The Horror of These Times: A Reading List

The below newsletter went out to Lilith’s followers on Friday, October 13. Sign up for emails and follow Lilith on instagram and Facebook for more.

The terror and horror of this period of war and violence are unprecedented. At Lilith, every conversation begins with the question “How are you, and how are your loved ones?” 

In Frankly Feminist: Short Stories from Jewish Women, the editors note war’s gendered impact on women: “The ways war transforms and can deform lives through multiple generations demonstrates again how the political is always, in the end, personal.” 

With pain in our hearts for losses past and, we fear, losses yet to come, Lilith will in coming weeks and months continue to publish the stories of Jewish feminists about terror, loss, displacement, and connection.

While right now any kind of peace feels elusive, we pray that the death and destruction cease. May the dread in our hearts lift and be replaced by the hope that there will be, speedily and in our day, good government, lasting peace and safety for all. 

But as we find ourselves in the desolate space of prayers yet unanswered, we turn to some words from Lilith’s archive as we seek some small measure of comfort this Shabbat.

With care,
The Lilith Staff

Offerings from Lilith’s Poetry Editor, Alicia Ostriker

Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)
by Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

from the volcano sequence
by Alicia Ostriker

the shekhinah as amnesiac

I was set up from everlasting,
from the beginning before the earth was. . . . 
When he prepared the heavens I was there. . . 
rejoicing always before him. —>Proverbs 8:23–30 

Then humanity named you wisdom 
monarchs ruled according to your counsel 
you prepared a table from which we ate

you were above rubies 
and exalted like the palm tree
 or like the rose bushes in Jericho 

come on, surely by now you remember who you are 
you’re my mother my sisters my daughter
you’re me 

we will have to struggle so hard to birth you 
this time 
the brain like a cervix …

Desperately reaching for words to anchor us, we turned back to “The Prayer of the Mothers for Life and Peace,” written by Rabbi Tamar Elad Applebaum and Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed. Originally quoted by Sharon Brous in May 2021, its cry to God of life reminds us that violence is not inevitable.

מלך חפץ בחיים 
הרופא לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם 
שמע נא תפילת אמהות 
שאתה לא בראתנו על מנת שנהרוג זה בזה 
ולא על מנת שנחיה בפחד, כעס ושנאה בעולמך 
אלא על מנת שנדע לתת רשות זה לזה לקיים את שמך 
שם חיים, שם שלום בעולם
صلاة مشتركة 
اله الحياة 
الذي يُشفي القلوب الحزينة والمتألمة 
استمع لو سمحت الى صلاة الأمهات 
لأنك لم تخلقنا لكي نقتل بعضنا بعضاً 
وليس لكي نعيش بحالة من الخوف, الغضب والكراهية في عالمك هذا 
بل لكي نسمح لبعضنا البعض أن نذكر أسمك 
اسم الحياة, اسم السلام في العالم 

God of Life 
Who heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds 
May it be your will to hear the prayer of mothers 
For you did not create us to kill each other 
Nor to live in fear, anger or hatred in your world 
But rather you have created us so we can grant permission to one another to sanctify 
Your name of Life, your name of Peace in this world. 

על אלה אני בוכיה עיני עיני יורדה מים 
על ילדים בוכים מפחד בלילות 
על הורים אוחזים עולליהם וייאוש ואפלה בלבם 
על שער אשר נסגר ומי יקום ויפתחהו טרם פנה יום 

على جميع هؤلاء أنا أبكي دوماً 
أبكي خوفاً على الأطفال في الليالي 
يحمل الآباء أطفالهم الصغار واليأس والظلام في قلوبهم 
على البوابة التي أغلقت والتي لا نعرف من سوف يقوم بفتحها 

For these things I weep, my eye, my eye runs down with water 
For our children crying at nights, 
For parents holding their children with despair and darkness in their hearts 
For a gate that is closing and who will open it while day has not yet dawned. 

ובדמעות ובתפלות שאני מתפללת כל הזמן 
ובדמעות כל הנשים שכואבות את הכאב החזק בזמן הקשה הזה 
הריני מרימה את ידיי למעלה אנא ממך אדוני רחם עלינו 
שמע קולנו ה׳ אלהינו בימי הרעה האלה שלא נתייאש 
ונראה חיים זה בזה 
ונרחם זה על זה 
ונצטער זה על זה 
ונקווה לזה לזה 

وبالدموع والصلوات التي أصليها طيلة الوقت 
وبدموع النساء اللواتي يشعرن بهذا الألم القوي في هذه الأوقات العصيبة 
أنا أرفع يدي اليك يا ربي أن ترحمنا 
لنعيش مع بعضنا البعض 
ونشفق على بعضنا البعض 
ونواسي بعضنا البعض 
ونأمل الخير لبعضنا البعض 

And with my tears and prayers which I pray 
And with the tears of all women who deeply feel the pain of these difficult days 
I raise my hands to you please God have mercy on us 
Hear our voice that we shall not despair 
That we shall see life in each other, 
That we shall have mercy for each other, 
That we shall have pity on each other, 
That we shall hope for each other.

We Are Destined to Share this Land
by Leah Solomon (Spring 2021)

“And all I can think, as always, is how intertwined and inextricable our stories are, how tightly linked our futures. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are going anywhere because most of us have nowhere else to go.”