September 18, 2019

Life in a war zone: Anxiety, hope, unity, grief, outrage, fear, trauma, uncertainty …

I landed in Israel just a few days after the abduction of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach. I had been here two weeks earlier, in an Israel that was celebrating Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague Basketball Championship. I spent quality time with my son Ilan and his eighth-grade class from Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, celebrating Yom Yerushalayim. I now returned to Israel for my work with the Sephardic Educational Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, and to study at the Hartman Institute. Except this time — just a short two weeks later — I landed in an Israel that was hardly celebratory. What a difference a few weeks can make.

Never in all my life have I experienced so many emotions in such a short time. With feelings of anxiety over the whereabouts of our boys, we hoped and prayed for their return home. Israel was filled with a powerful sense of unity. The horrific discovery of the bodies launched an immediate mood of collective grief, and the funeral was one of the most difficult I have ever attended. Just as we began coping with our mourning period, we were struck with feelings of outrage over the senseless murder of an Arab boy. This immediately destroyed our feeling of unity and stained our mourning period. Then, suddenly, just as we drifted away from mourning to confront the implications of brutal violence on both sides … the sirens began to sound all over Israel. In one short but very long week, we journeyed from unity to grief to outrage … and now fear.

I am a veteran of the first Lebanon War, but I have never before heard sirens. I am not ashamed to admit that I am afraid each time a siren goes off. It’s a feeling of helplessness, fear and terror, with a deeply traumatizing effect. The missile war has adversely affected my work at the Sephardic Educational Center — many of our groups have canceled. As far as the Hartman program, the theme this summer was “War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.” Of the two, I would have much preferred experiencing the latter.

I am stuck with an awful sense of uncertainty. Yet — despite the fear of sirens and missiles — I joined hundreds of people to watch the World Cup Final in an open space in Jerusalem. 

Just another day in Israel, summer 2014. 

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center, which has a campus in the Old City of Jerusalem. Follow Rabbi Bouskila’s teachings on his blogs at and or on his Facebook page.