This piece is part of our Wit­ness­ing series, which shares pieces from Israeli authors and authors in Israel, as well as the expe­ri­ences of Jew­ish writ­ers around the globe in the after­math of Octo­ber 7th.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

How to Shower

Select a time

When there’s anoth­er adult in the house

Or your chil­dren are awake. 

Clothes should be sitting

Right next to the shower.

Do not remove your lenses.

Make sure your phone is nearby,

With the sound turned up.

Step in:

Soap, sham­poo, con­di­tion­er, exit.

No check­ing messages

Or apply­ing moisturizer

While you’re still in your towel.

Nine­ty sec­onds is plen­ty of time. 

It’s enough time to throw on clothes,

Or wake four children.

It’s enough time 

To close the hall­way doors 

And the shut­ters in the liv­ing room

And even bring in a chair or two.

Nine­ty sec­onds is plenty.

How to Dri­ve a Car

When your phone rings

On the way to foot­ball practice,

And your sis­ter tells you 

That every­one you know is safe

But you should please call back, and soon,

Your blood runs cold.

You have to remember:

Put your foot on the gas pedal.

Stay in the lane.

Where do you turn?

You’ve dri­ven this maybe fifty times. 

Where do you turn?

You have to remember:

Crack jokes with the girls.

It’s fun­ny to talk about Coach

And to plan mak­ing sweat­shirts that say Catch, then run!”

It’s fun­ny to tell stories

About missed passes

And to plan out sil­ly names for sui­cides and planks. 

You have to remem­ber to breathe

And that your stom­ach, tied up in knots,

Can’t fall out of your body.

In twen­ty minutes, 

When you drop them off,

You’ll know what­ev­er there is to know.

Twen­ty minutes.

You can remem­ber how to dri­ve for twen­ty minutes.

How to Pay a Shi­va Call

Stand in line out­side the tent.

Take tea from the women pass­ing it out.

Watch as a car blocks the street 

And two men car­ry in

An end­less sup­ply of drinks.

Do not eaves­drop on the teenager 

Sit­ting in a cir­cle with her friends,

Talk­ing about her brother. 

Do not look at your phone.

Do not cry.

Inch slow­ly forward.

You can inch for­ward that way 

For forty-five minutes,


Eat a pretzel;

Women are walk­ing around offering:

Please say a blessing.

Inch slow­ly forward.

Don’t eaves­drop on the two women stand­ing in front of you.

Is that the mother?

Where is the father?

Which ones are sisters?

Inch slow­ly forward

The moth­er is standing. 

She smiles as she received people.

Inch slow­ly forward.

It’s almost your turn.

What can you pos­si­bly say? 

I’m your neighbor. 

She hugs you. 

Min hashamay­im tenuchamu.

May the heav­ens con­sole you.

How to Pray

You can’t remem­ber a time when you didn’t pray.

It was an imper­a­tive from the time you were small,

And as you grew, it waxed and waned,

Longer, short­er, more mean­ing­ful and less.

Prayer has always been your few min­utes of calm, quiet,

Even when chil­dren inter­rupt your silence

To ask whether there’s an open box of cereal

Or if you can add time to their phone limits.

Once war begins, though,

Your prayer evolves:

The prayer you used to say 

That you lost when the kids were born—

You add it back in.

On the first night of the war,

You receive a print­able page

With extra prayers.

Your sis­ter starts a Psalms group,

And you say a few every day.

On the sec­ond day of the war,

You decide 

To read all of the Psalms on your own as well,

So you add two or three when you can,

Sit­ting at your kitchen table,

Read­ing glass­es on your face,

Strug­gling through often unfa­mil­iar words.

And then there’s the Amidah,

The cen­tral pil­lar of prayer.

You always add the names of peo­ple in need of healing,

And now the heal­ing blessing

Is over­run by sol­diers with miss­ing limbs

And unrec­og­niz­able faces.

The bless­ing for rain 

Now includes words that ask 

For the pro­tec­tion of the sol­diers from rain

Even as it asks for rain for the fields,

Woe­ful­ly untend­ed as peo­ple have run for their lives

Or are stand­ing on the front­lines instead of farming.

But it is the final blessing

Of the Amidah’s cen­tral section 

That has changed the most.

In it,

You have added the names 

Of the miss­ing and soldiers.

You can­not pray for all of the missing;

You remem­ber three names—

The elder­ly relative, 

The boy from the neighborhood, 

One more boy every­one seems to know—

And you beg God for their safe return, along with the others.

You can­not pray for all of the soldiers;

You only remem­ber the names 

Of your nephews, nieces, cousins, neighbors.

You strug­gle to keep them in some sort of order.

Do you begin with the oldest? 

With the one who is deep inside the war zone?

With the ones who have seen so much

That you fear they will nev­er recover?

Your prayer seems to get longer and longer.

You cry, some­times, dur­ing the Psalms, 

Or as you strug­gle to remem­ber names.

Prayer encom­pass­es so much, you think:

Grat­i­tude, peti­tion, grief.

But you still have not found the prayer that asks:

How could You?

How to Sleep

First, do not read the news.

