegetable stand. We have been to the shuk hundreds of times and I have never noticed this vegetable stand. Its walls are covered with photos of holy people.

All of them are men.

Then DH points something out to me. Could it be that there is actually one picture of a holy woman among the dozens of men?

When we lived in Baltimore, I had a small art collection. It was my personal rebellion against the overwhelmingly masculine images in the world of Jewish art. This was way before erasing women from magazines and advertising and vandalizing billboards with women's faces was commonplace. I was tired of seeing Jews represented as if we all looked like this:

Making aliyah required us to downsize significantly. We had to reduce our possessions from those that filled a normal American house to what would fit in a small Israeli apartment. Many of the art pieces in my carefully curated collection of Jewish women doing Jewish things had to go. I sold them for very little during one of our uncluttering sales.

I kept only my favorites, like this one:

This is who I hope to become some day - a God-fearing old woman who sits and recites Tehillim (Psalms) by candlelight.

I also kept this one. It's a Michoel Muchnik image called "Challah Ladies". It features the backs of two women baking challah.

And, of course, I kept these two needlepoint works that were done by my mother A"H.

All the rest, and there were at least a dozen more, I sold for next to nothing or gave away.

Until today, when two of the pieces I parted with almost 12 years ago were restored to me by a kind and generous friend in Jerusalem, to whom I had sold them back in 2010.

This image was done in 1966 by Ida Libby Dengrove. Can you imagine an image like this being created today, with a young girl reciting havdalah while her brother holds the kiddush cup and her mother holds the candle?! What connects me to this work even more is that Dengrove passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s at the age of 86, exactly my mother's A"H age and cause of death. 

Also restored to me today was this grand (36"x24") work. It's a numbered lithograph, also by Michoel Muchnik. It's called "Elisha's Blessing" and is based on the story in Melachim Bet (II Kings) 4:1-7. It's the only Tanach-based work I ever owned.

The backstory is that there was a young and destitute widow who Rashi identifies as the wife of the prophet Ovadiah (Obadiah). A creditor threatens to take her two sons into slavery if she does not pay her debt, but all she has in the house is a small jug of oil. The prophet Elisha instructs her to gather vessels from all her neighbors and start pouring from the small jug of oil she has. Miraculously, the oil continues to pour out and fill every vessel she borrowed. The miraculous abundance ceases only when she runs out of vessels in which to pour it. Elisha then advises her, "Go sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons will live with the remainder."

I close with
words I never expected I would write someday - a quote about art credited to 19th c. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Death Comes. The End. (Part II)

January 27, 2022

My sister does not eat blue M&Ms, so I go through her ziplock bag of M&Ms and pull out all the blue ones. I tell her I am performing a bluectomy.

This is the most successful thing I do for anyone today. 

When we arrive at Mom’s, she’s asleep. We fail to rouse her. After 15 minutes of trying, I sit down to say some Tehillim by her bedside. Every day, I drop a coin or two in a tzedaka (charity) box in the merit of her soul. There isn’t much I can do for her anymore. 

The CNA comes in while we’re there and she brings a bowl of what we think is puréed hamburger for Mom’s lunch. I think about how the pleasures of this world are over for Mom. She’s already left all that behind.

It makes me want to appreciate this world more while I’m still here, even though I believe the pleasures of the next world far exceed anything available to me here. I’m not ready to prove myself right just yet.  

I publish Part I of this journaling exercise and I am blown away by the number of people who tell me they have lived this exact experience. I tell L we have just been admitted to a club we didn’t know existed - the “Waiting For A Parent To Die” club.

L and I have been doing the daily Wordle so I tell her about the Mom/Wordle dream I have.

In my dream, you start with five green squares and have to work your way down to five grey squares.

Because dying is the mirror image of being born.


Feeling All The Things

January 28, 2022 

Last night I tell E I don’t see myself getting on that plane Sunday night and we discuss whether he should go home without me.

While she’s out grocery shopping this morning, L texts and asks me to call her. The hospice nurse has been in touch with her twice already this morning. Mom is showing signs of a dramatic decline. 

We unload the perishable groceries and rush to Mom’s bedside. Feeling all the things.

We see some of the signs. The blood is leaving her extremities. Her skin feels clammy and her limbs are cold. She hasn’t spoken a word since yesterday. She stopped eating. 

E says viduy (an end-of-life Jewish confessional prayer) and the hospice nurse tells us at this stage she isn’t expected to make it through the weekend. 

She opens her eyes and looks straight at me but doesn’t say a thing. She lifts her right hand in a wave and I so want to believe she is waving at the souls waiting to receive her. Later, she lifts her left hand in the same brief wave motion. 

It’s erev Shabbat. We can’t stay by her bedside indefinitely. She’s sleeping now, but was agitated enough, trying to climb out of bed. We get her something to calm her down.

Now she is sleeping. And when I walk out to get ready for Shabbat, I understand that it may well be the final goodbye. 



