A walk in the park

A walk in the park

I saw him as I walked behind him on a path in Central Park; a side path, in the bushes near the reservoir, going north from the Great Lawn to the North Woods.

He was a trim, middle-aged man with short hair and, surprisingly, tzitzit, wearing unremarkable pants and a baseball shirt that, as I saw later when I passed him, said Phillies on the front.

On the back, it said Am Yisrael on top, above a big number 18. Am Yisrael Chai. (I tried to take a picture, but the bright light faded it into obscurity.)

That man walked to a large-ish group of people, many draped in Israeli flags, there for a Run for Their Lives walk.

The next day, as I walked in Riverside Park, I passed another large group of people with Israeli flags and hostage dogtags and pins. They were Israeli Tzofim and supporters, getting strength from each other.

Not everyone is a Hamas supporter.

Four hostages were freed this week, just days after we learned about the deaths of four others. It is all so mixed. Three of the four dead hostages were in their 80s. Who murders 80-year-olds? True, those of us who never have even ever considered taking hostages after committing murders of surpassing brutality don’t know if it would be harder to kill an 80-year-old than, say, someone in his 40s, but who does any of that? No one who we can begin to understand.

It reminds me of September 11, when the previously novel concept of flying an airplane full of kidnapped passengers straight into one of the world’s tallest buildings suddenly went from unimaginable to real, as TV stations replayed it, over and over and over again. It changed the limits of what we could imagine.

So then there were the four freed hostages. The father of one of them had died alone of grief hours before his son was released. The mother of another is so ravaged by brain cancer that it is not clear if she recognized the daughter who once again appeared before her.

Yes, many Gazans died in the rescue, and, yes, each innocent Gazan was a real person, entitled to a real life, which was taken away. But we must remember that Hamas chooses to secrete its prisoners among civilians. Hamas does not care how many Gazans die, because to them each dead Gazan is a martyr. Martyrs who die in the cause of freeing Palestine are good PR, as disgusting as that idea is to those of us who are sane.

Now that Shavuot is over, we move through what promises to be a sweltering summer toward Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning for the Temples in Jerusalem, doomed by senseless hatred.

Simchat Torah in the Diaspora this year began on the evening of October 7. In my shul, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan, we did the hakafot that we always do on that joyful day, with the sifrei Torah carried through arches people make by stretching their arms up to touch the fingertips of the people doing the same thing across from them. The hakafot are done in age order; the oldest among us are honored first. Then the wild dancing begins.

This year, though, there was no dancing. Instead, we sat on the floor and sang the haunting laments of Tisha B’Av.

Now, Tisha B’av is coming again. We will sing the same sad songs. I do not know how the passage of 10 months between October 7 and August 12 will change their sound or their meaning. I hope that by then some hope will be audible there. I will think back to the knots of Jews I saw this weekend, lit by early-summer golden sun. I hope that by then, some of this nightmare will be over, the hostages will be freed, the war will have ended, and somehow a better day after will
have begun.


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