By Matan Rudner
The sun has set here in Jerusalem and the Simchat Torah War enters its 25th day. We inhabit now a harsher reality — thousands are dead, hundreds of hostages remain in chains, over a million Gazans and a quarter of a million Israelis are displaced and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and reservists are fighting at the front. We are all left to grapple with the present and to help in any way that we can.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have returned to the country since the war began and thousands of others — foreign nationals and Israelis alike — have fled to safer shores.
There is talk in the air of coming and going, of loyalty and family, of ideologies and comforts. Of the distance of a loved one’s embrace.
I stay here in embattled Jerusalem because my life is here — my cat, my friends, my school, my job. I stay because in my community here there are babies and grandparents and friends from the army and friends from my kibbutz in the south. I stay for the bars I like and the parks I love, for the restaurants we go to when my Mom comes to visit.
I stay because I refuse to leave, because what does it mean to leave if I cannot be here? What does it mean to be in exile — to flee your homeland for greener pastures?
I stay because I can’t imagine the torture of being far away, of feeling helpless and lost among strangers who have not breathed the mountain air of Jerusalem, who could never comprehend its sweetness.
I stay because as the battle here rages on, Jewish life in every corner of the world is threatened; because it is not safer there than here.
I stay because I love this land, this earth, more deeply than I could ever love another. From this dust I have been brought forth and it is to this dust that I shall one day return.
I stay because these are the hills of Judea, those are the tributaries of the Jordan and all around me are young children laughing in Hebrew.
I stay because though my family — the flesh of my flesh, the soul of my soul — remains far, I refuse the burden of a dream unfulfilled.
I stay because I refuse to raise my children, may Hashem bless me with many, with their bags packed at the door; waiting, anxious for trouble, ready to move, living a life in wait for the next disaster.
I stay because there is work to be done — crops to be harvested, sick to be healed, mourners to be comforted, soldiers to be supported, ministers to be ousted, communities to be rebuilt, the martyred to be buried.
I stay because this is where our story is being written and I dream to take part in it.
I stay because I cannot let the enemy win. He seeks to remove me from my land, to terrify me and send me running away. I stand fully rooted in the soil of my ancestors, here until the end.
The 2009 film “Princess Kaiulani” depicts the life of the last heir apparent to the throne of the kingdom of Hawaii. As a teenager, Kaiulani saw a military coup overthrow her aunt, Queen Liliuokalani, and bring an end to the independence of the country. Towards the end of the film, the princess’ love interest beseeches her to return with him to Europe rather than watch her homeland “crumble and fade away.” She looks at him with contempt in her eyes and says, “And what would it fade into without me? And what would I fade into without it?”
We stay because we refuse to let it fade away.
Matan Rudner made aliyah from Dallas six years ago. He lives with his cat Baruch in Jerusalem.