By Leah Garber
An entire nation mourns the loss of its sons and daughters as the sequence of funerals for the 1,200 dead has only just begun. The loss of every human life is the loss of an entire world—with an unimaginable pain that has no salve.
But how do you bury two sons?
Yishai and Noam Slotki, two brothers from Jerusalem, were among the first to enlist. They fought like lions and died as heroes. Noam and Yishai left their home for the last time this past Saturday together and will be buried today—together on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. One family burying their two sons. Two lost worlds.
In such a small country where everyone knows everyone, the 1,200 dead have familiar names and faces. Members of my family attend different funerals—first a colleague from work, the second a relative, the third a close friend.
Along with heart-wrenching pain and a surreal horrifying silence when the evening news publishes the names of the dead identified that day as their pictures scroll on the screen is the gnawing, ever-present, agonizing concern for the safety of the kidnapped, whose fate is unknown. For those who need life-saving medication. For the forsaken babies without a parent nearby to calm their fears. For those injured and in need of medical treatment. For the terrified children, surrounded only by strangers. For those who do not know the fate of the loved ones they were with just before the attacks. For the women abused by the terrorists. For the men Hamas announced were murdered in captivity. For all these people who never in their wildest dreams could ever have imagined they would be prisoners of war at the hands of terrorists. At the hands of barbarians in whose eyes the Geneva Convention is worth as much as the skin of a garlic clove. At the hands of abhorrent murderers who violate the basic civil rights not only of their prisoners of war but of their own people as well.
Eighty-year-old Carmela Dan and her granddaughter, Noya, a girl with special needs, were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz. At the same time, two grandsons, Sahar and Erez, living just a few houses away were kidnapped with their father. The rest of the family fought for their lives in the killing fields. Hours later, when the bodies of their loved ones could not be found, the family saw a video showing 11-year-old Erez being taken to Gaza.
Forty-three hours after the security breach by Hamas, Ilan and Mirit Regev—parents of Itai and Mia, who were at the Nature Music Festival—heard that their children were among those kidnapped and taken into Gaza. After enduring 43 hours of hell—as horrific as it may sound—that news was a relief, restoring the parents’ hope that the young people will return home alive.
The number of Israeli flags raised this week and the number of times the country’s national anthem has been sung are unprecedented—at rallies and vigils across the Jewish world; in parliament and at other gatherings; at funerals to which people come wrapped in flags; and the ones hung in front windows, on porches, and from flagpoles in resilient acts of solidarity.
Symbols have meaning. They unite us, and when we gaze at them, it is with pride for what they represent—unity, hope, prayer, and, especially this week, pain as well. At our home, we hang the Israeli flag annually during the month of May—for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jerusalem Day, and the other national holidays in that season. We have never hung a flag at any other time throughout the year—until this week. From the porch, it reminds us that we are fighting for values, for identity, for home.
At certain times of the year, it is customary for the Israeli media to play sad songs on television and radio. On memorial days it is expected, and when terrorist events occur, these sad songs herald the news of death. This week, the soft, sorrowful melodies and lyrics play endlessly, a futile attempt to calm our fears. But there is no relief—not even in music.
Considering the shocking images that are circulating in the media and the horror stories being told about the brutal abuse of the bodies of the murdered, including the babies, the seemingly innocent Shabbat challot and home-cooked meals found by soldiers tell stories of orphanhood and loss. It takes only one image to tell the story of 1,200 people who will never again enjoy Shabbat and holiday meals.
When you recite kiddush and bless the Shabbat challah tomorrow evening, please add a prayer for the release of the kidnapped innocents, for the healing of the wounded, and for the repair of the shattered hearts of the families of the 1,200 who have been killed.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.
Photo by: Ziv Koren