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Bari Nan Cohen Rothchild: How much can our souls contain?

This war supersedes political discord. It is a war on our souls, perpetrated in brutal, inhuman and inhumane acts.

(Ohad Zwigenberg | AP) An Israeli soldier takes a position in Kibbutz Kfar Azza on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. Hamas militants overran Kfar Azza on Saturday, where many Israelis were killed and taken captive.

My body, tied in knots for days, finally rebelled on me. I sprinted to the bathroom, hand over my mouth, unable to contain the contents of my stomach, my grief, any longer. The vomiting was violent and fast— like the fury, destruction, and death in the Hamas attack on Israel, last Saturday. The most significant attack on Israel in 50 years, and the most brutal.

Quickly, we learned the initial bombings accounted for the greatest number of Jews killed in a single day since the Holocaust; an echo of it. Almost as quickly, we learned of people, just one degree removed from our family’s expansive circle, whose loved ones were missing or dead. It all hit us like body blows.

I am a Jewish mom in Utah, and Israel is a part of me. I have lived there; it formed a lot of who I am as a human being and as a Jew. And Israel is inextricably linked with my identity: Hamas prioritizes “death to the Jews” in its charter, and in fulfilling that, commits bloody and heinous acts. Israeli or not, none of us is exempt.

Among the feelings that flooded my system were loneliness and dread. We encounter anti-Semitism with some frequency. We add to that, worry about backlash as the necessary Israeli retaliation unfolds.

Which was one reason my friend, Summit County Sheriff Frank Smith, reached out to me last Saturday morning. But first, he offered support: “This is horrific — an unprovoked attack on Israel,” he said. “I want you to know I stand with you, and with our Jewish community.”

Reader, I wept. Frank is, in a word, a mensch. He is an excellent leader, and has been a stellar friend to my family for a decade. Hearing his voice, and feeling the validation that this horrible thing was, in fact, horrible and personal — meant everything.

[Read more: Utahns share their perspectives on what’s happening in Israel and Palestine]

Then he spoke of his desire to stay ahead of local reverberations, lest a neo-Nazi or otherwise disturbed person twist their thoughts to justify creating more victims. He asked me to ask those around me to stay vigilant, to report suspicious behavior.

“If we don’t know about it, we can’t prevent it,” Frank said.

The following day, as if on cue, several Utah Jewish organizations received bomb threats. Our synagogue, Temple Har Shalom, did not receive one, but chose to evacuate the students who were in the building for religious school. Thankfully, the weather was nice; learning continued on our congregation’s beautiful property. To be Jewish in America is to have no sanctuary from worrying about your kids’ safety.

I have always combatted anti-Semitism by helping educate our neighbors to embrace differences rather than fear them. Yet, this tragedy of barbaric acts defies logic and good intent — and is one we cannot absorb.

The news continues to crash through us. Reports of university student groups across the U.S., praising Hamas, haunt me. Leaders in Israel and the U.S. warned parents: “Make sure your children delete TikTok and Instagram: Hamas is sharing footage of the gruesome, brutal murders of Jews.” Our brains cannot unsee it, and as one rabbi put it, the images are “bigger and crueler than our souls can contain.”

That last sentence stopped me cold. Although I often find myself at odds with the politics and policies of the Israeli government, I’m usually in good company: Many Israeli Jews and Arabs in the same boat have taken to the streets in peaceful protests, for years. This war, though, supersedes political discord. It is a war on our souls, perpetrated in brutal, inhuman, and inhumane acts. And that, perhaps, is why my body could no longer contain the grief.

How much can our souls contain?

Bari Nan Cohen Rothchild

Bari Nan Cohen Rothchild is a writer who has lived in Utah since 2001.