Of King David’s Women: Tamar, Symbol of Survival

The date palm speaks of justice and survival in the biblical world of #MeToo

On this upcoming Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of Trees, my thoughts go to King David’s daughter Tamar, whose name means date palm. Tamar was raped, then scorned and cast out by her half-brother (2 Sam. 13). Ironically, the tree for which Tamar was named is a biblical symbol of survival, of life itself, thriving as it does in oases, surrounded by desolation, seen from a distance by parched and desperate travelers. In its bounty it is compared to the rewards of righteousness (Psalm 92:13) and to justice (Judges 4:5).

“The Rape of Tamar,” Alexander Cabanel, 19th century. Wikimedia Commons.

Its scientific name is Phoenix dactifera. In this name, we can find a symbol of hope as well. Some say the legendary phoenix – the bird who ended its life in a blaze and whose successor rose from the ashes – might have gotten its name from a characteristic the bird shares with the date palm: After a fire, it is reborn from shoots that spring from its innermost surviving parts.

The date palm as a “giving tree” became a symbol in early Christianity and in Islam as well. An infancy narrative attributed to St. Jerome depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the desert. When Mary says she is hungry and thirsty, the baby Jesus commands a date palm to bend down, give his mother its fruit and reveal a spring of pure water. The Quran also tells this story.

Among the magnificent mosaics discovered in 1992 at the Kathisma, The Church of Mary’s Seat, on the Jerusalem–Bethlehem road, is this date palm that immortalizes the legend of  Mary’s “giving tree.” Courtesy of  Dr. Rina Avner.

The courtroom of the biblical heroine Deborah was under a date palm, and so the tamar became a symbol of justice. But for David’s daughter, there would be no true justice in the biblical telling. Her brother Absalom meticulously planned and executed his revenge on her attacker, but even this he did not share with his sister. His advice to her sounds all too familiar: Just put it behind you. Don’t tell anyone. As for David, when he heard what happened, he “became angry.” No more. Neither man gave Tamar what we now know victims need most after such a trauma – recognition, validation, comfort.

Tamar as a Flower

Tamar has entered the botanical world not only in the name of a tree, but, oddly, together with her attacker, as a flower: the pansy. In Hebrew it’s known as Amnon v’Tamar, by way of a Russian legend about a brother and sister, Ivan and Maria (which is the name for pansy in Russian), separated in childhood, who are reunited as adults and fall in love. God takes pity on them and turns them into a two-tone blossom, each symbolizing a different color, so they can stay together forever. These star-crossed Russian lovers were transformed into a prince and princess of Israel, abuser and victim, by none other than the Russian-born Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, who translated the legend into Hebrew and sought a biblical name and theme for his protagonists.

Pansy. The gold is Tchernichovksy’s Tamar (Maria in the Russian legend); the purple, Amnon (Ivan). Wikimedia Commons.

Absalom killed Amnon, and fled from his father. And David mourned. Not because one son had killed another, but because David longed for Absalom. Did David also long to have acted differently? Did he regret not having spoken up for his daughter and punished Amnon with his own hand (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:3)?

Where is David’s mourning for Tamar? Where, indeed, is she? Must her only trace after the crime against her be in her name – given by Absalom to his daughter, perhaps out of guilt over abandoning his sister?

Hope in the Future

This is where I want to go in my next historical novel. According to an ancient legend I’ll be weaving into it, Tamar was once again threatened, and once again, it happened in the place where she should have felt safest, among her own family (this time, on her mother’s side). But this story ends in hope. This Tamar, who once placed ashes on her head in mourning, like the women in my first historical novel, The Scroll, will rise from the ashes.

Big Tamar with little Tamar and her mother Maya, cutting cookies, shaping the future, 2015.

