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Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazeik

05/26/2022 10:39:13 AM


Sarah Avner, Cantorial Soloist

This past Tuesday, May 23rd – three years ago - was a monumental day in our family’s history. Our daughter, Rebekah, attended her last day of middle school. Here is what I wrote to go along with a photo of her first day of kindergarten and, of course, a photo from that last morning of middle school:

“In order to have a new beginning there needs to be an ending. Today is not only Rebekah’s last day of middle school it is also her last day in Round Rock ISD. This girl is off to Israel in September, joining her brother at the Mosenson School in Hod Hasharon. As her parents, Jonathan and I couldn’t be more proud of this spicy, articulate, loving, funny young woman.”

As I write this Rebekah is coming to the end of her most challenging year in Israeli high school, grade 11. This is the year when the hardest state sanctioned tests are given. These are the grades that will culminate on her school record for her university applications when she finishes her time in the army and moves onto her next phase of learning. This weekend will be one of relaxation, time with her host-family, and cherry picking.

News of this week’s tragedy at Ross Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas has made its way to Israel. Yesterday I received a WhatsApp message from Inbal (the remarkable host mom who agreed to take in not one but both of our children): “OMG, what’s happening in Texas? People gone bananas.” Our conversation continued and, once again, I thanked her and her family for taking in our children. This time I added that one of the reasons Rebekah chose high school in Israel was so she could go to school without the fear of someone entering her campus wielding a firearm.

You see, one night during her final weeks of middle school we received a text message from Jacob, Rebekah’s brother, as we were heading to bed, and he was waking up for the morning to start his day – “you should go and talk to Rebekah.” In one of her social media feeds a student was threatening to come to school the next day with a gun. Fortunately, parents were on it, the incident was reported, and the suspect was being visited by the police by midnight. Rebekah chose to go to school the next day but many of her peers did not.

Fast forward to this week when, on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2022, 21 bright lights were extinguished. As a family who has gone through the impossible act of burying one of our children, we can only begin to know the pain of the victims’ families. To lose your child in such a violent way – I would like to say it is unimaginable but sadly, there are many families in our country who have been through this to provide love and support at such an impossible time.

In our High Holy Day liturgy (Mishkan Hanefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe ©2015), during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur, you can find this beautiful prayer to be said by a person mourning the death of a child. With some adaptation, maybe these words can help bring us healing:

God of hope, God of strength –

As our hearts ache in silence

We turn to You for healing and comfort.

We pray to You, God of life, for renewal of spirit.

We long for the shelter of Your love.

May the souls of those lost

be embraced by You forever with love and tenderness.

May the promise of these innocent young lives

teach us to cherish sweetness and beauty,

and not give in to the bitterness we have tasted.

May the gift of memory bless each of our days.

Weep with us, God, Creator of life,

for the precious lives whose songs were left unsung.

Weep with us, God for the loss of the children and their educators –

a loss that is like no other.

Shelter us,

that we may be a source of care and shelter for those who need us.

Strengthen us,

that we may be a source of strength.

Be with us

in sorrow and joy, in moments of emptiness, and in the fullness of life. Amen.

Finally, in this week’s Torah portion, we will read the last words of the book of Leviticus. At the end of the reading, we will chant חֲזַק חֲזַק וְנִתְּחַזֵּק (chazak chazak v’nit chazeik) – be strong be strong and we will strengthen one another. Even thought it feels impossible may these words ring true.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tue, December 6 2022 12 Kislev 5783