Thursday, February 26, 2015

Not Enough Stones

On Monday, the 23rd of February and the fourth day of the Hebrew month of Adar, a historic decision was made in a New York court. A twelve member jury ruled against the PLO and PA for of inciting, supporting, planning and executing the seven terror attacks which killed American citizens between 2000 and 2004. The following article, written twelve years ago, gives a glimpse into the pain and horror of one of those attacks.
Shilo Cemetery, courtesy of The Jewish Press

Wednesday, June 26th, 2002

     Although there are no shade trees in the Shilo cemetery it is early enough in the morning for it to be pleasant. At least the weather is pleasant. Standing with an open book of psalms among Shmuel's family, classmates, and neighbors is anything but pleasant. It is heart rending and many of us cannot stop the tears that flow down our faces. We have cried so many tears in the past month it is surprising we have any tears left.
     I stare at Shmuel's fresh grave and at Avi's next to Shmuel's. Avi's has a marker. Shmuel's is only covered with stones. I turn to my neighbor standing next to me.
     "There are not enough stones in all of Eretz Yisroel to cover all the graves of the terror victims."
     She shakes her head silently. She has her own grief to work through. I follow her as she lays a stone on Shmuel's grave. (Six months later her son would join Avi and Shmuel in the cemetery, gunned down by a terrorist in his yeshiva.)

     I have been told that I should only lay a stone on the grave of the person for whom I came to the cemetery, but I cannot pass by Avi. I lay a stone upon his grave. After Avi there lies an infant who died after several months of illness. Next to her is little baby Yehuda. He was murdered a year earlier when an Arab attacked the car he was in and a rock crushed his skull. I lay a stone on his grave, too. And then there is Rachela. Rachela was the mother of seven who was murdered by Arab gunmen on the eve of the Madrid Conference, ten years earlier. It was with her murder that the cemetery in Shilo began. Now she lies in wait to welcome the children of Shilo who join her.
      Many are the communities in Israel who have suffered multiple tragedies. What makes Shilo different for me is that it is my community. I know firsthand of the pain we have suffered and I think it is important for others to know about that pain.
     When I first came to live in Shilo fifteen years earlier, Avi and Shmuel were toddlers, a year older than my middle daughter and two years younger than my third son, Akiva. Avi's mother, Pnina, was my children's kindergarten teacher. Shmuel's parents, Avraham and Chaya, were among our first Israeli friends. Shmuel and Avi had never been great students, but unlike so many of the weak learners, who rebel and leave the path of Torah, these two boys clung to the path. Both in their yeshiva high school in Itamar and in the youth group here, they were known for their good character, commitment to Torah, and fear of heaven.

Tuesday, May 28th

     When the phone rings it is almost midnight and I am asleep. My son Akiva, who learns in the post high school yeshiva in Itamar, is on the line. A terrorist has infiltrated the village and one boy from the high school is seriously injured. Akiva wants us to know he’s okay. I want to know who is injured but my son has no details. A number of boys from Shilo learn in the high school there. Akiva promises to call back if we there is anything we need to know.
     In less than a half an hour the phone rings again. I jump for the phone. It is Akiva. He is breathing heavy. It is obvious he is very upset.
     He tells me that three boys were murdered. One was Avi. I do not know the other two. My first reaction is shock and then grief. My husband and I mourn together until he is ready to fall back asleep. I am not so fortunate and lie awake most of the night.

Wednesday, May 29th

      It is hard to face a bright, shiny day the next morning. All through Shilo the focus is on Avi's death. There are psychologists in the school. The mourning tent is being erected behind his house. One neighbor is organizing food for the week. Another is scheduling volunteers to take care of the house of mourning. Arrangements for the funeral are being made. And from all over the country the teenagers come home. Grief and shock are etched on their faces and it hurts to look at them.
     The funeral begins in Jerusalem. I join it in Shilo, in front of the main synagogue. We listen to eulogies from the Rabbi of Shilo, from the head of Avi's yeshiva, from Hillel, Avi's youth group counselor, and others.
     We move from the synagogue and start the procession to the cemetery. Once there, we hear more eulogies. Avi's sister speaks and then his best friend, Shmuel. Shmuel had been with Avi the night before. He saved himself by hiding in a cupboard and then the bathroom. He is haunted by the fact that he was not able to save his friend.