As did Tamar, my mother-in-law and who passed away just three months ago at age 87. Tamar was her adopted name. When she was about 16, after the liberation of the Budapest ghetto where she survived the Holocaust, Vera, as she was known then, cared for orphaned Jewish children getting ready to go to Palestine. The group’s leaders gave everyone a Hebrew name, to prepare for the future they hoped for in the land of their ancestors. “You’ll be Tamar,” they told her, because you’re tall and lovely like a tamar“– a date palm (Song of Songs 7:7–8).

Like Tamar, the daughter of David, my mother-in-law was left unprotected in a world of unimaginable cruelty, and she rose from the ashes to reestablish her family – our family. Let’s work so that her great-granddaughter, also named Tamar, the descendent of strong, heroic women on both sides, will know a better world.

  Leafy-Vine-Stitched-8-Inch

Further reading

Pseudo-Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 20. http://gnosis.org/library/psudomat.htm.

Philologos. “Named for a Rapist.” The Forward, Feb. 24, 2010. https://forward.com/culture/126322/named-for-a-rapist/

Feinberg-Vamosh, M. Food at the Time of the Bible. Herzliya, Israel, n.d. P. 40.

Lowin, S.L. Arabic and Hebrew Love Poems in Al-Andalus. New York, 2013.

 

 

Of King David’s Women Part I: Abigail of Blessed Memory

In the Scriptural game of thrones, Abigail plays a key role in a surprise-filled plot. A strong woman of the Bible take the lead – again.

Why start my series on the women in King David’s life with Abigail? She’s not his first wife (Michal) nor is she the most famous (Bathsheba). Neither is she the daughter that his son, and David himself, so wronged (Tamar). But Abigail – her wisdom so powerfully revealed in so few slender verses – reaches out across the millennia in a way that has put her at the top of my list of strong women of the Bible.

Abigail, by Riki Rothenberg. Abigail appears in the center, and red-headed David and his men at left. David’s future crown is tied, literally to Abigail. Nabal is carousing at top right. Courtesy of Riki Rothenberg.

As usual, although Abigail is the heroine, it’s Nabal, a man of means – and a mean man – about whom we get all the details. And, seeking to understand more about Abigail from elsewhere in Scripture, we find that according to scholars, Abigail was no more than a means to an end for David. Nabal, we’re told in 1 Sam 25:3, was a Calebite chieftain. According to 1 Chron. 2:50–51, David must have been a descendant of the Calebites, through a man named Bethlehem (David’s ancestral city). By marrying Abigail, some say David attained vital Calebite support for his kingship.  Indeed, David was eventually crowned in Calebite territory, in Hebron, where he spent seven years.

But it’s in the story itself that Abigail reveals herself to us, with Haiku-like brevity and precision. Here we find a decisive, strong, quick-acting woman of faith, who rewrote not only her own history and future, but the history through which we descendants of the Judahites know ourselves. In that sense, Abigail was an inspiration for my first-generation heroine in my first historical novel, The Scroll, among the few survivors of Masada, who by her wisdom and sheer willpower, changed a bleak future overshadowed by men’s desires.

The story in 1 Samuel 25 opens with David roaming the desert with band of 600 (!) outlaws. David had sent men to Nabal with a message: To paraphrase 1 Sam. 25:6–7:  “We’ve been watching your shepherds now for some time, busy with the shearing of your prodigous flock, and, just so you know, they’re feeling fine.” Then came some over-the-top wishes for continued good health and wealth, and a request for supplies. Considering David had left behind 200 of his men to guard his own supplies, it seems hunger was not his motive, but rather a Corleone-style demand for protection money if ever there was one. Nabal mockingly refuses, and it’s all downhill from there. Swords girded, off they go.

Abigail comes on the scene, having heard of the goings-on from a servant after the men involved had already sparked conflict. The quantity of supplies she presented to David might have fed Nabal’s household for no more than two days. That is, except for the extravagant “five dressed sheep,” which Abigail undoubtedly included to make a point – she was in charge, not Nabal. Abigail bows when she meets David, as her culture required. But using Nabal’s unfortunate nickname (“base fellow”) against him, she makes it clear that David will find dealing with her much different than with Nabal.

