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Suddenly Real

Avinu Malkeinu, now I know what I didn’t know to daven for on Yom Kippur

IF your shul is like mine, then toward the end of the Yamim Noraim davening, you recited the supplication “Avinu Malkeinu zechor rachamecha,” which delineates a very precise list of terrible trials from which we beg Hashem to spare us. You probably enunciated each one slowly, agonizingly, with a slightly choked voice and seething emotion.

Over the years, we’ve learned to visualize the terrible implications of these trials. Mageifah: We still remember those first few months of Covid, the masses of victims — healthy just a week before, now silent — waiting for rushed levayos. Machlokes: Be it a family rift, a yeshivah ripped apart by warring factions, or a communal controversy, all of us have seen these destructive claws mar and maim. Cherev: We knew that families in Bnei Brak and Elad were entering Yom Tov without fathers, after brutal stabbings had robbed them of their dear ones.

Can I confess something I’m not very proud of? When I got up to the word shevi, I just couldn’t summon up the same emotion. I know that there are Jews in jail whose children count the days to every visit. I’ve read of Jews imprisoned in third-world countries. I know that the term might metaphorically refer to precious Jews imprisoned by addiction. But this year on Yom Kippur, the category felt less immediate to me. So much so that I even made a tiny mental note to myself — why doesn’t this feel real?

By Simchas Torah morning, I’d already heard dribs and drabs of chilling news. Border breached. Many killed. Soldiers’ bases overrun. And hostages taken. Now it was very real.


the ensuing days and weeks, we slowly began to process the scale of the horror. It didn’t emerge all at once — in fact, some details are still emerging and some may never be fully clear. But when the numbers are so staggering, a lot of us find it hard to connect on an emotional level.

Instead, we connect personally to these tragedies by zooming in on individual faces, names, stories. So many people I knew drank in those individual portraits of the hostages: the three-year-old with blonde curls, the stoic savta, the redheaded baby, the slight nine-year-old with glasses that keep slipping off his nose, now in the hands of Hamas.

When I heard that hostages would soon be released, anticipation built as a physical sensation in my stomach. Would it be the redheaded baby? The two sisters taken without their mother? The timing of the first release would be right after I lit Shabbos candles, so I would have to wait to find out. That night, I woke up a few times, thinking about the faces, wondering about the names. And all too aware just how few names there would be.

I think a lot of us were hoping for a triumphant commando operation that would miraculously uncover and release all the captives. The way things played out is very different. You can’t hold back your tears at the sight of a little boy running into his father’s arms, or a mother scooping up her two girls after fighting for them ferociously. No one can deny it’s a dream come true and no one can say “mattir assurim” mindlessly after seeing it come to life.

But in so many ways, the scenes of homecoming are bittersweet. This isn’t a glorious victory, a single grand removal of the veil of hester panim and shame. It’s a very galus-punctuated process: agonizing, groveling, demeaning. We hoped for a buoyant process that would lift us from our doubts and fears, and instead we are left with so many questions about the costs and repercussions. And most heavily of all — so much pain for the hostages and families who are still waiting.

Avinu Malkeinu, now I know what I didn’t know to daven for on Yom Kippur. Please, let me never learn this way again. And please, please bring a full and final halt to captivity for every single Jew.


—Shoshana Friedman

Managing Editor


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 988)

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