On Knowing What To Say

By: Shoshanah Marcus  |  May 20, 2021

By Shoshanah Marcus, News Editor

There have been several people in my life who have seemed to always know what to say. During good times and bad times, these people appear to have a hidden script encoded in their mind with the right words that would be able to engage, to entertain, and to evoke sympathy from any audience that he or she encountered all while appearing completely genuine. 

For the past few days I have been trying to wrap my mind around the events which occurred in Meron on Lag B’Omer. Even as I write this, it is hard to actually comprehend how such a tragedy could occur in such a holy space and how 45 innocent people perished in the most unimaginable way. Even more so, it seems as if this tragedy impacted so many different communities; so many Jews around the world had a connection to these 45 people. Personally, I really have not known how to respond.

So, instead of forming my own thoughts, I tried to look into what others were saying. I spoke to family, friends, and read posts on Facebook, and internalized many mixed emotions of grief, blame, anger, and sadness. Everyone around me seemed to have the exact words and exclaimed them in the most confident way. In the end, however, this process proved unhelpful to me because I personally still had not been able to comprehend this enormous trauma. I waited to truly think until I got on a plane to Israel: the same flight that many parents had taken to bury their children or visit their traumatized children. I came up with two conclusions.

I once heard a speech that struck me regarding why good things happen to bad people. The speaker quoted Newton’s Third Law of Motion that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and stated that when tragedy strikes, there is a huge negatively directed vector and it is society’s job to combat that by applying a greater and opposite vector. When horrific events occur to other people, I believe that perhaps it is not important to have all the right words but to take upon ourselves to do better in memory of those who perished. My first conclusion was that it’s not about what you say, but what you do.

The other idea that came to mind is something I heard during my senior year of high school. My high school conducted a program intended to teach us about the Halachot (Jewish laws) involved in Jewish life cycle from birth to death. Though this program taught us what to do from a religious perspective, it had not taught us what to do from a practical perspective. Around the time that this program was being conducted, one of my classmate’s grandfathers passed away and we all went to the funeral. This was the first time that many of my peers had ever been to a funeral and one of the speakers told us something that has stuck with me. He said, “90% of the work is just showing up.” Therefore, my second conclusion was that in the face of tragedy and difficult times, we have to show up and be present, with or without the right words.

There has been a memorial program spreading around for one of the victims of the Meron tragedy, Donny Morris z”l (may his memory be a blessing). Donny was a 19 year old yeshiva student studying in Yeshivat Shaalvim for his gap year. Before going to Israel he went to MTA for high school, and after another year in yeshiva, he intended on attending Yeshiva University. The Donny Morris z”l Memorial Program includes initiatives that involve undertaking some of the amazing values that this incredible young man stood for. I think perhaps that during these unforeseeable times, it is not as important to know the right words but rather to do something for the betterment of humanity in honor of not only Donny, but in honor of these 45 incredible people.