Pretending that violence is the last thing on David’s mind, Abigail blesses the outlaw and future king with long life, the monarchy, victory over his enemies and a dynasty to boot.  David, quite bowled over, sends her home with a promise that all will be well. Abigail then reports back to a drunken, carousing Nabal, who keels over when he hears what his wife had done without his knowledge and against his wishes.

David “proposes” to Abigail (roses and champagne are not mentioned, but “taking” is…twice. That’s ancient culture for you; lucky we’re done with that…). Abigail agrees, describing herself as a lowly handmaid and foot-washer, in direct contradiction to what we have already come to appreciate about her.

No need to dwell on David’s numerous flaws here. One of his most egregious sins had to do with another married woman who he brought into his life, with disastrous results. But David himself recognizes the role Abigail played in restraining his worst inclinations. That even God’s chosen king needed someone to keep him in line should comfort us  ordinary mortals at this time of year, when New Year’s resolutions are already weakening for some.

Abigail tells David that his life “will be bound securely in the bundle of life by the Lord your God.”  Our sages, who counted Abigail among the seven prophetesses of Israel (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Megillah 14a), found that image so touching that they quoted it to describe what happens to the souls of the righteous after death (tractate Shabbat 152b). These poignant words are recited at Jewish funerals to this day. And thus, Abigail is still with us.

Thank you, Abigail, of blessed memory, for your deeds, and the hope of eternity bound up in your words.

 

Further reading

C. Meyers (ed.), Women in Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI, 2000), pp. 43–44.

J.D. Levenson and B. Halpern, “The Political Import of David’s Marriages,” Journal of Biblical Literature 99:4 (Dec.1980), pp. 507–518.

T. Kadari, “Abigail: Midrash and Aggadah.” https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/abigail-midrash-and-aggadah.

M. Feinberg Vamosh, The Scroll.

M, Feinberg Vamosh, Women at the Time of the Bible.

 

 

My thoughts on Abigail are partly based ideas exchanged with the artist Riki Rothenberg, whose inspiring work adorns this blogpost. My thanks to Riki for allowing me to present them and her art to you.

When might a man love a woman so much that he divorces her? And what does that have to do with David and Goliath? Click on the headline “Loving Divorce” below and find out! Thank you David Bivin and the Jerusalem Perspective for allowing me to reflect on a unique Jewish practice of wartime divorce, which gave me the plot of my first historical novel, The Scroll.

“Loving Divorce”: Born on the Battlefield

Women of the Bible

Their messages of endurance span the millennia

Some women of the Bible are so well known that we name our daughters after them – Sarah, Deborah, Mary, Martha. Others have left us familiar names, but less familiar stories, like Joanna of the New Testament, who put all her considerable resources at the disposal of Jesus. There’s fascination with the misdeeds of the infamous ones, like Jezebel and Delilah, as well as those of heroines like Rebekah. And there are some whose names we’ll never know, but whose stories still touch us – Jepthah’s daughter, the wise woman of Tekoa, the woman who touched Jesus’ robe and was healed.

Mary and Elizabeth meet. Detail of a mural at the Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Israel. Photo: Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

As seekers of inspiration from Scripture, we try to imagine ourselves walking a mile in the sandals of these female Bible characters, especially women of faith like Hannah and Ruth. Many of the strong women of the Bible, like the midwives Shifrah and Puah, the matriarch Rachel, or Queen Esther (and her predecessor, Vashti, for that matter) possessed the secret of finding power in a society that thrived on taking it from them. And let’s recall Michal, David’s wife, who, like many of her scriptural sisters, had to resort to subterfuge to reach her goals.

Some of the women of the Bible became “leading ladies.” Miriam, for example, was both leader and prophet. Her impression on Jewish history was so great that legend has portrayed her as part of Jewish experience for millennia after her death. And then we have Mary Magdalene, whom Christian scholars like Mary R. Thompson consider an early leader in the Judeo-Christian community.