January 29, 2022

Shabbat passes on edge, waiting for the call that doesn’t come. After Shabbat, we learn that hospice has reclassified her from being in transition to actively dying.  

After havdalah (the ritual that marks the end of Shabbat), we drive to Mom and walk through the quiet and empty halls to her room, already feeling the heaviness of death.

She’s mostly still, with the endless chee-pop sound of the oxygen tank in the background. The TV from next door can be heard from the doorway. 

Mom starts making a gurgling sound and it’s scary not knowing what to do. I step outside because my fingers are itchy to write. When I step back in, L has done research and tells me it’s the death rattle. The website assures us that it isn’t painful for the dying person and sounds worse than it is. 

Emily and Betsy, residents of the memory care unit, hover near Mom’s door. I ask them to please not go in. They introduce themselves, shake my hand and say, “I’m sure we’ll meet again.” Then they quietly walk away. I am not at all sure we will meet again.

Right now, listening to the chee-pop and the intermittent death rattle, the dying seems about a million times worse than the death. 

We go to her side one at a time. I wish her a peaceful transition, as sweet as possible on all levels, with nechama (comfort) all around and, in so doing, I repeat wishes that have been shared with me. 

I gently kiss her forehead and somehow, I manage to walk myself out of the room. 

I do not expect to see her alive again. 


First, I Curse

January 30, 2022 

It’s 6:51 AM. I can’t fall back to sleep. My eyes are closed and I see a white light opening. The opening is not big and it does not last for long, but I want to believe it’s an echo of what Mom is seeing now. 

I fall asleep on the couch where I go to say Tehillim after falling back to sleep in bed proves unattainable. I hear my sister on the phone and I wake up to an update.  

Twelve to 24 hours they say. Come now if you want to see her before she goes, if you want to say goodbye, if you want to call a rabbi to pray. We agree among ourselves that we’ve already done all those things. 

Barely an hour later, it’s over. 

I call H, who is at work. Then I tell the kids. 

E has agreed to act as her shomer (guardian) until the funeral home arrives to take her body into their care. 

Moments before the call comes in, I make a bracha (blessing) after my breakfast. That will be my last bracha until after the burial. Now I am an onenet (a mourner between death and burial).

Very quickly, we discover that the Jewish funeral home is not prepared to honor their commitment for a fully Orthodox funeral. Their excuses are lame. I am livid beyond measure.

First, I curse.

I curse a lot.

Then we activate our network. We contact every Jew we think can help.

We do our best to get our mother's body transported from the non-Jewish funeral home's holding warehouse where she has been taken and get her where she belongs, with a shomer to stay with her through the night.

It takes hours. Dozens of calls and texts all over South Florida, Baltimore and Israel. Many curse words spill from my mouth into the air of my sister's kitchen. I can't cope with this level of indifference.

Finally, with the help of Chabad (God should bless the Chabad network all over the world), transport is arranged and the indignity is beginning to be ameliorated. I weep with relief when the local Chabad rabbi tells me that, by midnight, my mother will be where she is supposed to be and a shomer has been arranged.

I think the worst is behind us.

I am so wrong.

So Cold
January 31, 2022

I wake early so we can call and arrange for the burial today. Before 9 AM, our hopes are dashed. We are fed a litany of obstacles.

I know this isn't Israel, or even Baltimore, where such things would never happen, but I refuse to accept that nothing can be done today. I make some more calls. A family friend of a friend is sympathetic. In 45 minutes, he has solved the problems the official funeral director could not.

We are scheduled for a burial at 2:45 PM. We arrive at the cemetery and realize that the funeral home's general manager is aware of our case. He tells me he saw my Facebook plea for help. He shows us more compassion in one minute than we received from our assigned funeral director in the past 24 hours.

We are asked to identify the body. Originally, L and I decide that E will do that for us, but somehow, the three of us spontaneously walk, three abreast, to the open casket, holding hands for strength. I have tried to avoid looking at dead bodies my entire life. Today, I look at my dead mother's face. I see clay fragments over her eyes and mouth,
a symbolic reminder of the end of desire.

I touch her cheek.

She is so cold.

There are just four of us graveside and another 12 on Zoom. Just family. The funeral home sends every available Jewish man to the grave site to help make a minyan (prayer quorum). I note this gesture with appreciation.

E officiates at our tiny graveside service as if there are dozens of people present instead of just the four of us. He delivers a eulogy that is often funny and also deft in its avoidance of a sensitive family hot spot.

These words, the memories I share here, are my eulogy.

There is no ordinary shiva. Nearly everyone who knew Mom is already in the World of Truth. E and I are going home. Between Shabbat and bidud (quarantine), there will be no formal shiva.

Last night, while speaking with an old friend, I decide that the turmoil of the past 36 hours has been a way for me to earn a measure of spiritual merit. Hashem Himself caused the hardships thrown at us. Please God, my fight to preserve my mother's dignity restored something missing on my spiritual scorecard.

Rest in peace Ma.

Your work here is done.