Tisha b’Av 5778 started off like any other Tisha b’Av. After morning services, my parents had gone to clear out the remaining belongings from my grandparents’ apartment, as the apartment had recently sold. I was having a deliberately lazy Sunday to make the fast day easier. (Someday, I’ll write my rant post about fasting in Judaism, but this is not that post).
Late afternoon, I got a call from Mom. It was a weird call. Lots of background noise. She mentioned an intersection that was unfamiliar and something about maybe needing a ride. “Do you need a ride?” I asked, confused. “Where are you?” Mom sounded lost. “I’ll call you back,” she said.
Later, I got a clarifying call from Local Sibling.
Local Sibling: Mom and Dad are ok. Their minivan caught on fire. The car is destroyed. They almost died. But they got out of the car in time.
JYP: What?!? Where are they?
Local Sibling: We (Local Sibling + Local Sibling’s then-boyfriend, now husband) are picking them up and taking them to our apartment. Can you pick them up and take them back to their house?
JYP: (sounding somewhat emotional) Yes, of course. Send me your address (Local Sibling + then-BF had just moved).
Local Sibling: Are you ok?
JYP: Yes, I’m ok. I was just shocked. I’ll text you when I’m leaving.
We broke the fast before driving to pick up my parents. It seemed like a smart idea not to drive when excessively emotional and not having eaten or drank anything.
Ideally, Husband would have driven. The person closer to the traumatic event ought not be the driver. Like when my grandmother had a stroke on Shabbat, Husband drove to the hospital, even though he is the one generally more opposed to driving on Shabbat. The problem was that Husband was still too dehydrated and dizzy to drive. So I drove to Local Sibling’s & Local Sibling’s BF’s place. I called my parents and Local Sibling and let them know we had broken the fast; figuring they would appreciate the dedication to safety.
By the time we arrived (after leaving late, getting lost, and dinging another parked car because I’m bad at parallel parking), the fast was pretty much over. Local Sibling + Local Sibling BF had ordered a pizza because my parents hadn’t broken the fast yet. Driving long distances and moving furniture, all while fasting. Their goodness was maddening.
Over pizza, they showed me pictures of the burned up minivan. Local Sibling and Local Sibling’s BF mentioned that there were bystanders taking pictures and posting them to social media. It’s so wild, the idea of posting someone else’s near tragedy on Instagram, and for what?
Local Sibling’s BF offered to get in a fight with these bystanders but declined out of respect for my parents.
There wasn’t enough pizza, but it was too late to go out and get more.
My parents got in my car. They had managed to save a painting they had taken from my grandparents’ apartment. I don’t remember what the painting looked like, but I remember the strong burnt, singed smell permeating my car the whole ride to my parents’ house.
I was still driving. Husband was still too weak to drive and I didn’t feel like my parents should be driving either. Then I drove back to home with Husband.
JYP: I feel….I feel unbelievably grateful that they survived. You know the classmate I knew, she died when her car caught fire (same classmate mentioned in this post)….But I also feel like G-d is an irresponsible babysitter who put them in danger in the first place. Like you’re happy the baby is okay, but you would fire this babysitter and tell the whole neighborhood to never ever hire them.
Husband said something in response that I honestly don’t remember and I’m not going to put words in his mouth.
JYP: It makes me so mad. My parents are such absurdly good people. They do everything. Today alone, they helped make minyan, saved my grandparents’ belongings, moved furniture, and they still kept the fast. How could G-d do that to them?
Husband: Maybe G-d was rescuing them. Maybe G-d wasn’t the irresponsible babysitter who put them in that situation, but the one who rescued them from it. Maybe because your parents are such good people.
In the days that followed, all my parents’ friends and community came to check in on them. The following Shabbat, my parents benched gomel, as one does after surviving a dangerous situation. Judaism is known for having blessings for many circumstances.
There isn’t a blessing or ritual that you do when someone close to you survives a dangerous situation. There was no appropriate blessing for me to say in synagogue that week. I was reminded of other times when I was several steps away from the trauma – like the time my friend was raped or a relative got a cancer diagnosis – several steps away from the trauma, and yet I still had feelings I didn’t quite know what to do with.
I still wonder about that question. Is G-d the rescuer or the irresponsible babysitter?