The Rape of Tamar, by the 17th-century artist Le Sueur.

We painfully recall Tamar, a rape victim of her own half-brother, and Dina, raped as part of a biblical political drama. These are women who had everything taken from them. The biblical telling, or rather not-telling, leaves us to imagine that they must never have gotten over their tragedy, a fate that pursues all too many of their modern-day sisters.

The barren women of the Bible teach us special lessons in faith and strength. There’s Manoah’s wife, Samson’s future mother, who believed more strongly than her husband in the angel’s message, and Hannah, Samuel’s mother; both dedicated their sons to divine service.  Hannah in her praise poem gloriously presages Mary’s song when she met Elizabeth, another barren-fruitful, faithful woman.  Both these paeans point to unifying aspects of our Judeo-Christian tradition and lead to a deeper understanding of the Hebrew roots of Christianity.

Woman kneading dough, terracotta, 12th century BCE, from the cemetery at Akhziv, Israel. Courtesy of Palphot

We are fortunate in the gift that archaeology has given us in unearthing the tools of their everyday existence. Real archaeological finds bring these women alive!  Most of them (like us) worked from dawn to dark. Perhaps the first multi-tasker in biblical history was the indomitable “woman of valor” of Proverbs 31.

Cover of The Scroll, depicting a woman marching from darkness into light.

In my historical novel, The Scroll, I sought to make the spirit of the strong women of the Bible pivotal in my plot. which begins with the fall of Masada. According to the historian Josephus there were two women survivors of Masada. One is my heroine in the first generation of The Scroll. She brings a message of female empowerment down through the generations. With it comes striving the for the elusive goal of Jewish unity, with which we still struggle today.

Delve into the stories of the women of the Bible and don’t be surprised to discover that in their stories, you’ll find your own.

I gratefully acknowledge the publisher of my book Women at the Time of the Bible, Palphot, for permission to use material from it for this article.

 

 

Interview About The Scroll on Hebrew Nation Radio

Click here to listen to my recent radio interview! Thanks to the hosts on the Hebrew Nation Radio morning show “The Remnant Road,” who gave me an opportunity to discuss my books, especially The Scroll. The audience at Hebrew Nation Radio wants to learn more about the Jewish roots of their faith, and so I was able to tell interviewers Mike Clayton, Al McCarn and Barry Philips about episodes in The Scroll where I brought Jews and early Judeo-Christians together. The interview was a golden opportunity to discuss all the subjects I love to write about, including the strong women of the Bible. But best of all, I was able not only to discuss the women survivors of Masada and the future I imagined for them and their descendants, but also the Hebrew roots of Christianity and the beginnings of Christianity,  My aim in bringing Jews and early Christians together in The Scroll,  as I told the interviewers, was to show how each community faced the harsh challenges of  its times.  To this day, we can and must face the enormous challenges of our times together, celebrating and building upon what unites us rather than what divides us.

Women of The Scroll and Women of the Bible – Advanced Level Survival Skills Instructors

Like the women of faith in the Bible, the heroines of my first historical novel, The Scroll, are strong women whose voices I want to make heard. When The Scroll begins, during the final days at the fortress of Masada, a woman surrounded by the enemy chooses life. She chooses life against all odds, like the strong women of the Bible. I introduced that woman to my readers as I imagined her – the last of the Masada’s survivors. I raised her in a Jerusalem torn asunder by the infighting that led her to that desolate plateau. But I brought her from that killing ground into a future where faintheartedness was not an option.

What’s in a name?

I didn’t make her up entirely. I based her character on a real woman who called out from across the millennia. Her name, and place of residence (Masada!) appears in an ancient divorce document, a real archaeological find, discovered in a cave in the Judean wilderness in the 1950s. Her name gave me pause for thought. It was Miriam – the same as mine. That could be awkward for an author. But it harked back to another strong woman of the Bible, Miriam, who praised God for deliverance in song and dance by an ancient sea.  And so I decided that this was no coincidence; it was going to help me understand how a modern Miriam would have faced the challenges of dark, troubled, ancient times.

