‘Am Yisrael Chai:’ Writing Through Pain
For Jewish people everywhere, October 7 will forever be synonymous with the brutal terror attacks committed against Israel by Hamas. Shock, anger, grief and fear immediately took hold and nearly consumed each of us.
Yet a mere five days after the attacks, writer and activist Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the Pearl and Ira Meyer scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation New York, put out a call for contributions in reaction to Hamas’s carnage. Writers had exactly four days to send submissions to Creditor. The result is Am Yisrael Chai: Essays, Poems, and Prayers, a collection of writing in support of Israel edited by Creditor, with all proceeds benefiting UJA-Federation of New York’s Israel Emergency Fund.
Amid the chaos and the flurry of emotions, Jewish writers, including me, rallied to contribute to the book. What else could we do?
Among the 98 pieces in Am Yisrael Chai is an essay by Meryl Ain, a Hadassah life member and author of The Takeaway Men and Shadows We Carry. In her piece, Ain writes, “The essential questions that we continue to ask about the Holocaust eight decades later have been given new life by the Hamas atrocities: How did this happen? What is our responsibility to our fellow human beings? What do we do when we see evil in the world?” And, most presciently, “Will Israel’s response usher in a new wave of understanding or antisemitism?”
Erika Dreifus, another Hadassah life member, wrote a poem titled “The O-Word,” investigating the use of words likes “occupation” and “genocide” in the conflict.
“I was trying to address the dubious application of words and terms to elements of this conflict,” said Dreifus, author of Quiet Americans, a short story collection, and the book of poetry Birthright. “I maintain that, at the very least, matters are far more complicated than many slogans would have the world believe.” She contributed two additional poems to the compilation.
Writing my own poem for the project helped me define the emotions I was grappling with. The tragedy of October 7 is felt by Jews around the world because that is the nature of being Jewish: We are a nation and we are a family. In the aftermath, we all heard stories of people murdered or missing or kidnapped. On the morning of the attacks, my brother, who lives in Israel, was called up for reserve duty; he has been serving since. Meanwhile, my sister in Tel Aviv was due with her first child the following week; she has since given birth to a beautiful baby boy. In New Jersey, where I live, my family and I were feeling helpless, paralyzed. Our family in Israel had no choice but to continue moving forward.
My poem, “The People of Israel Live”—the English translation of the compilation’s title—attempts to illustrate all of this: the normal lives that are now forever changed, the fears of our people and the joy of new life.
Because that’s what we Jews do, time and time again, throughout tragedy and joy. The people of Israel live.
Creditor, a Hadassah Associate, is currently working on part two of the anthology.
Talia Liben Yarmush is a writer as well as the former digital editor of Hadassah Magazine.