Last night, we all ate dinner at my daughter's house. It was supposed to be a quiet Friday night with only two of my five children home (Elie, my soldier, and my youngest daughter). It was going to be quiet and lonely in some ways. When you are used to having five children grace your table, there's a lot of noise. Then one got married, one went to the army, one went to yeshiva, and suddenly, there is an almost unbearable quiet.
It's silly, of course. Don't most families in America have two children and feel their lives are full? But I guess life is indeed one of perspectives and the sudden emptying of my house and Shabbat table has come as a bit of a surprise. Still, they come home enough that we are rarely with only two children, but also rarely all five (six, including my son-in-law; seven, eight, or nine including the three "children" I have adopted to my heart and family).
My youngest son is almost always here, and yet, irony of irony, this Shabbat he had to go away to a school weekend and interview, perhaps to transfer there next year as he enters high school. So, when my daughter invited us, I was thrilled. We would still be only four on Saturday lunch, but Friday night, we would be six.
I sat with my daughter and talked, waiting for everyone to come back from synagogue. And, when they did, my middle son walked in with a bag of presents - a birthday surprise for me. I hadn't exactly forgotten it was my birthday, but somehow this year it seems less relevant, less significant.
It was wonderful to see him, to hug him. My youngest daughter made wonderful pictures; my oldest made a fudge cake desert. There are moments in your life where you know it can't get any better.
It was a long walk back and as my youngest daughter proudly carried the helium balloon, she was stopped repeatedly, "Whose birthday is it?" they would ask with a smile and I quickly answered, "MINE!".
There is no shame in being a year older, no sadness, no fear. I love each day, each week, each year God blesses me with life and these children. Mine! I said, my life, my children, my balloon, my birthday!
For part of the way home (it's a long walk), I ended up walking next to Elie as my husband walked slowly with a friend we met along the way. It was nice because it gave us an opportunity to talk. Amazingly enough, as aware as Elie is of so much that happens here in the Middle East, he had heard nothing of the attack on Fort Hood, Texas.
He listened as I gave all the information that I knew. We talked of how it was possible and Elie could easily understand. "Ima, they have to go on a ship to get to the war zone. They'll be armed when they get there. Why would they need arms there?"
"You have a gun," I pointed out. So often, I am the petulant one; the childish one wishing things were different faced with Elie's understanding and realism. He's right, of course. And yet, I wanted the soldiers to have been armed, to have stopped these murderers before so many were hurt.
There was no reason for them to have been armed. They were safe there, among their own...or should have been.
"How long does it take to fire so many bullets?" I asked Elie. "Almost 50 people were shot and either killed or wounded."
"Not long," Elie answered. Not long at all.
Elie was not surprised to hear that the shooter had an "Arabic-sounding" name. He raised an eyebrow when I told him there were reports that the terrorist had screamed out "Allah Akbar" - "God is great" before opening fire.
He raised his brow again and gave this knowing smile when I told him the Americans didn't think it was terrorism, "they never do," he said.
That isn't true - not really. But isn't it funny that this is his reaction. We jump to assume terrorism here. The police will quickly try to calm us when something happens but only after they are sure. And in America, the opposite. It isn't terrorism until all other motives are ruled out.
We understand this shock, this pain, this reality here in Israel. It was this way after 9/11 too. We looked with sadness to the Americans as they reacted as we have.
How could this have happened? How could anyone do such a thing? Innocent lives? Why? We live this reality in Israel and after so many decades, we know there is no answer except hatred and an evilness within a culture that supports the idea that it is acceptable to murder in the name of some elusive, self-serving goal.
May God bless the memories of the victims of Fort Hood, Texas. May He send comfort to the families and may they know no more sorrow.
May the day come when hatred gives way to compromise and acceptance of values and religions different from your own.