”Maayan? Are you there?”
The moment I heard the horrific news I started looking for her name. In the survivors list, in the list of the missing, in posts of common friends. The list of the murdered ones didn’t start appearing until a couple of days after the massacre.
Text: Vera Berzak
Illustrations: Joanna Rubin Dranger
We met in a dance and meditation festival in the desert many years ago. She was 19 and I was 20. I called her the fairy. Everyone did.
She smiled like a fairy and she danced like a fairy and she cared from the heart for every human being on earth. We danced contact improvisation and slept on mattresses under the stars.
It was many years ago.
Now she is not picking up the phone.
”Maayan? Are you there?”
“Were you there?”
It was many years ago but she was still at every festival. Running the clinic for mental first aid, for people who end up in emotionally critical conditions after taking narcotics.
“Good People” it was called. Anashim tovim.
As a social worker and therapist in three different positions, she was working 50 hours a week helping people in need. People with traumas, people who couldn’t function in society, people whom no one else was helping. Two weeks ago when we last spoke she said she was quitting her job at the rave parties after 10 years. It was hard because it had become part of her personality. But she must make room for family. They want to have another baby.
I can’t find her name on any list.
Hours go by in front of the screen, bits of information start appearing, these stories cannot be true. Such unfathomable brutality cannot be true.
With a heavy heart we announce that our dear beloved brother Jonathan Richter, who volunteered for Good People during the Nova festival, has now been found dead. We will always remember your enormous warm heart.
I try texting again.
“Maayan? Please just let me know you are there”
How come I don’t have her mother’s phone number? The number of her wife? I start looking through her friends list again to see if anyone posted anything.
With great sorrow and grief we announce the death of Lior Atias, who volunteered in the clinic and was murdered during the massacre at Nova festival. We share the grief of the family for this enormous loss of an outstanding and kind woman.
On the second day after the massacre they have updated the list of missing people. There are photos of young people celebrating life, there are photos of tattoos and body marks in case the corpse is mutilated beyond recognition. I look at their smiling faces and I recognize them – even those whom I don’t know directly. I see the backgrounds of mountains and beaches in India, Nepal or South America. I see how they are dressed, the rainbows they painted on their faces, I see the light in their eyes. I know these people because ten years ago I would have met them in a festival myself.
These were the kind of people who traveled far to look for something deep inside. Who went to dance in nature because there they could be their real selves. Who believed in spreading love and messages of peace. It was many years ago but I could still recall that state of mind, even though I cannot help a bit of cynicism now.
They were the ones who would chang their profile picture to Stop the War the moment a new operation in Gaza started. Who engaged in long conversations to explain that even though we evacuated the settlements in the Gaza strip it was still under our responsibility. That even if Hamas is a terrorist organization we must try to make peace with it, because peace is made with enemies, and recurrent rounds of fighting will not bring us anywhere.
Who cried over the photos of dead children in Gaza because children are pure and they should never have to suffer.
Why am I thinking about all of this now?
Because it helps me repress the horrifying scenarios of bestiality, rape and mass murder?
No, not only. I just can’t help but feel that if there were people in Israel who still believed in the possibility of peace with Hamas, they were there at the Nova rave party. They were living in the kibbutzim near the Gaza border, arranging kite festivals to send messages of peace to the citizens of Gaza, like the Kotz family from Kfar Aza. Driving civilians from Gaza to Israeli hospitals by car, like Viviane Silver from kibbutz Be’eri.
The Kotz family, mother, father and three children, were burnt alive in their home. Viviane Silver was kidnapped to Gaza. The woman who saved lives of sick Palestinians is now being held in God knows what conditions somewhere in a tunnel in Gaza.
There couldn’t be a more macabre twist to the life stories of kind people. The sarcasm couldn’t possibly be darker. It’s enraging. Even though I didn’t know them personally, I want everyone to know who they were. They did much more to bring peace into this world than wave a flag in the city square.
How dare those flag-wavers think they are better?
I try again.
“Maayani, are you there?”
For the first time I try the Facebook messenger.
I can see that she is online.
“Hi my love I can see you’re here, are you ok?”
If she’s online then she’s ok, right?
But what if someone else has her phone?
The picture of 26 children who are held hostages in Gaza has appeared. By now I cannot avoid the uncomfortable phenomenon – None of my none-Jewish friends writes anything about the brutal mass murder of civilians in Israel. Some colleagues and friends write in private to ask how I am. On the public domain – business as usual.
At the same time Jewish friends from in and outside of Israel seem puzzled.
“Where are my international friends?”, ”Why is no one condemning the massacres?”
Someone writes that in private she was told it was really horrible what happened, but this cannot be written in a public post because the subject is too controversial.
I remember us spreading the image of 67 children killed by the air strikes in Gaza from the cover of Ha’aretz magazine in 2021. The 26 children on the photo now are hostages who are hopefully still alive and can be saved. But apparently when it is the lives of Israeli children the subject becomes controversial.
On the third day it finally happens.
“Hey. I’m ok. Home now. I was there in the midst of it all. We’ll talk later. Hug”
The tears start coming and it’s hard to breathe.
‘In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends’
The quote from Martin Luther King appears again. Jewish friends from all corners of the world almost seem to unite behind it in the social media realm.
I suddenly remember a verse from the Bible that we learned at primary school. “Life and death in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). I always thought it meant that words could kill. Now I notice that it doesn’t say the word, but the tongue. And the tongue can be silent too.
“Hey, how are you feeling? Would you like to talk?”
“I’m recovering. At times the pain is unbearable. Other times it is as if nothing happened”.
Later on she tells me that three volunteers in her clinic were murdered. She is not ready yet to talk about how she came out.
Here in Sweden, I want to tell her, it is mostly as if nothing happened. Except the pro-Palestinian demonstrations are more lively than ever. I want to tell her that in accordance with the official recommendations I asked my 5 year old to switch from Hebrew to Russian when we walked down the street yesterday. But she forgot. So I took her by the arm while casting nervous glances around me and hurried back to the car.
I want to ask her what she thinks about the silence of our international friends. I’m sure she would have something insightful to say even about that. But I don’t ask. Not now, not today.
They say that after experiencing an enormous amount of evil you need at least the same amount of love in order to recover. And preferably much more.
I know she is receiving it now.
I’m letting her have it.
Vera Berzak is a playwright and director