In Giv’at Shmuel, a small city wedged between the Tel Aviv suburbs of Petah Tikva and Ramat Gan, Joni Aliza Boroda tries not to read the news.
Boroda and her husband, Stefan, moved to Israel in 2017, after first making Aliyah in 2010 and moving back to Swampscott for a few years in between. Whether one is in Israel or America, the anti-Zionism, antisemitism, and graphic videos and photos that have been circulating the internet since the start of the Hamas-Israel war are rampant. Boroda has been trying to follow the advice of many: Don’t look at the pictures, don’t watch the videos, only read the news that you must.
Yet, despite her best efforts, some unwanted news still slipped through the cracks. A few weeks after the initial attacks, Boroda found herself reading a news article that described Israeli children who had been killed by Hamas, and others who were being held captive in Gaza. For a mother of three and a teacher, the story was too much for Boroda. She put down the article and left to go pick up her kids from school, trying not to cry.
“All I could think about was the children in this article, the children who had died these horrific deaths, or had been stolen away from their parents into the darkness of Gaza,” she said. “It just broke my heart to know that there was nothing I could do, nothing I could do to save those children.”
Arriving at the school, Boroda saw her children waiting for her in the yard. “I realized, you know, there are three kids that I can save,” she said. “There are three kids that I can keep safe. I can’t help them all, but I can help mine.”
In the absence of words to describe her feelings at that moment, Boroda chose to paint instead.
She is an artist who received two degrees from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, in ceramics and in illustration.
And so she started this painting, “I will be your shelter,” made with digital software on her iPad. She sat down at the device with the intention to write something, but upon opening a Google Doc, it was immediately clear that this was not a feeling for words. So she opened Adobe Fresco instead, a digital painting software, and started with the idea of building a wall around her three kids. That wall turned into a visual representation of her own body blocking the violence and darkness from touching her family.
Along with her painting, she wrote a companion poem:
Our lives changed in a day.
How can we go on
Knowing that monsters are real,
Knowing what they did,
Knowing how many lives they took,
Knowing how many hostages they stole?
I can’t save those children.
And it tears me apart.
But, my sweet babies, I can protect you.
And I can hold you close,
And I will be your shelter,
And we will weather this storm.
“The whole thing has been sort of sheltering the children from the storm outside,” Boroda said.
Outside of her artwork, this sheltering – physically and emotionally – is what she and her husband try to do for their kids: Giving them candy when they have to run to their mamad (safe room), having movie nights, fun dinners, spending more time than usual on Nintendo Switch Sports, which is a great way for hyper kids to get exercise when going outside is not an option.
And, in addition to all that, since the start of the war Boroda and her family have been sleeping in their mamad together, every night. It’s easier that way, she explained. Then, when the inevitable siren goes off in the middle of the night, they don’t have to wake the kids up to go into the shelter. Sometimes now they just sleep through the rockets.
“The week of Parshat Noach, I woke up in the morning and we were all in the mamad, sleeping,” she said. Parshat Noach came on Oct. 21 this year, just a couple weeks after the Hamas attacks, and it tells the story of Noach [Noah], the man who builds his famed ark to weather the flood that God brings upon earth to destroy mankind.
“I just had the thought that this is our ark,” Boroda said. “This is keeping us safe, and we’re all going to weather this storm.”