From Tears to Silence to Song

October 13, 2023

For much of this week, while watching in horror as rockets fall on Israel, and retaliation is visited upon Gaza, as death tolls rise and stories of the victims are recounted, as my friends and the children of my teachers are called up to fight, I have been at a loss for words. There is no prayer to say, no poem to read, no conversation to have that will bring immediate relief to this pain I and so many of us are experiencing and witnessing.

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bereishit, the opening of the book of Genesis, is one that demonstrates the immense power of words. We learn that God spoke Creation into being, and, in our God-like-ness, our words have the power to generate connection and meaning, to weave whole worlds together. But in the face of the dehumanization, destruction and utter devastation in Israel and Palestine, as we sit in the grief of what’s transpired and in anticipation of what’s to come, and prepare ourselves for the mourning that will inevitably follow, no words seem quite right. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, on the subject of mourning, that there are three stages. The first is tears. This stage is the immediate catharsis, a physical outlet for the roaring range of emotions in the wake of a loss. Then, stage two: silence. As the tears dry and the dust settles, we begin to fully understand the magnitude of the loss. And finally, stage three: song. As the Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson said: “Where words fail, music speaks,” song can help transcend the limitations of the spoken word and elevate moments to a more beautiful and meaningful place than by words alone.

With that in mind, I offer you this playlist, a compilation of some of my favorite Jewish/Hebrew/Israeli songs, some liturgically-based but all spiritually resonant, to help us take the first steps through this dark time together, from tears, to silence, and God-willing, to song. Happy to provide more of my liner notes on the whole playlist, but a few highlights: The playlist’s title and the first track are inspired by a line from Psalm 118, “From the narrow place, I called out, and God answered me from the Expanse…” The playlist continues with Nava Tehila’s Ana El Na, a prayer for healing, and Batya Levine’s “We Rise,” bringing you on a journey from that narrow place to the hope, culminating in Debbie Friedman’s (z”l) interpretation of Psalm 126, “those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” 

Additionally, we have compiled a number of resources on our Israel page – whenever you are ready – for you to learn more about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and background on the current situation with Hamas and Gaza, our most-trusted news sources, as well as articles to help you have meaningful conversations with your children and families about what’s happening in Israel, ways to give, and opportunities for reflection.

Wishing you and yours, and all Israel and Jews everywhere, a Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Queen