Ginsburg gives remarks at vigil for victims in Israel

A candle burns against a dark background

Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Department Chair and Associate Professor Shai Ginsburg gave the following remarks on Oct. 9 at an on-campus vigil for the victims of the attack on Israel:

“I have few, all too few words to say to comfort you today. We are often missing words precisely when we need them the most.

"It is difficult, very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to put our emotions into words at such moments. As the prophet Amos said in the face of war, destruction, death, and desolation: "Therefore the prudent in that day shall fall silent, for it is an evil time.” Words may betray us; yet, the prophet himself cannot help but turn to words as he admonishes and rebukes, but also commiserates and consoles his listeners.

"Among us, there may be some who have lost family, friends, and acquaintances, who do not know where their dear ones are, whether they are safe or tormented as we speak. As the violence spreads, all of us — I am certain — fear for the lives of family, friends, and acquaintances. As I stand here, together with you, I vacillate between pain, hurt, anger, frustration and despair; and I am ever more anxious as it becomes evident that we are still far from the end of this terrible experience, and that we are facing even more violence, injury, and death.

"I thus stand here, lamenting not only for the hundreds upon hundreds who have viciously lost their lives over the past three days, but also for the lives that are sure to be lost in the coming days — it is a horrific vision of agony and death.

"Yet, grieving together is also a source of hope, even if at this moment, all looks bleak. In grieving together, we are forming a bond, a community that can and should strive to make a difference in the world we live in, to make our world different — precisely from the heart of grief.

"A bond that fortifies us against those who seek to bring about destruction, pain, and agony; yet, it should also fortify us against enmity and hate; against the mirage that our pain is of a different kind than the pain of others; that our torment is incomparable with their torment; that innocent suffering could somehow be recompensed by the suffering of others, innocent no less. As we writhe with agony, we should embrace each other and support each other, for better and for worse, together.

"I am a person of literature, and I turn to literature to help me put my thoughts into words. I would, therefore, like to end with a Hebrew poem.

"'A Final Prayer” was written in 1928 by Uri Tsvi Greenberg as the conclusion to his volume, Anacreon at the Pole of Sorrow:

"Bend us, if you will, as you bend trees
Under the weight of the sweet blessing from June through October,
For we are your trees too, with the weighty yield of sorrows;
But do not uproot us from the root of this soil,
For we have chosen to dwell on it as you have planted us
Within the circle of days and nights.

If this is your decree: our foreheads should not touch the heights,
And we shall not envision climbing the rungs of the gilded ladder -
Let us forge a pact with your living soil,
In the beautiful vale of living souls,
And from the slate of our life, expunge five letters: death.'”