This piece is part of an ongo­ing series that we are shar­ing from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

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.

Start in the swim­ming pool.

Aim for the rel­a­tive still­ness in the late evening hours when the lanes are near­ly emp­ty and black skies seep through wall-length glass, the deep­er end of qui­et. As you break the water’s sur­face again and again, swim­ming freestyle (free-style), begin the incan­ta­tion. Scan the dark with your gog­gled eyes as the whoosh of chlo­ri­nat­ed water folds over you. Look for shadows.

Talk to Him/​Her/​Them.

Release the remain­ing hostages. All of them. If you must do it in stages, go ahead, though I don’t real­ly under­stand why. The only human­i­tar­i­an scale is free­dom. Release red-head­ed Kfir Bibas, who just turned one, and his broth­er, Ariel Bibas, four. They’re lit­tle. (Enun­ci­ate the word lit­tle” with your BIG voice.) Cap­tive chil­dren are an oxy­moron. Kfir has spent more than twen­ty-five per­cent of his life in cap­tiv­i­ty! Release the younger and old­er, grand­fa­thers, women, men, young adults; a criss­cross of eth­nic­i­ties, back­grounds, reli­gions. It doesn’t mat­ter who they are. They’re just peo­ple, born to be free. And give back the far-too-many bod­ies of those no longer with us. Let them come home to rest, finally.

Allow the blue-tiled water haven to have its say. Pool­ing emo­tion. Pools of prayer. Pool­ing our prayers.

Remind the cap­tains of human­i­ty, wher­ev­er and whomev­er they may be (those who have the ears of Hamas lead­ers, the Unit­ed Nations, God) — of the cel­e­brat­ed cho­rus of the children’s song taught to you in nurs­ery school at the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter on Green­field Road in Oak Park, Michi­gan. The song about entreaties to Pharaoh which you sang off-key when you were four, the same age as kid­napped Ariel: Let my peo­ple go. Belt out the four-word refrain in stac­ca­to in case God or any­one else for­got about Pharaoh and his hard­ened heart. Thun­der if you have to.

Explain that the use of peo­ple” in your song doesn’t only refer to Israeli peo­ple. It means all peo­ple. All the nation­al­i­ties from all the coun­tries who’ve lost their free­dom, been abduct­ed. Stolen is the word Rachel Gold­berg uses to describe the seiz­ing of her son, Hersh Gold­berg-Polin, twen­ty-three. Stolen from human­i­ty, from their fam­i­lies, from the world, from them­selves. Pray to free inno­cent Gazans who have also been held hostage by this war.

Pray for soft­ened hearts. Big hearts. Heal­ing hearts. Hearts not too tar­nished by cap­tiv­i­ty. Heart­ened, not hard­ened. In the crook of my heart, I pray for us to not be held hostage by our fears, hates, and wants. Fists unfist­ed. For the hostages to not be held hostage by what they’ve been through. Hearts unhardened. 

Tell God that you can no longer do Hap­py Baby Pose in your yoga class because how can you mod­el a hap­py baby when car­rot-topped, coo­ing Kfir was abduct­ed? What does the High­er Pow­er think about the many car­rot cakes folks baked for Kfir’s first birth­day? Cel­e­brat­ing one year in the world, in absentia. 

Pray wher­ev­er, when­ev­er, what­ev­er you can. Pray when you walk the dog. Pray when you clack-clack on your com­put­er key­board or scratch a pen across a page. Pray as birds chirp­ing turns into bird­song. Pray when you brush, floss, and rinse your teeth. Pray when you zip on your warm water­proof win­ter coat. Pray as you wrap your fin­gers around the ever-present sil­ver dog tag neck­lace you and umpteen oth­ers don dai­ly etched with Our heart is held cap­tive in Gaza — Bring them home now!”

Prayers need some­where to go. Have faith that Some­one will receive them, and Some­where they’ll be received. If you don’t believe in a heav­en­ly force, med­i­tate to and con­jure your restora­tive heav­en­ly place. Won­drous places can receive our prayers. Spec­tac­u­lar glac­i­ers, sooth­ing water­falls, jagged desert peaks. Ver­dant hills. Shim­mer­ing lakes, lush gar­dens, untouched snowy moun­tain­tops. Thought­ful peti­tions need some­where to go. Moth­er Nature will receive them. 

So will your favorite book, wedged with a book­mark. Or the crisp nov­el on your night­stand that still smells of new book. Pray into swings and sand­box­es, the yelps of chil­dren. Cater­pil­lars emerg­ing into flut­ter­ing but­ter­flies. Pray into pud­dles of fresh rain. The promise of a rainbow.

Pray into your fresh­ly brewed cof­fee. Onions hiss­ing and brown­ing on the stove, steam­ing pots of nour­ish­ing soup. Beam soul­ful sus­te­nance of all sorts to the hostages. Gift to them your first pris­tine moments of warm, deep morn­ing sleep, the shel­ter you feel in your bed.