For four or five hours before you get into bed,

The only things you can see on your phone

Are old Hall­mark movies,

Snip­pets of Say Yes to the Dress,

Ther­a­pists dis­cussing Dis­ney films.

Do not watch the news on TV,

Or read social media.

When you final­ly do get into bed,

Try to read or watch inane things

Until you fall asleep of bore­dom or exhaustion.

If you must fall asleep with­out distraction,

Remem­ber to push down your shoulders,

Hunched up to your ears most of the day,

Unclench your jaw,

Relax the mus­cles in your face.

Years ago, when the three boys were missing,

Before you knew for cer­tain that they had been murdered,

You real­ized that you were lying in bed,

Your eye­brows furrowed,

Your eyes squeezed tight,

Your cheeks held strong.

You had to learn to let them go.

These nights, 

You suf­fer from rest­ing dev­as­tat­ed face;

Around the coun­try and the world,

Oth­er peo­ple lie awake in bed like you,

Eyes squeezed shut,

Jaws clenched. 

If you can remember

Not to read news

Not to squeeze tight all the mus­cles of your face

Not to think about the world around you,



You can sleep. 

How to Take Challah

Pre­pare your dough on Thursday—

Fif­teen hun­dred grams at least—

And leave it in the fridge overnight; 

On Fri­day morn­ing, place it some­where warm.

When it has risen,

Wake your daughter,

The braid­ing prodigy;

You will need her to shape the challot.

Pull off a piece and roll it into a ball.

State: This is chal­lah.

Say the blessing:

Blessed are You, God, Mas­ter of the uni­verse, who has sanc­ti­fied us with His com­mand­ments, and instruct­ed us to sep­a­rate chal­lah.

Take a moment to ask God for the impor­tant things.

God, say, please return the hostages.

Hold the pages you have printed 

With two hun­dred and forty names.

Read the names, one at a time.

It shouldn’t take long;

You can read two hun­dred and forty names.

One at a time.

Why are there so many?

Keep read­ing as your eyes fill,

As you trip over the names and blink and swal­low hard,

As your twelve-year-old puts a hand on your arm.

God, why doesn’t it end?

How to Wait

They will call their parents

And tell them that their phones will be off.

Their par­ents will tell you.

You will take a deep breath

And steady your voice as you speak.

Their phones may be off for days or weeks.

You will hold that breath for as long as their phones are off,

One breath for each soldier.

You will hold that breath as you check in with their parents,

Call­ing with a smile

Or writ­ing a quick How are you doing?”

Nev­er ask.

They will tell you when there’s some­thing to know.

Go through the motions—

Make meals, run the dish­wash­er, fold laun­dry, do work—

With your breath held.

Walk through life underwater.

One day, if you are lucky, you will receive a short message. 

It will say He’s out” or She called.” 

And you will let go of that one breath

And feel your chest col­lapse into your body. 

How to Find Words

For the first few weeks,

You will search for the right words.

Inhu­mane? Inhu­man? Subhuman?

Bru­tal? Violent? 

Unthink­able? Unfathomable? 

Ani­mal and mon­ster are too slight;

Almost car­toon­ish.

Soul­less seems right, but not active enough.

Heinous, mer­ci­less, heartless—

These are words you use for those who are 

Casu­al­ly vio­lent, flip­pant in their brutality. 

What do you call 

Those who would glee­ful­ly dis­mem­ber, burn alive, behead?

What do you call

The cheer­ing, jeer­ing crowds,

Cel­e­brat­ing the debased bodies,

Shar­ing a treat to honor

Those who proud­ly invad­ed, raped, murdered?

Even when you can final­ly write,

You can­not find words to describe 

The neigh­bors 

You once fool­ish­ly assumed

Were all bluster.

The word Holocaust 

Belongs to some­thing else.

This is a tragedy, a trau­ma, all its own.

You can­not find words

Because there are none;

The words for what you’ve witnessed

Have yet to be born.

How to Bless Your Child

Take the prayer you print­ed in your left hand.

Reach up.

His head is much high­er than yours is.

You had always pic­tured your­self with a hand on his head,

But he leans in and holds on to you, 

Hug­ging you,

And you stand that way,

One hand hold­ing the page,

One hand on his head,

His arms around you.

God, say,

You have cre­at­ed a wonder.

God, say,

Please help him find his people.

Please help him learn.

Please keep him safe.

Please bring him back.

God, say,

Thank you for hear­ing his dream,

When he was sev­en years old

And sprawled on the hall­way floor

Read­ing the mil­i­tary ency­clo­pe­dia cov­er to cover.

God, say,

You helped make this happen,

Even when it seemed it could not be;

I bless You and I curse You.

God, say,

I hand him over

To You and to Your messengers.

God, say,

I have done all I can,

And now I will pray

And pre­pare good food every few weeks

And send packages

And keep his room ready.

God, say,

Please do Your part.

And if You can bring him back

With a body intact

And a spir­it that is whole,

I will bless You again and again.

May God bless and pro­tect you.

May God shine His face on you and give you grace.

May God lift His face to you and give you peace.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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