Wednesday, June 19th
     When the phone rings we are getting ready for the Bar Mitzvah party of my youngest son's friend. My husband answers and it is our oldest daughter who lives in Jerusalem and volunteers for Mogen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross. She is always among the first to hear about terror attacks. There has been a suicide bomber at French Hill on the northern edge of Jerusalem. That is where dozens of people wait daily for buses or rides to villages and towns in northern Yehuda and the Shomron.  
     Our children are all accounted for, but I don't know about anyone else's. On goes the news and the Internet. Out comes the book of psalms. And the phone begins ringing. When we finally leave for the Bar Mitzvah there has been no mention of murdered victims. We are apprehensive but hopeful that everyone will be okay.
     We walk over to the local yeshiva where the party is being held. Thankfully, no one has any bad news to share. This is not the first time we have been at a party after hearing of a terrible terror attack. There seems to be an understanding among the guests to put the news on the side and make sure the Bar Mitzvah boy and his family have a wonderful evening.
     And they do. Even when an hour later, as the news that Shaul Dov, our eighteen year old neighbor, is badly injured and Shmuel is missing, begins to travel around the room, the Bar Mitzvah family knows nothing about it. Shaul Dov's mother leaves the party to meet her husband at the hospital. Chaya, Shmuel's mother, is at home. Her husband, a teacher, is on his way back from a class trip. I am tempted to go to her but am told her best friend is with her. So I stay. I listen to the Bar Mitzvah boy's speech with a smile plastered on my face. It is easy to tell who has heard the news. They are the ones with the smiling mouth and the mournful eyes.

     It is as the party ends that the word begins to spread that Shmuel is indeed dead. Some leave the Bar Mitzvah openly crying. Others are in shock or denial. I meet a neighbor who tells me nothing is final. Avraham, Shmuel's father, has just left with a friend and the doctor to identify the body in Abu Kbir, the country's pathology institute.
     I cling to the hope that it won't be Shmuel, refusing to believe that he has been murdered. Once home I try to comfort my children with this hope. They tell me that Gila is also missing. Although the nineteen-year old is from Eli, a near-by village, she went to school here in Shilo and her grandparents live right next door to Shmuel's family.
     Time passes so slowly. How long does it take to identify a body? I can stand it no longer and I go over to Chaya. Even though the house is full of people I feel I have to be there.
     I am there a short time and someone whispers to me that Gila's grandmother is alone. Her husband and daughter-in-law have also gone to Abu Kbir. It would be good if an English speaker went to be with her. An Israeli couple, who speak English, go with me. Malka is not alone. Her daughter is with her, but she is grateful for the company. Others come in and out but I stay. Malka's daughter says over and over that this is just a formality. If Gila were alive she would have called by now. By the time someone comes in and tells us that it is all over with Shmuel, I am ready to believe it.
      I run next door. Now the house is packed with people.
     "Why did it take so long?" I ask a friend.
     "Don't ask," she answers. "They finally had to get the dental X-rays to identify him."
     My middle daughter had been with Shmuel's sister all evening but she is no longer there. I return to Malka, who despite her own grief, is full of concern for her neighbor. I tell her that I am going to go check on my daughter and I'll be back soon.
    "No," she answers firmly and I wonder where she gets all of her strength. "You go home and take care of your family and get some sleep."
    I listen to her and go home. I take care of my family, but I barely sleep.

Thursday, June 20th

     Again it seems wrong that the new day should be so sunny and beautiful. Everyone knows the routine and what needs to be done to prepare for the funeral. I am in charge of the food. It is very difficult. Everyone wants to send so much and the family wants to eat so little.
     The funeral begins at the main synagogue. So many people are there. I see Chaya's mother. She survived Auschwitz and is now seeing her murdered grandson being buried in Eretz Yisroel.
     The Rabbi of Shilo and the head of Shmuel's yeshiva speak as they spoke three weeks and a day earlier. Hillel, the youth group counselor, speaks also. Where does this twenty-year-old boy find the strength again to eulogize another boy he was so close to?
     Again we walk to the cemetery. Everything seems so eerily familiar, as if we are trapped in a nightmare. More eulogies are given. Shmuel's sister speaks, one of the younger boys, and a friend. This friend had stood at Shmuel's side just twenty-two days earlier when Shmuel eulogized Avi. At the very end Chaya takes the microphone. Quiet, soft-spoken Chaya tells us how happy Shmuel had been with his life, with living in Shilo, with being part of his family.
     The funeral ends. Many leave for Eli for Gila's funeral.