Biblical Miriam dancing and playing the tamborine, by contemporary artist Rikki Rothenberg.

Biblical Miriam is just one of the female Bible characters I sought to bring alive in The Scroll. The spirits of other women of the Old Testament are reflected in  my plot, as readers discover whether, over three generations bookended by rebellion, my characters learned the lesson of Masada’s downfall or whether enemies – within and without – robbed it from them. Infused in the women of each generation in The Scroll are the warrior instincts of Deborah and Jael and the survivor instincts of Ruth, the steely determination of Sarah, Rebecca’s mastery of subterfuge, Hannah’s boundless faith, Rahab’s unwavering commitment, Esther’s love of her people. In such women, in The Scroll and in Scripture, I hope you’ll find lessons of endurance we all need now more than ever.

 

Singing but Often Unsung – Ancient Women Musicians

A recent discovery at “Solomon’s Mines” in Timna reveals the first evidence of women at this harsh desert site. It’s an intriguing prelude to the tradition of women musicians in the Bible and enriches our thoughts about the women of the Bible who came later.

Archaeologists excavating the ancient copper mines in Timna in southern Israel were startled, according to the recent report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, to find the 3,200-year-old remains of a woman. Touchingly, the skeletal remains of her fetus were entombed with her.

Pottery figurine of a pregnant woman. Akhziv, seventh–sixth centuries BCE. Courtesy of Palphot.

Why were the the experts startled? Archaeologist Erez Bar-Yosef of Tel Aviv University, digging at the site, explained to Haaretz that because Timna was not home, but rather a work site, prominent people who died there might be temporarily buried and eventually taken home for permanent interment. Slaves were accorded no real burial at all, Bar-Yosef said. Hence, most tombs they find are empty. But even when human remains were found, none were of women. Thus, this woman must have been someone special. She was important enough to be buried with jewelry – two beautiful, Egyptian-style glass beads were found – and what’s more, her final resting place was just 200 meters from the famous temple of Hathor, at the base of the massive cliffs known as Solomon’s Pillars.

Egyptian woman playing an instrument. From a fourteenth century BCE.

Tel Aviv University Egyptologist Deborah Sweeney told Haaretz that this apparently highly regarded woman may have been a singer or musician for Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love, fertility, music and mines, whose image was incised millennia ago into the red rock of Solomon’s Pillars, high above the temple.

Women and music have been associated for ages in this part of the world, as attested by ancient figurines and plaques.  Nine sistra (musical rattles associated with the worship of Hathor) were found at Timna itself by its first excavator, Beno Rothenberg.

Reconstruction of a banquet scene, showing women musicians, common in Egyptian tomb decorations of aristocrats in the New Kingdom (1570–1070). Courtesy of Palphot.

Women in the Old Testament in Song and Dance

The dramatic discovery at Timna is a good opportunity to recall the female Bible characters who sang and danced in praise of God. While the role of women in the Bible seems often to have been limited to family and home, it was in song and dance that they could give full expression to their creativity and devotion to God in the public sphere. Perhaps the most famous songstress in the Bible – and one of its best-known women of faith – is Miriam, who led the women in song and dance by the Red Sea – “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted…”(Exod. 15:20–21).

Biblical Miriam dancing and playing the tamborine, by contemporary artist Rikki Rothenberg. Courtesy of Rikki Rothenberg.

A New Psalm”

Deborah – one of the strong women of the Bible, sang a song of victory in battle in Judges 5. Later, Solomon says he had both men and women singers at his court (Eccl. 2:8). Also in Ecclesiastes (12:3–5) are references to slowing down in old age, one of which relates to women singers. “The daughters of music are brought down low.” The Apocrypha contains a magnificent praise poem by another of the strong women of the Bible, Judith: “Begin unto my God with timbrels, sing unto my Lord with cymbals: tune unto him a new psalm.”