Direct your sup­pli­ca­tions to the dark, damp sub­ter­ranean tun­nels hold­ing hostages. We can shine our invo­ca­tions to per­fo­rate the dark­ness with pin­holes of light. Radio sta­tions ded­i­cate songs and uplift­ing mes­sages to hostages in hopes that they are lis­ten­ing. Fill the sound waves with the con­science of your caring. 

That can also be done through the reg­u­lar kind of prayer. One Sat­ur­day sev­er­al weeks ago, our syn­a­gogue recit­ed all the names of the hostages, grouped by fam­i­ly and geo­graph­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Whence they were tak­en, famil­ial rela­tion­ships and their par­ents’ names. For­eign nation­als, too. Grouped by fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty, age. It took sev­en to eight min­utes, but it also took for­ev­er. This is so hard, said a friend, her body weight­ed by melan­choly. My friend’s thir­teen-year old daugh­ter wept, hug­ging her mom. Recita­tion by the com­mu­ni­ty felt like a cloak of pro­tec­tion; it remind­ed us that these hostages belonged to some­one and to some place. Par­ty­go­ers at a Nova music fes­ti­val in a field, a com­mu­ni­ty of music lovers, now bound togeth­er by the bru­tal­i­ty of Hamas. 

Read the whole, oth­er-word­ly long list. Sti­fle your sorrow.

Join the voic­es singing Acheinu (Hebrew for our broth­ers”), a prayer to release from captivity:

Our broth­ers, our sis­ters, the entire fam­i­ly of Israel, all who have been squeezed by dis­tress or tak­en into cap­tiv­i­ty, whether on the sea or on dry land, may the Ever-present One have mer­cy upon them and bring them out from suf­fer­ing to relief, from dark­ness to light, from sub­ju­ga­tion to redemp­tion, now, speed­i­ly, and soon, and let us say, Amen.

When the qui­et of prayer reach­es a deep­er reg­is­ter, touch the Divine. Pray to Song. Of songs. Litur­gy can be a cloak of nation­al resilience.

You don’t need faith to have words or pray. Prayer can be a sim­ple peti­tion. Med­i­ta­tion. Dia­logue with­out a part­ner. Com­mu­ni­ties of good and car­ing peo­ple in this world are watch­ing and lis­ten­ing. And join­ing in.

We aren’t politi­cians or deciders. We turn to prayer because we must do some­thing. Storm the heav­ens. Because the sta­tus quo is not just heart­break­ing, it’s human­i­ty-break­ing and just plain breaking.

We, the peo­ple who pray, invite the emo­tion­al sun to come up ear­li­er and stay out longer. We, the peo­ple who pray, utter our devo­tions unrushed. Full-throat­ed. Unabashed­ly lac­ing our hearts togeth­er. No one real­ly knows when life might return to nor­mal. The path out of this pur­ga­to­ry — pray that there is one.

So dig your hands in fresh­ly turned earth. Pray for heal­ing from the scent of damp soil, mossy bark of trees, bloom­ing fra­grant flow­ers. Pray into the rush­ing water of the riv­er. Take in the dis­tinct hues of a bright, bewil­der­ing lumi­nous blue sky stretch­ing over us — and them. Pray into air tinged with salt from the sea. That, too, stretch­es from us to them. Pray to heal the Earth. Pray that they don’t lose the puls­ing will to live.

Hope is impor­tant ener­gy. A glimpsed alter­na­tive. Pray that your lead­ers can see that. Pray that your peo­ple can see that. Pray that the hostages, faces imprint­ed in our reti­na, can feel it. Where does hope go when it van­ish­es? Pray for hostages to get it back. Pray for their fam­i­lies to get it back. Pray for hope itself to get itself back. Pray for you-me-every­one to get it back.

All of us in the com­mu­ni­ty, pray­ing for all of them, includ­ing the non-pray-ers and the nev­er-prayers and the what-the-hell-is-pray-ers and the I‑don’t‑pray-ers, who do not pray but have their own way of send­ing out ener­gy. Pray to a bril­liant patch­work of stars stretch­ing over us all.

Pray for heal­ing for hostages who’ve been released. The body almost always heals faster than the psyche.

Pray that we will be whole again. Pray that we’re not des­tined to for­ev­er be the peo­ple of the miss­ing peo­ple, cir­ca 2023. Six mil­lion still echoes painful­ly through us.

It’s a sacred respon­si­bil­i­ty to secure the release of every sin­gle hostage. We are instruments.

Our shared inten­tion. We must be indefatigable. 

Because until they come home, we are all hostages. Every­where. We, the people.

So pray.

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

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Ms. Eben­stein is an Amer­i­can-Israeli award-win­ning journalist/​writer, his­to­ri­an, pub­lic speak­er and peace activist. Her writ­ing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, The Wash­ing­ton Post, Los Ange­les Review of Books, Tri­Quar­ter­ly, Lilith, Tablet, The For­ward, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She is pen­ning a mem­oir about an Israeli-Pales­tin­ian friend­ship begun in a breast can­cer sup­port group.