Thursday, June 27th

     It is the fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz and again we are gathered at the Shilo cemetery to mark the passing of thirty days since Avi's funeral. Somehow I cannot focus on what is being said. I see Shmuel's and Avi's sisters with their arms around each other. One is fifteen years old; the other is thirteen. So young to know such sorrow.
     I look around the crowd with pain. Here is the rabbi's daughter whose brother was murdered five years earlier. There is Rafi, whose sister was one of the first victims of the so-called Oslo War. Near me is Rut whose father was shot four times in the chest. Over there is Yehudit whose husband survived the attack on his car in which two of the passengers were murdered. This list goes on and on. But as I continue to look around I see a lot of miracles, too. There is Michael who waited for years to leave Russia to come live in Eretz Yisroel. I see a young friend who was barren for almost ten years and now has three children. I must not forget the neighbor who had been divorced for so long that everyone had almost given up on her ever remarrying. And there is Shaul Dov who is making a miraculous recovery.

Friday, July 18th

     The ninth of Av is behind us and the Jewish people are ending their mourning for the Holy Temple, when Shmuel and Gila's families mark the thirty days after their funerals on the tenth of Av. We go from one cemetery to the other.
      Standing in the crowd in the Shilo cemetery is one of the Shabo boys. On the night following Shmuel's funeral another Arab terrorist came into Itamar. He broke into the Shabo home and murdered this boy's mother and three siblings. Two more siblings were injured and the house burned down. After getting up from shiva, Shmuel's brother and sister went to the Shabos to comfort them.
     We are all connected. The pain of the murder of a Jew I do not know in Rishon LeZion may not hurt as much as the murders of Avi, Shmuel, and Gila. But it does hurt. As I look at the two fresh graves in front of me, though, I am determined. The terrorists will not break us. I am not leaving Shilo. I am not leaving my home and I am not leaving these boys or the others.

Sunday, July 28th

     Hillel, the youth group counselor, stands under his wedding canopy. It is quite a challenge for the guests to make merry for the bride and groom. There have been four funerals today: a nine-year-old boy and his parents, who left behind nine orphans, and a young soldier, my son's friend. Apparently Hillel feels the same, for he speaks from under the canopy. As he speaks he reminds us of four people who were meant to be with us on his special day; his cousin who was murdered in the Atzmona massacre, his friend who fell serving in Jenin, and, of course, Avi and Shmuel.
     I shed some tears but those tears help me. I begin to feel joy for Hillel and his wife. And then the dancing begins!
     One of the Rabbis grabs Shaul Dov's wheelchair and pushes him around and around the circle. Later, friends lift Shaul Dov with his wheelchair and Hillel in his chair and the two boys dance together. I cry some more. And I realize that this is the way life is in Eretz Yisroel. We go from joy to sorrow to joy again.

Monday, September 16th

     Yom Kippur is over. I have already eaten. Earlier we recited the powerful prayer: who will live and who will die, who will die at his time and who before his time… I am overcome with emotion. I have no idea why Avi's life was taken, why Shmuel was given an extra twenty-two days to live, why Shaul Dov is now out of his wheelchair. I am certain, though, that Avi, Shmuel, Gila, and all the others have found their place in heaven.

     I realize now that my remark about the stones was maudlin. Stones are something there is no lack of in Eretz Yisroel. May we be able to use those stones, not to put on the graves of terror victims, but to rebuild the Holy Temple speedily in our days.


Janet said...

Very moving account of your life. I am so sorry... no words can express. Hugs. God bless.

Ester said...

Thank you, Janet
You're right, there are no words, but hearing the caring in your message is worth so much!

Esther Jacobs said...

Ester, the sadness and beauty of your post touch me as always. I sit here with tears in my eyes thinking how much loss you and your family have lived through. But you have lived and prospered thanks to HaShem. I too send a big hug for you all and my love as always,

Ester said...

I like always, Esther, I so appreciate the love and support sent across the ocean!