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The Spiritual Bystander Effect

October 12, 2015 | by Debbie Gutfreund

The Jewish people needs your prayers.

“Can you believe what’s going on in Israel?” my mother asked me when I called her in the middle of Sukkot. I felt my heart drop, my breath catch. I hadn’t been keeping up with the news at all. My house was full of guests; children running up and down the steps and trays of food going in and out of the sukkah. And I stopped myself from saying: Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Because part of me really didn’t want to hear what had happened.

Just at that moment my youngest ran into the room and pulled on my skirt. “Ima, hold me.” He rubbed his eyes as I gathered him into my arms and quickly steered the phone call into a different direction. But after I said Shema with him and tucked him into bed, I forced myself to finally go into my office. I sat down at my desk and as the lively din of my guests echoed towards me from downstairs, I opened up the news. The headlines looked like nightmares, one after the other. A father and mother shot in their car while their children watched helplessly from their seats. A father murdered on his way to pray at the Wall. His wife stabbed. His two-year-old daughter shot in the leg. And the young man who came out of his apartment to help them killed too. I closed my eyes and heard someone calling my name from downstairs.

“Do we have any hazelnut coffee left? Ima, where are you?” I looked down at the names of the wounded and I heard my name echoing from the kitchen a second time. A third time.

“Ima!” And then. “Does anyone know where Ima went?” I turned off my computer. I shut my office door. What can I do anyway? I thought to myself. I could pray, but everyone was praying for the victims, for the situation, for the nightmarish headlines that grew worse every day. Why would my prayer make a difference? I walked downstairs into the distracting relief of guests looking for coffee, of children finishing brownies and playing cards in the sukkah, of a life so very far away from the mounting fear that was rising on every street corner in Israel.

But as I searched through the cabinets for hazelnut coffee, my heart ached. For every Jew who had been hurt. For the innocent lives that had been so cruelly cut short. For the children who were now orphans. For the parents and siblings and friends torn apart by grief. For the fear that was weaving its way through our beloved Land.

Over the next few days, there were emails and text messages on my phone – to say Psalms, to gather in prayer for Israel. And the headlines continued to pour in. More stabbing attacks. Tel Aviv. Afula. Jerusalem. Streets I had walked so many times with my children. Places that I had always considered safe now covered in blood. But I can’t do anything, I thought again to myself. I don’t live there. And there is so much to do right now. I can’t think about it now.

But everything that I did felt like it was covered by a gray shadow. The trips we went on. The food that I was cooking. And everything felt so much heavier, so caught beneath a murky unexpressed grief, because I wasn’t even praying. I was relying on someone else to set aside the time. Say the words. Plead for help. And then suddenly, I thought about the bystander effect, when everyone assumes that someone else will help. Someone else will call the fire department. Someone else will get the police. Someone else will help the lost child. And as I was picking up one of my fallen sukkah decorations, which happened to be a mirrored circle with the words: “Save Your nation and bless Your inheritance,” I saw my reflection. And I held that mirror in my hands, watching my tears like raindrops from above. And then I placed it carefully on the table, closed my eyes and began to pray.

That’s when I understood that the bystander effect doesn’t just happen in the physical realm. It happens to us spiritually too. We forget that each one of our prayers count. We forget that each of our tears help. We forget how very much every single Jew, every single one of us, is needed. There is something you can do. You can pray. And there is no prayer that is like your prayer. No tears are like your tears. The Jewish nation desperately needs you now. And no one else’s words or prayers can take your place.

It doesn’t matter where we live. Praying for, defending and supporting Israel is imperative for every Jew. Donate money to help the victims. Speak up against the outrage of Israel portrayed as an aggressor while our people are attacked on every street corner. The headlines keep pouring in. Don’t stand by while another Jew suffers. Speak now. Act now. Pray now. Don’t be a spiritual bystander.

Israel needs every single Jew to help, to pray, to care. “Save Your nation and bless Your inheritance.” Take the mirror and see the person who the Jewish nation cannot live without. It’s you.

Names to Pray For

נאור שלו בן רות
אוראל בת לימור
אודל בן מרים
משה בן אורלי
נתן בן אודל
מאיר יצחק בן שרה
אהרון משה חיים בן חיה חנה
דביר בן שושנה
אברהם בן רות
רון שי בן סיגלית
סהר בן שושנה
יוסף חיים בן זהבה
מאור בן דניאלה

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