She turned around.
Like Lots wife, she felt her soul leave her body, but instead of becoming salt, she felt her heart, mind and soul explode into a thousand pieces as she watched the world burn.
Her small son in her arms, all that she had left of her family, was wailing, his young face streaked with ash. Pieces of their universe fell around them like the snow Jerusalem hadn’t gotten in so long.
It was more than heart rending or tragic, it was the end.
There couldn’t possibly be a day tomorrow, a new dawn. The birds couldn’t possibly sing praise to a G-d who could allow such torturous destruction of an empire, of a nation, of a world.
She pulled her son closer as he cried the tears she couldn’t even find. His belly was empty, yet she could not provide, for she had not eaten in weeks. The fact that she had not yet collapsed with the rest of her family was a miracle she didn’t understand, nor cared to be grateful for. Life was not something she prayed for anymore.
Her mind, against her will, went back to the last Passover, a day that began in hope and prayer, but ended in massacre and mourning. Her uncle who had risked his life to come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and praises to his G-d had been killed that day, in the holy temple, together with her father and her oldest brother.
The starvation was next, destroying what little will the Jews still had. Her tears began to fall as she recalled the faces of her mother and sisters as they worked together to create meals out of dust for their families. One after the other, her nieces and nephews, her own children, her sisters and brothers died of starvation, their bellies empty, their hearts broken, in a world so dismal most prayed it would be them next.
And then, today.
As her surviving neighbors, her husband, as they banded together, and despite their impossible pain, made the choice to fight back, there was a roar.
The Temple was on fire.
She watched in disbelief as everyone around her rose like one body and charged towards the Temple, armed with nothing but sheer hatred towards Jerusalem’s enemies. She watched as they foolishly attempted to put out the destructive flames. She watched, numb, as her husband was engulfed by the flames, destroying everything she had left. She looked into the eyes of her son, and with strength that came from somewhere she didn’t know she had, she lifted him from the ground and ran.
She didn’t look back as she heard the tortured screams, she didn’t look back as she felt the rivers of blood rise up to her ankles, she didn’t look back as she felt the heat of the fire on her neck.
She held her son and ran.
And then, she turned around.
And she watched everything end. She watched the impossible occur. She watched everyone she knew and ever loved go up in flames, sacrificed like animals on the altar.
She raised her eyes towards the heavens, the sky heavy with smoke and misery.
Bitter tears climbed up her throat, she ached in every way, calling out for her Ima, her Abba, her children she helplessly watched die.
Her son laid his head on her heart, holding her, afraid she would crack.
Her son who’s entire life had been this nightmare.
She knew that if there was to be a future, a tomorrow, they would never be able to grasp how earth shattering this pain was. What it felt like to be alive when the entire world was burning.
What it meant to be the one who had to wake up tomorrow, who had to still scrounge for something to feed her son, to smile through the tears so that her son would know what love was.
For the first time in months, she felt the stirrings of hope deep inside her chest.
She hoped that someone would try, that they would not be forgotten, that someone would truly mourn.
She hoped that somehow, this destroyed nation would piece themselves together. That they would rebuild, yet not replace. That they would remember each and every lost soul, that they would bring themselves to a humbled place and remember.
She looked at her son, his eyes still bright with future, and she knew why she had survived.
For her son.
For the future.
For the next chapter.
As she gazed back at the flaming city, she saw one wall of the outer temple gates undeterred, unmoved by the destruction.
Like her, it watched as everything around it collapsed to the pain, yet it stood strong, unwavering.
And she knew that the same way she would provide comfort and strength for her son, that wall would forever stand for the Jewish people, as a symbol of hope, as a symbol of strength.
And as she enveloped her son in her arms, and together they cried, she saw that one day, again, the Jews would flock to Jerusalem.
Blog Post: 45/52
featured photo via Unsplash
That was incredible! I literally teared up! I finally got to get a true glimpse of what the churban was. It was so well written with so much emotions. I look forward to your next yom tov short story. Those are my favorite posts.
Thank you so much! This is so sweet.