This column was filed on Jan. 29 — or, as my Israeli cousins know it, day 115.
On day 112, one of them wrote on Facebook (translated from Hebrew): “Our lives stopped on the 7th of October. Time is frozen and we are not yet [at] the day after. And despite this I know that everything has its time and things will happen. There is time for everything except one thing, those whose lives hang by a thread.”
I knew little about these cousins before Oct. 7, before 10 names on my family tree became victims of the Hamas-led terror attack on Kibbutz Be’eri, one target among kibbutzim, towns, and a music festival in an area Israelis call “the Gaza envelope.”
Within two weeks, the bodies of two men and a woman — residents of Be’eri, people roughly my age — were identified. Absent from their funerals were seven other family members who had been kidnapped and were being held hostage in Gaza.
Six of the seven — women and children representing three generations — were released on Nov. 25. A 39-year-old (his birthday was on day 116) husband and father of two children remains one of 136 hostages.
The Facebook post continued: “Tal is still there and like many others — men, women, children, young and old — they don’t have time. Every second that passes is [an] eternity. Every minute that passes their lives are in danger. Every day that passes, we hear about those who will never return, [as if they were] left to die there and the heart is broken over and over.”
I am grateful for the contact I have with several of the Israelis cousins, but from a distance of several thousand miles, I would not pretend to comprehend the grief, fear, and anxiety these people have experienced.
The Facebook post ended with this request: “Take 136 seconds, one second for each and every one who is still there and do nothing. Don’t even close your eyes, just look at what’s in front of you on the wall or anything. Put on a timer and do nothing. To me it feels like an eternity. It’s not easy. I keep thinking, how much time has passed? When will it end? They have been there for 112 days like this.”
I have been to a few Jewish gatherings lately and, while I continue to hear discussion of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, I hear less about the hostages than I did one month ago or two months ago.
Rabbi Spike Anderson at Temple Emanu-El in Sandy Springs was experiencing something similar. At the Jan. 12 Shabbat service that hosted state legislators and other public officials, he observed: “. . . in the beginning of early October, getting the hostages back was always part of the conversation. A ceasefire and getting the hostages back. Getting Hamas and getting the hostages back. Well, part of our frustration is that the hostages actually seem to have disappeared from the conversation.
“Why aren’t they first? Why isn’t everything we say, ‘Tell Hamas to let go of the hostages and then we will . . . Or tell the international community to put pressure on to get the hostages back and then we will . . . Tell the Red Cross to get to the hostages, to get them medicine and check on them and then we will . . . ‘ But that’s become secondary, tertiary, marginalized, or has disappeared from the conversation,” he said from the pulpit.
That is why, he continued, the rabbis at Temple Emanu-El decided that during “every single service we are going to have a prayer for our hostages to be returned so that, perhaps we are affecting some sort of divine outcome, but certainly we’ll keep it in our minds and our hearts, the forefront of our intention, that our thoughts and actions and attitudes and advocacy should be to get these hostages back.”
During a conversation a couple of weeks later, Anderson said that the decision was motivated by a feeling that, in the media — and among Jews — “the hostages were being talked about less and less and we thought it was incumbent on all of us to recommit to keeping the hostages front and center.”
Accompanying the cousin’s Facebook post was a drawing by Tal’s eight-year-old son — who endured 50 days in captivity before he was released along with his mother, younger sister (who turned four without her father), and grandmother, as well as a great aunt and her daughter.
The character in the boy’s drawing is praying: “How I wish that my father will return.”
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) says, “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the world.”
For an eight-year-old, that one life is at the center of his world.
For the rest of us, those 136 lives must remain front and center in the conversation.