Life in a war zone: A song for Shabbat: Bless us with peace

It was one year ago this week when my husband, Don Goor, and I made aliyah. Moving to Israel was the culmination of years of planning and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but in the backs of our minds, we always knew that Israel would be involved in another conflict. This was the Middle East, after all. 

That awareness was theoretical until the missiles fired by Hamas from Gaza targeted our new home, and sirens started blaring in Jerusalem. As we ran for cover on the eve of the first tzeva adom (red alert), I realized that nothing in my constitution had prepared me emotionally for the current episode in Israel’s history. This was no “duck and cover” drill from fifth grade; these were lethal rockets coming toward Israel’s capital. 

Still, after the blasts are heard, the city returns to normal. Stopped cars and buses continue on. Diners, who had fled their tables midmeal, return to their seats. It’s barely noticeable, this sort of social equilibrium, and I, too, would quickly find my balance from before the blasts. Life continues.

This past Friday, Don and I decided to get out of Jerusalem and do something fun, something different. Friends of ours had been extolling the virtues of stand-up paddling, so we headed to the beach in Tel Aviv. For over an hour, with a teacher by our side, we learned the basics of paddling in and out of the surf of the Mediterranean. I spent a lot of time falling and pulling myself onto the board. But slowly, slowly, I got the hang of it, and by the end of the lesson I was standing with my feet firmly on the board and riding the waves. For a short while in the ocean, I forgot about the red alerts and the bomb shelters. But just when I thought I had mastered the sport, a wave came and threw me off the board. 

That evening, at a friend’s house in Ramat Aviv, we sat down to Shabbat dinner. On the soothing melodies of “Shalom Aleichem” and Kiddush, I coasted away from the troubles of an Israel at war. For that moment, as I sang “Barchuni l’shalom,” “Bless me, dear angels, with peace,” it was just like being on the water hours earlier, when I stood on the board and rode on the crests of the waves. 

And then: Sirens. We stopped singing, and down the stairs to the shelter we ran. 

We returned to the Shabbat table, but I couldn’t find my balance. My emotional center was gone. I was once again in the water, hanging onto the side of the board, gasping for air, trying to climb back up again, and looking out, trying to spot the next wave.

After serving 25 years as the cantor of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, Evan Kent made aliyah in July 2013 with his husband, Rabbi Donald Goor, who was the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Tarzana. Kent is currently on the faculty of Hebrew Union College — Jewish institute of Religion in Jerusalem.