Too Close to Home

Four yoga students line up on their mats facing me. Behind me, the pool tiles–teal and aquamarine and celestial blues–shimmer in the sunlight. It’s mid-October, and the weather is so mild I hold morning classes in my backyard. Every few minutes, my Israeli neighbor’s phone vibrates and she walks away to check it. At 9:40am, almost an hour into class, I poke fun at her: “Dalia is texting and doing yoga.” She keeps quiet. The others chuckle. I instruct them to stand on their right leg, find a focal point, and bend the left leg as high up to their chests as they can. While they stand and gaze beyond me and the handful of fledgling trees in our yard, I hear a loud hum of a helicopter. It’s low and circling over us.

“What’s that about?” I must have said aloud.

“I didn’t want to say anything, but there was a stabbing in Raanana,” says my neighbor. “My husband texted from Germany to make sure I’m okay.” Everyone releases the pose. We’re quiet–too stunned to speak–as her words sink in. Our beautiful city called Raanana, our quiet paradise in the center of the country, one that many Israelis and immigrants jokingly call a bubble, is no longer immune. We are no longer immune.

A new student, an olah from Boston, comes closer. “What? Where? Raanana? Here?” Her words are tinged with tears before she hears any specifics, and then, when she understands the stabbing occurred a block from her house, she excuses herself, takes her phone, and leaves to call her husband.

Another student, a close friend from New Jersey, wells up with tears. She takes her phone and walks into my living room to check her family’s whereabouts.

I want to fall apart too. Or scream. Maybe cry. Shake my arms at the heavens and beg for help. But I am the teacher, caught in a role I usually adore and assume well. So I sit with my eyes closed and breathe as deeply, as long as I can. A few minutes pass. The helicopter continues to hover and circle, low and ominous. We have ten minutes left, and I ask everyone to sit up cross-legged, close their eyes, and focus on the breath. The two women return to their mats and join us. I approach the newcomer, sit down opposite her and put my arms around her, to hold her, to be held. I have nothing profound to say. I am still considered and consider myself a new immigrant even though it’s been four years.

In that short time here, I have already experienced Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, and now this. I have already sent one son into the army, and soon, next month, a daughter. But this slew of stabbings, barbaric person-to-person attacks, in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Hadera, Holon, Afula, and now, a mile away from me, in Raanana, this is new. Because this time, unlike all the others, the enemy is a teenager, a woman, young, determined to hurt, preferably kill; it is perhaps the one who cleans the ladies locker room at the pool, the nurse at the rehabilitation hospital, or an employee at the Israeli telephone company.

After a brief seated meditation, I invite whoever wants to lie down for savasana. I try not to think about the English translation—corpse pose. Two students lie down; two are too tense to put themselves in such a vulnerable position. At the end, we all sit up, in a circle, facing out, shoulder to shoulder, so we can feel each other and hear each other breathe.

We lift our spines, creating as much space as we can between our vertebrae and ribs, inhale and on the exhale, chant AUM, the vibrational sound of the universe. My voice trembles, and I am not alone. Nobody moves at the end. My neighbor takes my hand and squeezes hard. She has raised four children, the youngest boy halfway through his service in an elite combat unit. She has lived through this violence her whole life. It’s as if we need each other to stay in place and to hold us up and to step off the mat and into our lives.

Before we break I ask another one of my students, an American psychologist, if he has any words or advice or wisdom to share. He pauses then speaks.

“If you’re feeling anxious or scared, it’s okay. Try to acknowledge it rather than push it away. The more you push it away and don’t deal with it, the bigger it becomes,” he says. I know he’s right, but when I let the fear in, I slowly unravel. I cannot function. “Yesterday, in between patients, I started thinking about my kids, like what if they died.” His oldest daughter is currently in the army; his next daughter is in a one-year army-preparatory program; and his youngest son, in middle school. “I wondered what I would say if I had to eulogize them. I just let myself cry. After going through that with myself, my anxiety went down.” We all stifle our tears. I know that despite the past seventy-five minutes of conscious breathing and moving slowly that we are each holding our breath.

And right now, as helicopters continue to clamor overhead, I don’t know if or when I will be able to exhale again.


Leave a Comment

24 Responses to “Too Close to Home”

  1. Judie Kaplan October 14, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    Jen~~You are in my thoughts and prayers. Be safe my lovely lady! I love you, Judie

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

      Thank you, Judie. It’s been a relatively quiet week, but in this place, that doesn’t mean a lot. It can change overnight.

  2. Cindy October 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Katelyn heard about it before I did and asked if I knew that Simone was ok… sending love from Westchester miss you.

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:45 pm #

      I didn’t include in the story that while teaching that morning, my cell rang and I heard it. Philippe answered and it was SImone calling to say she was at school and they had just received the news and everyone was okay. Daniella was home and up-to-date because she is a news junkie. Benj was at work. Thank you for checking. Thank Katelyn too please.

  3. Laura Rotter October 14, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Sending prayers and blessings from White Plains.

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

      Thank you. They still mean a lot. And I am sending them back at you.

  4. Auntie em October 14, 2015 at 8:02 pm #

    Stunning writing about a near-impossible to imagine scenario


    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

      One week has passed and everybody is still talking about how the bubble has burst in our safehaven. Everyone’s on guard. I’m not sure those feelings will ever go away.

  5. Jeanette lerner October 15, 2015 at 1:59 am #

    Stay safe. Our thoughts and prayers of peace are with you and everyone in Israel.

    Much love

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

      Thank you, Jeanette, so much. xo

  6. Lauren October 15, 2015 at 3:43 am #

    As always, thank you for sharing your life and insights with such and open heart.

    So glad we had a happy occasion to meet last night.

    Kisses and hugs and ujjayi breathing from Jerusalem.

    xoxo L

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

      Ditto on all accounts.

  7. Shawna goodman October 15, 2015 at 6:35 am #

    Jen-you encapsulated the feelings of all of us. Thank u for articulating our emotions in such a beautiful way

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

      Thank you for reading. For responding. xo

  8. Amy October 15, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    We are praying for peace and safety for all of you.
    Sending love from Madrid.

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

      Sadly, I don’t think peace is on the table right now. Nobody sees a solution. It is deeply painful. For all sides. Thank you for your love.

  9. Annette Keslinger October 15, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    Jen-a beautiful piece on such a barbaric occurence.
    Glad to hear you are safe.

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

      Thank you for reading and hopefully sharing with anyone you know who might be interested or curious about what it’s really like here.

  10. Lisa October 15, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    Praying for you and your family Jennifer. I’ll breathe deeply with you!

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

      You won’t be surprised to hear that last week it took me until Thursday afternoon, after a vigorous Vinyasa class I attended, that I felt like I let my breath out from Tuesday. No joke. My chest was tight and I knew it. Thank you.

  11. Shoshana October 16, 2015 at 12:04 am #

    Tears. Love and sending thoughts of this craziness ending.

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

      Toda. Thank you for reading and caring.

  12. Megan Vered October 23, 2015 at 5:46 am #

    Sorry you are having to write about this, though you did it with such grace.

    • Jennifer Lang January 1, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

      Toda. Ahava.

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