Thursday, July 10, 2008

כי איתי אל Ki Iti El

I meant to post this at the very end, but have a friend who could use it now. (Dubi--I expect the report we discussed to be waiting in my mailbox this time tomorrow morning! Don't worry if you do not have faith--I will have faith for you).
I do not feel like this always, but I feel like this some of the time. I wish I could be better, but, alas, זה מה שיש (that is the way it is).
אל תירא מפחד פתאם, ומשאת רשאים כי תבא. עצו עצה ותפר, דברו דבר ולא יקום, כי עמנו אל. ועד זקנה אני הוא, ועד שיבה אני אסבל, אני עשיתי ואני אשא, ואני אסבל ואמלט.
Do not fear sudden terror, or the holocaust of the wicked when it comes. Plan a conspiracy and it will be annulled; speak your piece and it shall not stand, for G-d is with us. Even till your seniority, I remain unchanged; and even till your ripe old age, I shall endure. I created you and I shall bear you; I shall endure and rescue.

This is my favorite prayer. It is in the prayerbook, though we never say it in synagogue. When we get to it, I read it to myself. Even when I am not in synagogue, the prayer stays with me. Its words have implanted themselves in my brain and accompany me wherever I go. Ki imanu El, for G-d is with us. Ki iti El: for G-d is with me.

The bombing has given this prayer special meaning. The fact that I am not dead, of course, is cause for gratitude. And still I find that this enormous gift of my life pales in the face of the countless small gifts I have received since. These small gifts are what make our lives worth having and living.

Ki iti El. About three weeks after I was released from the hospital, I had a meltdown. The stress of the last five weeks hit me like a ton of bricks. I could not call anyone because it was Shavuot and most of my friends were observant and would not answer the phone even if I called. I sat holed up in my room with the door closed and trying to cry quietly as any loud outbursts would freak out my roommate. Suddenly, my friend Yael showed up at my front door. She came to my room and sat with me. With her there, I became a sodden, hysterical, irrational mess. She did not tell me that it would all be all right, even though it would be. She did not tell me that this too was for the best, even though it might be. She did not tell me that I really was very lucky, even though I was. She told me that it was about time that I lost it and that it was normal and that no, none of this is fair. Sometimes you do not need someone to make you feel better, you need a friend to let you be sad. And sometimes, when you are all alone, you need a friend to miraculously appear on your doorstep.

Ki iti El. My cousin Talia happened to call that very same Shavuot afternoon. Talia is not just my favorite cousin in Israel; she is my favorite cousin anywhere. She lives in Tel Aviv and virtually never comes to Jerusalem, so her support up to this point had been primarily via the phone. But that day, out of all the days, she called to let me know that it turned out that a friend was coming to Jerusalem and could give her a lift. Could she come visit? By the time she arrived, I had recovered from my hysteria, but was still so panicked and overwhelmed over various issues that had accumulated and had to be dealt with. Talia not only knows how things are done in Israel, but she knows what you should be thinking when you do them: yihiyeh beseder, it will be okay. She listened to my litany of woes, chided me gently for panicking, and then proceeded to dispense instructions. Try this. Speak to this person. Request this. Do not hesitate to ask for what you need. It is all going to be okay. By the time her friend came to collect her, I was calm and had plan.

Ki iti El. It is the friends who filled my prescriptions and the strangers who filled my refrigerator. Ki iti El. It is the man who heard about me from my bosses. He called me when I was still in the hospital to tell me that he only had one eye, and that he had a perfectly normal life. His call came less than an hour after my father broke the news to me that I might not regain sight in my right eye, and while I was lying in my bed, wondering what my life would be like, and if I would still be able to paint. Ki iti El. It is the family in Atlanta, Georgia who heard about me and arranged to have a beautiful cake delivered to my house, along with a card telling me to be strong. The cake arrived as I sat in my front hall, waiting for my friend Edith to come and take me to an emergency eye appointment. I had started seeing spots in my vision and we suspected my retina had detached. I was terrified, but the note gave me courage. Ki iti El. It was the check for $100 from my Aunt Pearl, accompanied by a note warning me in the strictest terms that the money was to be used for something fun. Both the note and the check were waiting for me at home after I got back from an appointment with a specialist who told me that I really had to do something to reduce my stress levels which were so elevated that my short-term memory was being affected. I used the money to join a gym. (And not to take on a lover, or five, as he suggested).