And moving on to women of the New Testament, while according to Luke (1:46–55), Mary spoke the Magnificat, the text itself  appears in poetic style, and it became one of the earliest hymns, dating back to the beginning of Christianity.

Who was the “pregnant woman of Timna”? We hope the archaeologists will be able to tell us more in the future. She must have been a strong woman to have traveled so far and endured the rigors of the unforgiving desert. This woman lived on the cusp of Bible times, and in the southern reaches of the Bible lands.  And so we can call upon her to help us remember with love and admiration a long line of strong women of the Bible, who sing out to us to this very day.

In addition to her series on daily life in Bible days, Miriam Feinberg Vamosh is the author of The Scroll, a historical novel about a woman of Masada and her descendants over three generations, who faced the challenges we still face today.

For further reading:

“Archaeologists startled to find remains of pregnant woman buried in ‘King Solomon’s Mines,’ by Ariel David. Oct. 31, 2017. https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/1.820180.

“A Joyful Noise: Music and Dance, in Women at the Time of the Bible, by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh (Palphot).

 

 

The Fury Next Door

Har Adar, my home town, suffered a terror attack two weeks ago today. 

Plenty of pundits have put in their two cents since the terror attack in my community, Har Adar, on September 26. Las Vegas overshadows us all, but in our community, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of that awful Tuesday morning. Confident commentators are sure they know why a terrorist opened fire at the gate of our community, who precisely is to blame, and precisely what steps to take. And what I lay before you here also has its whys and whats.  But in the spirit of the season, it looks both inward as we do on Yom Kippur, and outward, as the Feast of Tabernacles teaches us.

“Are you alright?” The text messages started beeping in at 7:45 a.m. on September 26.

I was on my second cup of coffee and had already sat down at my desk. About 30 minutes earlier, I heard the sirens. One siren. I guess someone had a heart attack.

Two. That’s strange. Three. I opened my news websites.

The first reports said three Israelis had been shot and killed by a terrorist on the patrol road at Har Adar. That makes sense in my world. There are plenty of guns aimed at us all the time. If it’s on the patrol road, I told myself that morning as the news broke, the “Israelis” (the euphemism for security personnel before the authorities allow any more information to be released) are soldiers, and a terrorist must have opened fire on a patrol vehicle. I’m fine, I text back.

This yellow gate slides open to admit Palestinian workers to Har Adar. It’s been closed since the Sept. 26 attack. Behind it is the Palestinian village of Bidu.

Then the news came into focus. At the gate of Har Adar. More text messages. A terror attack at the gate? I began to think in terms of our front gate, and civilians. West of that gate, in the wadi on the other side of the security fence is the village of Qatana in Palestinian territory we had learned to fear. When our girls were younger, when we’d drive up the main road from the entrance toward home, which parallels the forest, the wadi and the road down to Qatana, we’d follow protocol to be able to escape the car in case an incendiary device was thrown at it. Time to undo your seatbelts girls, we’d call out with false cheer. Why? They’d ask. Well, we’re almost home, we’d say.

The entrance to Har Adar. On the right, is a banner dedicated to the three men who lost their lives protecting the community. On the window ledge of the guard post are three potted plants each marked with the name of one of the dead.

Next I heard, it’s not the entrance gate, it’s the big yellow gate where Har Adar ends and the Palestinian Authority begins, down the street from our sports center, elementary school and library, where the Palestinian workers come and go every day. On a weekday I see their cars parked on the Palestinian side of the barrier. They come in on foot. The gate is locked and no one’s ever there whenever I pass it on my walks around the community.

And then, everyone knew. The casualties were two civilian security guards and a Border Police officer. From Wikipedia, where the attack now has its own entry: “Border policeman Solomon Gavriyah (20), civilian security guards Youssef Ottman (25) of nearby Abu Ghosh and Or Arish (25), who lived in Har Adar. A fourth man, the head civilian security officer of Har Adar, is injured. The attacker was shot and killed.”

