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The Jigsaw Puzzle

May 8, 2009 | by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Living with a new sense of palpable fear, a resident of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City describes how she soothes her over-wrought nerves.

During these troubled times here in Israel, when every day pounds us with more tragedies -- murders, kidnappings, terrorist bombings, desecrations of our holy sites -- the only activity which soothes my over-wrought nerves is working on my daughter's 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The puzzle is a print of a 19th century painting of two young women in flowing gowns arranging sunflowers by an open, sun-bathed window.

I hold a tiny piece in my hand and examine it: two brush strokes of shades of beige beside another color so indistinct there is no name for it. What could this piece possibly be? A part of a gown? The background wall? Perhaps the skin of her arm? I haven't a clue.

Then I notice that at the very tip there is a dark brown line. Perhaps it is the line of the windowsill. I move the piece along the windowsill, trying every notch, and suddenly it fits! A sense of satisfaction wells up in me, a joy at things finding their proper place, a mini-mystery solved.

Only now, seeing the piece as part of the rest of the picture, I realize that the beige brushstrokes are her nose. I never could have guessed.


The phone rings. It's my friend Hanna's husband, inviting us to a surprise party for Hanna's 50th birthday. Of course, we'd love to come, but they live in Efrat, a 25-minute drive from Jerusalem. Just an hour ago the "breaking news" on the Internet reported "heavy machine gun fire" on the road to Efrat. Do I have to choose between my family's lives and my friend's 50th birthday party? Hanna's husband senses my fear. "We'll understand if you don't come."

An hour later the army relieves me of the decision by closing the embattled road. I send Hanna an e-mail birthday card and breathe a sigh of relief.

It's not so easy when the children are involved. My 12-year-old daughter asks me if she can attend a classmate's Bat Mitzvah.

"Where is it?" I ask, unsuspectingly.

"Where they live, in Beit El."

"Beit El?" I recoil in horror. "To get to Beit El, you have to go through the Ayosh junction. Arab snipers shoot at the Ayosh junction every day. How can I let you go there?"

Her classmates, all from Israeli families, call my daughter a "scaredy cat," because I won't let her go. But they are a different breed of Jew. One classmate and her family spent Yom Kippur in the Gaza settlement of Nitzarim, which was literally under siege. The family traveled there and back in an army helicopter.

On Fridays nowadays, at the behest of the police, my daughter's school lets out a half-hour early so that all the children can get home safely before the Muslims finish their prayers on the Temple Mount, where the sermon has recently exhorted them to "slaughter the Jews."


Last Thursday, with police warning of an imminent terror attack (which in fact took place four hours later downtown), I came home from an errand to find an Arab youth digging in the lane at the entrance to our Old City house. He was fumbling with plumbing pipes, although I was unaware of any plumbing problems on our street.

"Who are you?" I demanded in Hebrew.

"I'm with the municipality," he answered, without stopping.

"The municipality?" I was suspicious. He was not wearing the blue uniform of municipal workers, and he looked too young to be entrusted with an official job. "Where are your identification papers from the municipality?"

"I left them in the truck."

Vehicles cannot enter the narrow lanes of the Old City. The truck must have been parked a good five minutes away, a convenient excuse for not producing his papers.

"I'm calling the police," I warned. In a panic, I ran into my apartment, yelled to my husband to watch the suspicious Arab at our entrance, and phoned the police, talking so fast and so breathlessly that I had to repeat myself three times before the police dispatcher understood what I was saying.

Five minutes later, Yitzhi, the chief of our local police station, and another officer arrived at the scene. By now another, older Arab man was working alongside the youth. Yitzhi spoke to them in Arabic, examined their identity cards, and told me they were bonafide subcontractors doing a job for the municipality. I let out a long sigh.

"Don't hesitate to call the police again anytime you see something suspicious," Yitzhi said to me. "And don't be afraid."

"Of course, I'm afraid," I shot back at him. "These days, everyone is afraid. How can we not be afraid?"

"Are you religious?" Yitzhi asked. I was about to answer flippantly, for my dress identified me as religious, but I sensed he was asking the question on a deeper level.

"Yes," I answered simply, sincerely, more to myself than to him.

