Days of Comfort
By Sarah Allen
I just came back from Mt. Scopus for the annual ceremony marking the bombing of the Frank Sinatra cafeteria at Hebrew University.
When I was working at Hillel, I went almost every year. How could I not? It happened right outside my window– the bombing and the ceremony. Every year is significant, but this year marks ten years since that day when so many lives were changed forever. Time is a funny thing. While it feels like that day was long ago, it also, at the same time feels like yesterday.
In the narrative of my life in Israel, I think of July 31 as “pigua day.” It’s a bit irreverent, but in the story I tell myself, it is the day I wasn’t there, and still the day that my life changed. I was in Kiev that day, traveling with two students to a Jewish family camp in Crimea. The text message on my phone from a colleague said “There was now a bomb at Frank Sinatra.” The next few hours are a blur as I tried to get information, call loved ones, and find out who was injured, or G-d forbid, dead. When I found out– also by text message– that two of those killed were Pardes students, it was almost too hard to breath. The terror we had all been experiencing for almost two years was now hitting closer to home than it ever had. Not only had my beloved city and country been suffering, but now the place that was safest, that was home in so many ways had been touched. And those Pardes students, who my life had intersected with– they were my age, they were me, we had the same friends, and I wasn’t going to get to know them…and it could have been me. At that point, it could have been anyone I knew and loved and cared about, or anyone they were connected to that I knew and loved and cared about. It was truly terrifying..and paralyzing, and I wasn’t even in the country. My first instinct was to come home. I desperately wanted to be in my own house, my own bed, my own community. An older, wiser, and more experienced colleague told me that the work we were doing in Ukraine with Jewish families was Avodat Kodesh (holy work). No one would be upset if I decided to come home, but the Jewish people needed me more in Ukraine than in Jerusalem. The rest of my two weeks in Ukraine are a blur, as are the weeks following my return to work and life in Jerusalem.
July 31 usually coincides with the three weeks between the 17 of Tamuz and Tisha B’av. Sometimes it is during, sometimes directly after. This year, it falls in the week of comfort after Tisha B’av. To think about comfort ten years ago, was almost impossible. How are we comforted after such a traumatic event? What are the blessings in our lives that can provide comfort, when it feels so hard to leave house in the morning? When I think about then, and now, there is so much in which to find comfort. Hillel was a warm and embracing place, and I am grateful for the 8.5 years I worked there, and was able to grow, succeed, fail, cry, and rejoice. Walking into the building today was a moment of coming home and comfort. My community, friends, and family who were and still are always there– checking in, expressing concern. The amazing people I have been privileged to collect over the years in this wonderful, confusing, exciting, frustrating, challenging, vibrant place we call Israel.
And I am comforted also that this day will end, just as every day does. A day that never leaves me, but also only comes once a year.
I hope you are well where ever you are. Nachamu, Nachamu Ami, may we we be doubly comforted following this time of mourning.
Sarah Allen is a staff member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the daughter of Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA. Sarah currently resides in Jerusalem.