Our community security coordinator, Amit Steinhart, was seriously injured.

Our community bulletin board looked surreal to me. At left, a row of the three death notices, one for each guard. The turquoise sign next to them announces prayer times for Yom Kippur, amid various and sundry other community notices like houses for rent and a macrobiotic sukkah.

Later, on his release from the hospital, Steinhart told the media that Or Arish’s last words were “Amit, I saved you.” Meaning that Amit could now do what was needed to save others. And with our schoolchildren streaming into their classrooms at that very hour, only 200 yards up the road, that meant everything.

8:30 a.m.: I phoned Abed. I don’t know his last name. I can’t remember where he lives. Bidu, I think, northeast of us. That’s where the men came from who built our home 30 years ago. (The murderer came from Beit Suriq, farther along the ridge east of Bidu.) Old Abu Ghazi, who was in charge of the laborers who built our home, was from Bidu. When construction was done, he came with his whole family with gifts for us. A bucket of apricots from his trees. Toys for the girls. He brought a grapevine from his own vineyard and planted it in our garden. It gives us tiny, sweet, green grapes every summer. As for Abed, he planted the rose bushes in my garden 25 years ago. He’s been working at somebody’s house right down the street from us so I’ve seen him every day recently. He has a tractor with a Palestinian Authority license plate. When he first got the tractor, when it was shiny and new, 25 years ago, I saw it had a Palestinian Authority license plate and I thought, that’s a good sign, the Palestinian Authority has license plates. Over the years after the rose bushes, he’d greet me with shalom Miriam, what’s up, and I’d say shalom. But by then I had forgotten his first name too.

I’m not sure why I phoned Abed on the morning of the attack. Maybe because when I went outside to see if I could figure out where the sirens were coming from, and to watch the helicopters hovering, I saw Abed drive up the street in his tractor, as usual.  Passing him in the opposite direction, from the end of our cul-de-sac, without a second glance, were two security officers of some kind, on motorcycles.

I saw a contingent of four heavily armed Border Police officers, three young men and a woman, going from house to house. One of them, a young woman, asked me gruffly: Everything OK?  Yes, everything’s OK, I responded. Why are you going from house to house, I asked, is there a terrorist loose?  No, we’re just making sure you’re OK, they answered.

Oh yes, I’m fine. Thank you for your service, please accept my condolences, I said. Their faces were impassive, as if I hadn’t spoken.

Abed wasn’t down at the house where he’d been working. But he picked up my call. Abed, what’s up? Hakor beseder, everything’s OK, Miriam, what’s up with you, he responded, automatically. I ask him: Where are you? I saw you driving up the street. He answers, I was there but then I left. They’ve got us up here together, by the offices, he said. I’m sorry, I said to him. And in my mind, I enumerated my reasons for being sorry. Sorry for the three of our own killed, and our security officer seriously injured. Sorry that I wondered for a second whether you had done it, Abed. Sorry for living in a place where such a thing could happen. Sorry for living in a world where some version of this now happens all the time.

A shopping basket at our minimarket with a sign saying “Place your goodies for the soldiers, and kids letters and drawings here. The top drawing, in the heart, wishes a speedy recovery to Amit, our security chief.

Four days later, Erev Yom Kippur. Before Kol Nidre services began I was sitting in the vestibule of the Har Adar synagogue, talking to my brother Paul, who also lives in Har Adar. He said he saw the Palestinian workers sitting there when he went to buy milk, on the morning of the attack. I wondered if they had rounded them up for their own safety, I said. That was after I saw the venom spewed forth on our private community Facebook page.

