Saturday, March 5, 2011

Three Years Ago

                                      Avital, far left, and friends several weeks before the attack.

Three years ago, Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar, an Arab terrorist infiltrated the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem and murdered eight precious souls. Among them was my Shilo neighbor, Yonaton Eldar, z”l, who had reached his sixteenth birthday a week earlier. We in Shilo were shattered by his death. At the funeral my heart broke for all of us, his family, his friends, and especially Avital, his mother.

Now, three years later, I wonder where Avital gets the courage to get out of bed each morning. How can she have the energy to make her youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah? What gives her the strength to babysit her grandchildren, serve on the women’s board of the synagogue, continue to teach, and put a smile on her face?

Avital is able to give me some insights into her struggle. When Yonaton was murdered she thought she would never be happy again. Then, just six weeks later, her only daughter became engaged and Avital realized that she indeed was able to feel joy. The Eldars were always a close family. Now they feel glued together by their shared sorrow. On the day of the wedding they all went to the Kotel together and later visited the cemetery together. At the wedding the joy was palpable as the six remaining boys danced their sister to the chupah.

Since the terror attack, there have been three more grandchildren and two weddings in the Eldar family. One granddaughter was named Achinoam, meaning “my brother is pleasant”. A grandson was named Yochai which is an abbreviation for Yonaton Chai, Yonaton lives. Also two great-nephews were named for Yonaton.

Along with the new lives that have been named for Yonaton, a number of Torah scrolls have been written in memory of him and the other martyred boys. The stories of how the money was raised for each of them touches Avital’s heart. On the first anniversary of the attack a Torah scroll was given to each of the families by an anonymous donor. Suggestions were made of various places that needed a Torah scroll, but Avital was adamant. The scroll would stay in our synagogue. She sees it as a living soul, a comfort to her, especially as the members of her family often chant the weekly Torah portion from that scroll.

Yonaton, z”l, was a quiet child who loved learning, but it wasn’t until they were sitting shiva and heard the many stories that this family understood how deep his commitment to Torah was. As one of his siblings said, “My little brother has become my great brother”. Avital feels a tremendous pride that she had the honor to have had Yonaton for a son, even if it was only sixteen short years.

She is certain it was not a coincidence that there were four birthday parties for Yonaton, z”l, the week before he was murdered. The family party was on time, not several weeks later, as often happens in the Eldar family. His friends in Shilo gave him a party as did his Bnei Akiva charges. The night before the murder a number of his yeshiva friends took him out to celebrate. Avital now sees these parties as farewell parties and is thankful for them. She is also thankful for the connection that they have kept with Yonaton’s friends, charges, and teachers. Weekly phone calls from Yonaton’s Rosh HaYeshiva, Torah lectures in their house for his friends, occasional melava malka with the yeshiva boys, and drop-by visits from those who loved Yonaton are all sources of comfort. The Eldar house continues to be a home with laughter and friends.

Although Avital does feel sorrow, she does not have anger at the Almighty. She is able to discern His hand in everything connected to Yonaton, z”l. It is all there, plain to see; one just has to know how to look.
Still, it is not easy. She now teaches only part-time. It is often hard to concentrate, as if she suffers from some post-traumatic stress. She realizes that as much as they support each other, each member of the family has to come to terms with his grief on his own.

As the first Pesach after the attack drew close, Avital did not know how they would be able to cope. It was decided the whole family would have Seder with her sister’s family. Avital was determined to buy new outfits for everyone so they could say shechechiyanu, the blessing thanking the Almighty for keeping them alive, sustaining them, and bringing them to this new occasion, in this case wearing new clothing.

On the first day of the holiday she had a hard time saying Hallel, especially the second half of psalm 116:
How can I repay HaShem for all the kindness He has given me? The cup of salvation I will raise and in the name of HaShem I will cry out. My vows to HaShem I will pay in the presence of all His people. Difficult in the eyes of HaShem is the death of his devout ones. Please, HaShem, since I am your servant, I am your servant, the son of your handmaid, release me from my bonds. To you I will sacrifice a Thanksgiving offering and in the Name of HaShem I will call. My vows to HaShem I will pay in the presence of all His people, in the courtyards of the House of HaShem in your midst Jerusalem, Hallelujah.

Instead of envisioning the Holy Temple rebuilt, as she said the words, the courtyards of the House of HaShem in your midst Jerusalem, she pictured the swarms of Jews gathered in the courtyard of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva to hear eulogy after eulogy for Yonaton and the seven other precious souls on the day of the funerals.

It is faith, though, that pulls her through. She believes that Yonaton is in the best place he can be. Several months after his death she dreamed about her son. She dreamed that she was trying to awaken him and he turned his face to the wall, telling her it was not time from him to wake up yet. Puzzled she told over her dream to her husband and he explained it to her. The time of the revival of the dead has not yet arrived.
May the time come soon when Yonaton is ready to wake up. May the Moshiach arrive and with him the Holy Temple be rebuilt so that we can pay our vows in the presence of all His people in the courtyards of HaShem’s House in Jerusalem.

Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar: the eve of the new month, Adar, in which Purim falls.
Chupah: wedding canopy
Shiva: seven days of mourning
Rosh HaYeshiva: head of a Torah academy
melava malka: post-Shabbat party
Hallel: special prayers said on holidays and first of the month
Moshiach: Messiah

To understand more about Yonaton and Avital read my article, A Blizzard in Shilo,
Feldheim has published a beautiful book, Princes Among Men Memories of Eight Young Souls, full of articles about the eight martyrs.

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