I write this out of my house, but hoping to get back in this afternoon… Though new flare ups have just erupted in the Lake Sherwood area of Westlake. No, I am not there… but too close for comfort.
While my neighborhood still has some hot spots and flare ups, my house is still standing. I thank Hashem, I thank my amazing neighbors, who literally put out fires by hand when the firefighters were not able to be there. I thank the firefighters and first responders, who literally put their lives on the lines for all of us. I thank the pilots of the tankers and helicopters. I thank law enforcement who stopped would be robbers and looters from coming in and taking advantage of our empty neighborhood. I won’t let my brain go to that sick behavior… But boy, if I was there…
I was able to safely evacuate and take some important things with me, and while my Tallis and Tefillin, Siddur and Chumash were all grabbed right away, I will admit there were a few days I could not wrap. I said the Modeh Ani and Shema… I prayed like I have never prayed before, every day, but with hands shaking and mind jumping, I could not do it. When I was able to wrap again, I could feel my body literally wrapped in warmth and protection. I was not ashamed, per se, of not wrapping… but I was disappointed in myself. Then again, my level of stress was off the charts. I could barely have conversations with people, did not want to be social at all, and was getting mad at friends and family wanting status reports when I had none. I suppose this is all a natural reaction to an extreme circumstance, but I felt weak and a bot pathetic. Clearly I need to learn, or re-learn how to deal with stress and extreme circumstances. All they were doing was trying to stay connected to me, and keep me focused, and all I wanted to do was hide.
And yet, there was another battle inside of me… Along with the constant prayers, was the constant question… Why? Why were people dying? Why did the Jewish camp my daughter and Stephanie attend go up in flames? Why were so many houses destroyed? Why did so many people lose everything?
Keep in mind, that this comes on the literal heels of a tragedy in the same community, when on Wednesday, November 7… less than a week ago… 12 people were brutally murdered. We had less than 24 hours to mourn for them when we had to evacuate.
And THIS comes on the heels of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, and is the 12th mass shooting since 11 people were murdered at the Tree Of Life Synagogue… All in all “79 people have been shot from Watertown, New York, to Los Angeles.” That is SINCE Tree Of Life. Why? WHY???!!!
And of course on the news… well… on very limited news other than in Israel… Hamas has launched over 300 rockets into Southern Israel, killing Israeli civilians… WHY???!!!
I know there are things we cannot understand, but this is almost too much. One thing after another, after another. And when we are hopefully sitting back inside our homes, we will feel saddened for the loss of others… heartbroken. We will mourn for those shot and killed… be worried and in mourning for our beloved community, here and in Israel. It is too easy to feel helpless and lost… too easy to ask why?
So better questions are: What can I learn? What can I do? How can I move forward and be better? This picture says it all… It is all that remains of Gindling Hilltop Camp… Yet, if you look closely, you can see life… birds on top of the Menorah. The literal sign that Judaism gives us life and hope.
While my head is spinning, I take comfort in this and the following words sent by Rabbi Ron Li-Paz and Chaplain Jennifer Nye
“Dear G-d, we look forward to a time where disaster gives way to peace. Please help us to feel Your presence, sheltering us in safety and in love. May we be held in compassion, may our hearts and minds be eased, and may we feel fortified and comforted in our community’s strength and resilience.”
I take comfort in knowing that Chabad Of Conejo and Chabad Of West Hills, and other local shuls like Or Ami and VOS, and the Federation and AISH are offering their help in both collecting donations and offering emotional support. I take comfort in the kindness of loved ones and strangers… and so I will put aside the “why” for now… Sometimes it is not for us to know or understand, as frustrating as that may be… We have some control over the why, but mostly we don’t.
So I will be humble and grateful, heart-broken and heart-filled.
And may we all get back to this very soon… Amen.