The fury began on Facebook that same day. They’re all terrorists, wrote some. Don’t let them in your house, said several others; if you do, you’re risking your life and the lives of your children. Betwixt and between, arrangements were discussed to visit the houses of mourning, one in Be’er Ya’akov down near Rishon LeTzion, one in our neighboring Muslim town of Abu Ghosh and one in our own Har Adar. A long, emotional post by one neighbor said that with such great gaps between them and us, despite seemingly warm personal ties for years between the murderer and people in whose homes he worked, despite the money they make working here, despite how fair and kind we believe we are to them, their frustration, fury and envy will find its expression in religious ideology, she wrote.

Our neighboring town of Abu Ghosh, which is Muslim, and is also the biblical site of Kiryat Yearim where the Ark once rested.

And then she went too far, for people who had lost loved ones and friends here that day. She wrote that all the deaths where tragedies, even one not usually counted in such attacks. The responses grew furious at that. You’re insane. You disgust me. You’re sewage. You’re filth. Etcetera. Out of about 77 replies to her comment at that point, I only saw two that showed understanding of her viewpoint. I wondered about that, given what I know of our community. Apparently so did one neighbor who went as far as to post, in response to those posts, the official distribution of Knesset votes in our community, which is a West Bank settlement just over the pre-1967 line  – 47. 77 percent of our votes went to center-left or left-wing parties. And the posts continued to pour in. The woman with too much sympathy eventually retracted her post, with apologies.

Our community rabbi also posted on our community Facebook page. Ah, he’ll have an answer for me, I thought. OK, Let’s see now. He quoted from Psalm 130, the one that begins, famously: “Out of the depths I called Thee O Lord.”  One I’m sure families and people of faith are reading these days, especially across the United States. The verses he quoted were 6–8: “My soul waiteth for the Lord, more than the watchmen for the morning; yea, more than the watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope is in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” I can relate to that, I thought, noting how poetic that the verse the rabbi found was about watchmen. What do you think of that, I asked my husband Arik, who, not by the way, is a wounded warrior who this Yom Kippur marks 44 years as a paraplegic. That puts it on God, he said in his usual cryptic manner.

At Kol Nidre services, in the women’s section, I told a neighbor I had come because I was hoping to hear the rabbi speak out about the need for unity in the face of the disaster that had struck the families of the fallen and the community. Indeed, his sermon began with the same verse he had quoted in his post: “Waiting for redemption ‘like the guards wait for the morning’. That’s something almost everyone here can relate to, he said. “Who here hasn’t done guard duty at night and waited for the morning, for the shift to be over, giving thanks for having stayed awake,” he continued. But when morning came for Solomon Gavriyah, Youssef Othman and Or Arish, the rabbi reminded us, it was their last. He spoke of their heroism and camaraderie, of the light they brought to the world. He spoke of his personal acquaintance with Or and Youssef, and the heroism of Solomon and his family, who had come to Israel from Ethiopia. He didn’t counsel us as to what we should do now. Perhaps he wanted to leave it up to each of us to know what’s right. Perhaps he wants us to realize that we should trust in God, like the Psalm says.

After the sermon came the haunting chant of Kol Nidre. This includes Numbers 15:26: “And all the congregation of the children of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger that sojouneth among them; for in respect of all the people it was done in error.”

Forgiveness for “all the people”…I’m not that noble. I can’t find any forgiveness for the perpetrator. I haven’t even forgiven the neighbor down our street, who in his carelessness rammed his car into Arik’s car three and a half years ago, seriously injuring Arik and his mom, who never fully recovered (Arik’s mom died last month). But I’ve got a new vow. It’s one I don’t intend to seek release from next year on Yom Kippur. It’s an anti-venom vow. I vow to speak out when an entire group is incriminated and condemned for the actions of damnable individuals. I vow to continue to see every person as just that: a person, not a threat, not part of a nameless, fearsome mob of others. I vow to hold on to what makes me a member, above and beyond any other group, of the human race.

Further reading about Har Adar: My Judean Mountains Home.

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh is the author of several non-fiction books about daily life in Bible days and a historical novel, The Scroll.