But in the midst of all the merriment of Adar, there always seem to be instances of tragedy, of terrible circumstances which temper the joy. Seven years ago, just one week before Purim, tragedy struck our town of Karnei Shomron, when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the pizza parlor in our local shopping center, murdering three teenagers. Every year, as the signs go up around the community, announcing the memorial ceremonies for Keren, Nehemiah and Rachel, my stomach falls, remembering those three funerals–one after the other–of those three fifteen-year-old friends of my daughter Ahuva.
And every year we go down to the cemetery to remember them, to honor their memories. I never miss a memorial ceremony. I just can’t. Perhaps because these children were my daughter Ahuva’s friends, and there, but for the grace of G-d…Perhaps it is because I have a connection with each of the children’s mothers. Keren’s mother Chava has been in my choir group for years now. Thank G-d she has had great happiness in her life. Her children have married, grandchildren were born and her family is very close, offering each other enormous comfort and joy. Nehemiah’s mother, Ilana, attends the same Bible class with me every Shabbat, and I see the delight she takes in her Bible studies and her family who lives nearby. Rachel’s mother Ginette has since moved out of the neighborhood, but I invite her over from time to time, keeping up with what is going on with her two grown-up sons. So every year I go, making my way down the long, strangely lovely path, to our beautifully scenic cemetery. My daughter Ahuva also goes every year. No matter what she has going on that week, she makes sure to make herself available, however hard it must be for her, to go to the cemetery memorial services.
There’s almost a sense of reunion down near the graves of their friends. Ahuva and her friends are twenty-one now and are all healthily involved in their diversely busy, wonderfully active lives, and these visits at the cemetery have turned into a chance for everyone to catch up on each other’s lives. The passage of time has softened the edge of the pain and there are no longer anguished sobs of family, or frantic hugging and clutching between friends that personified these visits when the ache was still sharp and fresh. Today, when the Psalms are read around the graves, the mood is calm and pensive.
Keren’s service was first, at 8:30 in the morning. Her father always finds something so beautiful to say at the gravesite. There was no anger, no despair. Instead, he gave a beautiful speech about how Keren—literally meaning ray of light— has so obviously been the cause of G-d gracing her family from up on high with so much light since she has left them. Nehemiah’s service was at 4:30 that afternoon, and by the time we arrived at Rachel’s service, it was a little surreal that I was feeling so at home at a cemetery. I stood near Ginette, Rachel’s Mom, and we were looking around at all of Rachel’s friends, including my daughter Ahuva, now young men and women, clustered around the gravesite, talking softly. Many of the girls were wearing the traditional kerchief head coverings of the newly married, and some even sported sweet pregnant bellies. A few of the boys who were there were dressed in uniform, having taken a quick leave from the army to come and pay their respects. These boys, suddenly men, shouldered rifles and khaki backpacks. I turned to Ginette, pointing out how many changes had been wrought on this crowd of friends. She agreed and said she often wonders if Rachel would have been one of the young married girls, or if she would be busy with university studies and advancing a career.
But Rachel will forever remain fifteen. So will Keren and Nehemiah. Their younger brothers and sisters are already older than they are. Sadly…so sadly, with all our victims of terror, we are much too used to measuring how long ago people were brutally taken from us, by how old their friends are and what they are up to in their normal lives. That is our lot in Israel. That is our reality. Juggling our busy daily lives, filled with the demanding buzz of activity and growth along with the shock of backbreaking tragedy. Just last night, less than a week after this year’s Purim celebrations, a terrorist drove past a car in the Jordan Valley and gunned down two police officers, killing them, destroying two more worlds. And who can forget, just a year ago, the story of the Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where the boys were readying themselves for their annual, fun-filled Purim party, when a terrorist came in to the Study Hall, massacring eight young boys who had decided to grab a few more minutes of Bible study before the festivities began. How did these families manage to celebrate Purim this year with all their hearts and souls, just one year after their boys were ripped away from them? Ahuva laughs, a bit harshly, that she had three memorial services for her three dead friends, and six weddings of friends…all within a span of two weeks!
We in Israel are entirely too practiced in switching our moods back and forth, from celebratory to mourning, from laughing to weeping. Other people may look at us as strangely unfeeling or morbid in turn, but we who live here know that this is our lot, that this land of ours forces on us this ability to adjust our moods and our emotions to suit the time, dealing both with the highs and lows with the same love and acceptance for G-d who has dealt it all.
May G-d grant us the promise He made us in the Book of Esther which we read each Purim: “As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy.”
Christian Friends of Israeli Communities