Ki iti El. I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 18, and spent four years working 60 to 80 hours a week to make ends meet. Then I worked my way through college—another five and a half years of lean times. Since the day when I moved out of my parents' house, I cannot remember a time when I was not haunted by the specter of financial disaster. Quitting my job and moving to Israel only intensified my fear. Within twenty-four hours of landing in Israel I was calling accounting firms, and within two weeks I had two part-time jobs. In such a manner I managed to get by, but when I was injured, I was sure that the game was up and financial catastrophe was on its way. I lay in my hospital bed and did mental calculations of how long my savings would last me, and how I could manage to establish myself in the country if I had to use them all up to get myself through until I could go back to work. But in fact, my savings stayed intact. So long as I needed, both the State of Israel and the Jewish community in Israel and abroad made sure that I had I needed, plus extra so I would not need to worry. I cannot say how many times since those days in the hospital I have bought some piddling little item—a notebook for $5—and have found myself whispering a prayer of thanks. How fortunate I am not only to have the money, but also to be in a position where I do not have to think twice about making the purchase.

Ki iti El. For the first time ever, I feel secure. I am not alone. I do not know what will happen to me in the future, but have faith that, whatever it is, I will receive what I need. I may not get everything I want, but if ever need something desperately, it will be provided.

Ki iti El. For G-d is with me. G-d created me and He bore me; He endured and rescued me.


Baila said...

I can't even respond I am so moved.

Anonymous said...

What an incredible post. I have tears in my eyes. Your post should be required reading for every traumatized citizen of Israel - basically everyone. You are an inspiration to us all.

Anonymous said...

Gila, the amazing thing that you do is to simultaneously evoke so much pain and fear, and so much gratitude, beauty, love, humor, and courage. My throat became tightened and I was overcome from the very first story about small gifts, about your friend Yael.

Your writing touches so many people's hearts and lives.

Anonymous said...

Feeling that way even once in a lifetime is wonderful. Feeling it "some of the time" is beautiful, and an incredible blessing.

Such an amazing post. There aren't superlatives enough in the world to describe it.

[Btw - I had never heard the whole prayer, but I know the middle part (utzu etzah v'tufar, dabru davar v'lo yakum, ki emanu El) as a song. I think I learned it as a Purim song.]

Anonymous said...

Gila - amazing writing, as usual.
(and yes, as you said - I would appreciate the emotional, soppy stuff too!)
You are amazing and can succeed with anything you try.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow.

Rony and Talia said...

Sorry to break the mushiness, but if someone told you to use the money to get a love - or five - who are you to go against their wishes? :-)

Unknown said...

" ... This is my favorite prayer. It is in the prayerbook, though we never say it in synagogue ... "

(it's also a Carlebach happy melody)

it's right after Aleinu,

and is sung out loud, and happily, in most Chabad minyanim

when your friend feels up to it,
you can take your friend to a Chabad or Carlebach Minyan,
and let the way this prayer is sung with hope and joy,
sink in and provide support and comfort

Gila said...

Re: misuse of money--well, the truth is that I have a problem with authority. I really need to work on that. :p

Re: Carlebach--if he goes, it will be without me. I am a complete Yekke when it comes to praying! (And I like it that way).

Ahuva said...

Everyone else said it first: wow. I think this is one of your best posts yet.

(That's one of my favorite prayers too.)

Anonymous said...

Terrific essay.

Anonymous said...

Ki iti El... I need to add that to my vocabulary.

Thank you for this post. Thank you for this blog.

Anonymous said...

Gila, this spoke to me even more than your posts usually do (and that's saying something).

Thank you for your wonderful writing that never fails to touch my heart.

Jack Steiner said...

Well done.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Nice post

Sometimes, when I get really down, I lay in bed and think of all the brachot that God has given me.

God is good. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your very moving post. I am without words...and you know that never happens :)I am physically reacting with tears, a smile, and a nodding head. Thank you for being so willing to share your thoughts. We hope you are able to visit soon.


Anonymous said...

It is all coincidence.
Have to agree with TalkTalk, you should have invested the money into lovers.

Anonymous said...

agree with the other commentators, will just add my thank you too

Leah said...

A beautiful, moving, inspirational post.

.....I join in your iti El

Thank you