The news this past year has been daunting – that is as calm a word as I can come up with for what Israel has endured. From the brutal murder of three innocent Israeli teenagers, to the constant barrage of rockets coming at Israelis from all corners, to the land invasion that cost so many young Israeli soldiers their lives, to the new terrorist group with its far-reaching arm that has no moral values whatsoever.
Not only that, but the media reports just seem to keep coming at breakneck speed. Every minute an article is posted about a new anti-Semitic incident somewhere in the world – be it in France, South Africa, or a college campus in America. I am constantly checking my email for updates of unfolding situations. The reporting of the events is almost as staggering as the articles written by people with a degree in the mental health field about how we should handle the ongoing incidents. And, let’s not forget our rabbis, who have offered incredible words of chizuk (strength) while letting us know the appropriate tehilim (psalms) that need to be said. Also on our minds are the ads appearing in every Jewish publication on where to send money to organizations set up to help Israeli wounded soldiers and their families or others who have been affected by the tragedies.
I hate to admit it, but I, like many others, have become a bit obsessed with the enormous amount of information we continue to get every day that never seems to end. It reminds me of another time in my life when I was totally absorbed in an extremely difficult time in Jewish history. And that brings me to what is especially standing out in my mind now: the apology I owe my mother, a”h.
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Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was “hooked on the Holocaust.” By that I mean that I read every book or news report I could find about it. (This was before the internet, when I actually had to go to a library!) I became completely engrossed in what had happened to my people. As I was slowly discovering my own Jewish roots on my way to an observant life, I felt deeply connected to the horrors my grandparents’ generation had endured.
Coming from Little Rock, Arkansas, a town with a very small Jewish community, I felt empowered by what my relatives who left for America before the War were willing to give up for future generations. Yet something inside of me burned with anger. Why did this happen? People had put their lives in jeopardy to tell us about the concentration camps, so why was the world silent?
Of course, as a know-it-all teenager, I let my harsh opinions be known to the person I was closest to, my mother. My mother’s parents had escaped to America before the the Nazis destroyed the Jews in their Polish town. As I searched for my own answers to how a human being whom G-d had created had the capacity for such cruelty, I harangued my mother with questions and – dare I say it? – accusations that she didn’t do enough.
In the conversations we had about this subject, my mother told me the following: She was president of her Zionist organization in Detroit, and she and all her friends and family members spent hours every night writing letters to Congress; they held rallies to bring the situation to the forefront of the media; they davened (prayed) with fervent prayers; and, they tried to merit the release of the Jews in concentration camps by giving and collecting extra tzedaka (charity) and being extra careful in their daily dealings with others. She told me over and over again that they did everything and anything they could to get the message out about what was happening in Europe.
Yet nothing could pacify me. It wasn’t enough! (There is nothing like a headstrong teenager with a cause!) Heaven and earth needed to be shaken up. Didn’t my mother realize that? Surely…surely…they could have done more.
Fast forward 40 years.
My mother’s words, in those passionate conversations I had with her, have come back to haunt me. I am fired up with an intensity that does not even compare with my teenage outbursts. I feel so strongly that I must do whatever I can to help and protect my family and friends and Israelis and Jews living everywhere in the world. (I am sure what is really playing on my emotions is the fact that I am now a bubby, a grandmother! My need to protect my grandchildren has completely overtaken my emotions.)
I have tried through the social media network to spread the word about the true history of the Jewish State and the absolutely fake claims of the Palestinians. I have written letters to legislatures. I have taken on a new intensity in my tzedaka, teshuva, and tefila (charity, repentance, and prayer). And yet, even as my standards of Jewish activism and religious observance have reached a new milestone, I feel that somehow, I need to do more. I try to keep in the forefront of my mind my mother telling me that we should do whatever we can when we see that Jewish lives are being threatened, but we should always remember, no matter what the outcome, that Hashem runs the world.
What truly saddens me, though, is the thought of all the agmas nefash (emotional pain) I must have caused my mother by challenging what she did at another crucial time for the Jewish People. I feel sorry to have caused her so much emotional pain. I can only pray that my mother knows that the intensity with which I am pursuing all possible means to help Am Yisrael, is a direct result of the passion and love for the Jewish People that she instilled in me. My mother’s love for Israel and the Jewish People knew no bounds. I now know that she passed on those passionate genes to me, and I will continue to fan the flames for my children and grandchildren.
I was, unfortunately, not able to attend the support rally for Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington, D.C., but a few months earlier, I did attend the New York Stands with Israel Community-Wide Rally. I truly felt my mother’s presence as I clung to a small Israeli flag that was once hers. I waved it high in the air when the crowd shouted, “Am Yisrael Chai.” Clutching her flag close to my heart, I said a silent prayer that she was looking on from a special place in Heaven and somehow knows that all she tried to do many years ago was definitely good enough.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Leba bas Eliezer, a”h.
Rebecca Bram Feldbaum is the author of two books, If There’s Anything I Can Do… (Feldheim, 2003) and What Should I Say, What Can I Do? (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She is a popular speaker who draws on her personal experience to teach women’s groups how to help families going through a medical crisis or suffered a loss. Rebecca Bram Feldbaum©2015