March 8, 2024 admin

With light feet, but a heavy heart

I hope to run the Jerusalem Marathon with light feet today. But I won’t be running with a light heart; my heart is full and heavy. I can’t add up the feelings or experiences which fill it. Some are contradictory. I make no comparison and suggest no equivalence between them. Some of the people who moved me hold radically different views. But they’re all people, and what they had to tell has left me, in every case, with two similar feelings.

The first is deep, anguished sorrow. In a noisy café at Tel Aviv Savidor Station I had a long conversation with two psychotherapists: ‘The need is huge,’ they told me. ‘The immediate circle of family members traumatised on 7 October is 20,000.’ And the circles beyond? ‘Tens of thousands more, the families of soldiers killed and wounded…’ 
At the previous station I’d met Aaron Seitler who’s walking the Israel Trail (the sections which aren’t too dangerous) to raise money for The Society For The Protection of Nature In Israel’s project Nature Heals which takes relatives into the gentle consolation of green spaces.
I travelled on north, and sat with x – I’m not sure she wants to be named. ‘I need a shoulder to cry on again,’ she wrote to me after we met the first time, last November. ‘I’m still in touch with my friend in Gaza. I’m so worried; he hasn’t replied to my last message. I don’t know if he’s still alive.’ She showed me a video of him holding the hands of a circle of children, then another of him cooking a vat of soup, the children running up to him while he turns aside and weeps. ‘I’m careful whom I talk to. Many here would be furious with me.’ Actually, I’m seeing more indications of deep concern for the children of Gaza.
I spent Wednesday in Kfar Veradim with my amazing colleague Rabbi Nathalie Lastreger. (The warning there when Hizbollah send missiles is zero seconds.) Lastreger means ‘bearer of burdens,’ and she carries the burdens of countless people with courage and love. She introduces me to Eitan Gonen, father of Romi, who’s still held hostage. ‘Tell us about her.’ ‘She loves animals, people, life, connects with everyone instantly. She’s a dancer in six different styles. She’s my sunshine, positive energy always. It’s 150 days; even one is unimaginable. She’s strong.’ All over Kfar Veradim are pictures of her, with her beautiful smile. ‘Every day I say: “This is the day she’ll be home.” Make a deal, any price; get them back.’ 
I ask what we can do to help. He answers with the same words as Ayelet, Naama’s mother, whom I met last week: Send good energy, prayers, heart’s warmth. I believe, I know, it’ll reach her, however deep the tunnels.’
We hear a terrifying army briefing about the threats posed by Hizbollah – another of Iran’s vicious proxies. Then Nathalie takes me to the homes of two bereaved families. Salman Habaka was a high-ranking Druse officer: ‘They had their eyes on him to be the IDF’s first Druse Commander-in-Chief,’ his father says. ‘Ani rishon; I go first,’ was his motto. He inspired everybody, gave his soldiers confidence and courage. He rescued many people.’ His father gives me a keyring with his picture. His mother cries quietly. 
Uria Bayer belonged to a Christian family, originally German, whose lives have been devoted over three generations to caring for Holocaust survivors in Israel. Uria received a bullet through the head in Gaza. ‘“Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,” his father said. ‘These words have an even greater meaning for me now. For four days we witnessed the care at Saroka Hospital. Unbelievable!’ The family draw great comfort from their faith. As Uria’s father speaks, the family dog looks up and holds out her paw.
Yesterday I went to the South Hebron Hills with Joel Carmel and a team from Breaking the Silence. Seemingly unimpeded by the army, settlers are exploiting the aftermath of October 7, violently intimidating and driving away villagers across the West Bank. We wander round the ruins of the ancient Palestinian village of Khirbet Zanuta; the whole population of 250 fled after repeated threats. One settler drove his bulldozer into the small, abandoned school; books and broken desks lie across the ruined floor. These are different kinds of injuries, deep and terrible wounds.
Today when we gather at Gan Sacher for the start of the races, I will see on countless running shirts the names of loves ones, taken hostage, tortured, murdered on Shabbat Shechorah, killed in the fighting. I will carry the memory of Martin Segal, for many years head of The British Friends of Israel Guide Dogs, who died this year, young, courageous, gentle. 
That takes me to the second group of emotions that all these experiences – which I can’t add up and can’t compare, except to say that they overwhelm me, every one of them – have in common. All of them evoke a powerful determination to see justice and compassion, to care, support, and create a safer, fairer, better, kinder world. 
That’s what I’m running my marathon for. I want to join those who, whoever and wherever they are, devote their lives to compassion.

Get in touch...