My younger sister and I have always been very close. In middle school, after spending a summer apart, we missed each other so much that as soon as the school year started we spent as much time together as possible, even having “sleepovers” in the living room or in one of our bedrooms rather than being separated.
In 2013, Melanie made aliyah and joined the Israeli Army as a fitness instructor. She’s very short, so it was almost comical watching her help men twice her size with their squats or bench press. I worried about her a little, and it was hard for us to be away from each other, but we spoke on the phone almost daily and, as a Lone Soldier, she was provided with a month of leave each year to return to Boston.
Today, Melanie teaches physical education and nutrition at school by day, and in the evenings coaches just about every sport imaginable for youth at risk and teaches yoga and personal training sessions for adults. She lives in the center of Tel Aviv, and her feistiness, depth of heart, and inability to take no for an answer make her a perfect fit for the city.
My sister attends at least 10 festivals each year, often as a yoga or health instructor. A day does not go by that I am not grateful she did not attend the Nova Music Festival on the weekend of October 7. Since the beginning of the war, Melanie’s life has shifted from school and personal training to teaching and caring for displaced children and educating activists on what Israelis are experiencing.
But I’ve noticed a shift in her emotionally as well. Now, it is difficult for her to divulge her feelings, as the horrors and trauma become too real when put into words. My heart breaks for every innocent life brutally and barbarically taken, and my soul aches for that bit of my sister’s light that may never return. At the same time, I am inspired by her volunteerism and strong activism and am filled with immense gratitude that, if I were in Israel, I would still be able to hug her.
I am constantly oscillating between the anguish of grief and worry and a sigh of “Thank God Melanie is safe.” I’m praying much more nowadays. Not because I feel grounded in God’s presence or embraced by God’s love, but because prayer is the only context in which I am able to release at least some of these overwhelming emotions.
I begin with Modah Ani. I am so grateful, not only for my body and my soul—for my safety—but for my sister’s. In the Amidah, from my place of despair, I admittedly rebuke God within my soul as I yell out, “Adonai Matir Asurim (Freer of the Captives)” in an attempt to remind God of our expectations. As we return to the Torah, we sing together, “Hashiveinu Adonai Eilekha V’Nashuva, Hadeish Yameinu K’kedem – Turn us toward You, Adonai and we will return to You, make our days seem new, as they once were.” My deep yearning for the days before October 7 becomes alive with these lines. From one piece of liturgy to the next, I do not hold back.
In this week’s parashah, Vayera, Avraham also does not hold back. In the face of God’s condemnation of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their depravity, Avraham confronts God over God’s willingness to destroy the two cities. Concerned about the innocent people living within their borders who would also be lost, Avraham challenges God’s very intentions.
Today, it feels like we are living in a parallel world. In our moments of darkness, let us carry Avraham’s interaction with God and use it as a vehicle of understanding, that we do not have to, and cannot accept, the current reality. As we enter Shabbat, may we pray with this piece of Torah in mind and may we not hold back.