March 1, 2024 admin

Naama Levy, the hostage we’ve adopted

I spent yesterday evening in Raanana with Ayelet, mother of Naama Levy, and Naama’s Noam (youth movement) friends. Naama is the hostage our synagogue has adopted. 

Only, I don’t want to write ‘hostage’ because Naama is – Naama. She’s a girl of nineteen. If I understood the swift, warm Hebrew conversation, she joined Noam in eleventh grade but fitted in at once: ‘We’d go to the beach before maths tests to study. We’d talk for hours, not on our phones (after I asked), we’re local, we’re the Raananot, the Raanana girls, always together. We meet: tea and cake, our last-school-day trip to the sea; five days together in Prague…’ Bafi the dog barks, nervous of men. But I’m good at making friends with dogs. This feels like family now.

But Naama is a hostage. She was seen being taken into Gaza on October 7. That’s 150 days ago. ‘There’s no commandment greater than redeeming captives;’ ‘Bring them home now;’ ‘Lead them from darkness and death’s shadow to freedom and light;’ so run the posters, prayers, pictures, on every building, every wall, here in Israel. 

‘What can we do?’ I asked. ‘That’s the question we keep asking too,’ Naama’s friends reply. ‘Don’t let her be forgotten,’ says Ayelet. ‘Keep her story in your hearts: I believe in thought- waves; goodwill energy somehow travels.’ I agree. ‘Talk about her beyond your community, at work, among friends. I’m worried life will just go on, – it has to – and Naama and the other hostages will be forgotten. I hope a deal will soon free her and them all.’

We don’t talk about the calculated, nihilistic brutality of Hamas, killers of their own people too.

Remember! Don’t forget! is the Torah’s unequivocal commandment about combatting evil. 

We take pictures. Her friends plan to send stories, vignettes about Naama. We’ll put them in the synagogue. When we pray for the release of all the hostages, for the safety of all the victims of this horrible war, we’ll include Naama’s name.

‘We made challah with Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker, such a gentle ritual,’ Ayelet explained. I know Rabbi Chaya; she radiates chesed, loving-kindness. 

I’ve had many other conversations, with more next week. I’m glad to be here among my people.

I’ve listened to two frank army briefings: the impossible challenges, freeing the hostages, ensuring protection, food and medical aid for the huge number of Palestinian civilians, without everything getting into the hands of Hamas, the thorough degrading of Hamas so that they can never do October 7 again, fears of what could happen in the north. 

Three moments stand out from these conversations. I have a heart-to-heart with Dr Stephen Arnoff, executive director of the Conservative Yeshivah, where I’m part of an in-depth environment programme: ‘We want a spiritually engaged, committed, observant, deeply humanist Judaism.’

Friends take me to an Israeli-Arab family I’ve known for years. ‘We’re careful about talking about how we feel,’ says the woman, putting her finger to her lips. She volunteers at a hospital; she has the quiet smile of wisdom. We each see different suffering, different wounds and nightmares. But it’s suffering all the same. May the compassionate God hear our prayers for compassion.

I sit with Professor Paul Mendes-Flohr. He tells me colleagues, Palestinian, Jewish, call him, some several times a day, just to be human together. He points to his heart: ‘There’s more than one chamber here to teach us to have a place for many different people’s different pain.’ 

Back in Ayelet’s living room, it turns out I’ve heard her talk about Naama before, last November at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv. I may have even met her before that, before the horrors, when she was duty doctor at the Jerusalem Marathon and I was happy not to need her services.

Back in Ayelet’s living room, despite everything, the space is full of loving friendship.

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