He pointed heavenward in a silent gesture, the final, authoritative statement of the Israeli police department on how to deal with the terrorist threat.


Our children's fear is the most unsettling. Last Saturday night, my husband and I were on our way to Moshav Meor Modiin, a 40-minute drive from Jerusalem, to pay a condolence call to the family of 25-year-old Aish Kodesh Gilmore, who had been gunned down while on guard duty at a social service office. We had left our daughter, usually mature and confident, to baby sit. Almost at our destination, the cellphone rang. It was our daughter.

"What's wrong, honey?" I asked.

"I'm petrified," was her terse answer.

"What are you afraid of?"

"I'm scared of Arabs attacking our house."

What could I say to her? That her fears were unfounded? That our house had not been attacked by Arabs since the riots of 1929, when 17 Jews in the Old City had been hacked to death by marauding Arabs?

I knew what should be my line, "Don't worry. Everything will be just fine." But I couldn't say it. Because God has given us no such guarantee. All my child-rearing books had taught me not to make promises I couldn't keep, and I felt totally powerless to guarantee her safety.

For years I had had a grand plan that, if the Arabs, who constitute 80 percent of the population of the Old City, ever start to riot, I would send my children for safety to my friend Naomi's home. Naomi lives on a peaceful, rural moshav in the middle of the Jezreel Valley, far from the Green Line. But this past Rosh Hashana, when the Arabs were rioting in the Old City on the Temple Mount throwing stones on elderly Jews praying below at Western Wall, Israeli Arabs in Nazareth, ten minutes up the road from Naomi's moshav, also broke out in violent riots, as did their brothers near Haifa and Tel Aviv. My fantasy of a safe haven for my children had been dashed.

"The front door is double-locked," I said in a reassuring tone. "If you like, you can lock the courtyard gate, too."

"But they could come over the roofs, to the inner courtyard, where the doors don't lock."

She was quoting me. How could I have been so careless as to express my worst nightmare in front of her? Sitting there in the dark car holding my cellphone, I felt a shadow of a memory of Jewish mothers throughout the ages -- during the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Crusades -- feeling powerless to protect their children from those who yell, "Death to the Jews."

"Then sit and say some psalms." I instructed her. "God is the only One who can really protect us."

I had to end the conversation. We had arrived at our destination, the home of the 25-year-old widow and her baby daughter.


As I sit puzzling over another unrecognizable piece in our 1,000 piece jigsaw, it occurs to me that our traumatic situation is a section of God's multi-billion piece jigsaw puzzle called "Human History."

I look at any particular piece, such as the death of 28-year-old Ayellet HaShahar Levy from a terrorist bomb in downtown Jerusalem, and I cannot possibly understand what I'm looking at or how it fits into the larger picture. But as a believing Jew, I know that history is not haphazard. I know that God runs the world, runs the Land of Israel, runs this mini-war. And God's finished picture will not have paint splashed all over the canvas willy-nilly. No, God's finished picture of human history will be perfect, precise, and beautiful.

God's puzzle is a picture of exile and redemption. And every baffling piece fits into the puzzle ... perfectly.

How do we manage to put together a 1,000 piece puzzle? We look at the finished picture on the lid of the box, of course. Without it, the task would be virtually impossible. Although human history comes with no such lid, we do have a general picture of the finished product: the ultimate redemption of all mankind.

The Prophet Isaiah (11:9) describes the Messianic era: "The earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the seas."

Although the sages differ on many of the particulars of that time (such as whether the world will continue to function according to the laws of nature), all agree that the Age of Redemption will be characterized by universal God-consciousness. Everyone will realize that God, not chance, not economic factors (as Marx claimed), not the political powers-that-be (the false god that most of us worship), not military superiority, but GOD is the ultimate causal factor behind everything.

With this in mind, many of the puzzle pieces I am now looking at begin to reveal parts of the larger picture.

We in Israel keep expecting to be saved by our powerful army, or by the government. But the government is in disarray, and the army is restrained to the point it has become a de-clawed, de-fanged tiger, left only with its roar. Deep in my soul I am beginning to understand that perhaps the army's enforced impotence will lead us to realize that our salvation lies not in the army, but in God. The puzzle piece fits.


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