Less than two weeks before Pesach and days after the Toulouse tragedy, where a woman lost her husband and two sons in a terrorist attack, my son and I were discussing another horrible tragedy that had befallen a family in Rehovot, a young woman who had lost her husband and five young children in a fire.
This kind of tragedy is beyond unbearable. At least, he said with the Toulouse tragedy, there was someone to blame and the people died al Kiddush Hashem. How do you possibly continue after this? But then he answered his own question. If you do, if you can start your life again, rise above the heartbreak and continue on, G-d says, “Ah! This is what I wanted.”
It seems that this is a frequent theme in Jewish history – destruction and rebirth, a nation who collectively and individually is the personification of the immortal, Talmudic phoenix perpetually rising from the ashes.
Days after Chava Eva Sandler lost her husband and two sons in the terrorist attack in Toulouse, she was encouraging other Jews to take on mitzvos and increase acts of kindness, showing love to their children, love of Hashem, love of His Torah and love of one another. Sherri Mandell, who had lost her 13 year-old son, Koby at the hand of terrorists eleven years ago, wrote an open letter to Eva Sandler entitled “Celebrate Life” (it appears on aish.com). In it she praises her for encouraging acts of kindness and spirituality. She writes “Because the secret of the Jewish people may be this: we are masters in post-traumatic growth. Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel was reborn. We build from pain. While our enemies celebrate destruction, we celebrate creation. We celebrate life.” Sherri runs a camp for children bereaved of terrorism in memory of her son who died al Kiddush Hashem. Hundreds of children benefit from this kindness, a monument of chesed.
When Eva Sandler got up from sitting shiva, she went to pay a shiva call to Avivit She’ar whose life literally went up in flames when she lost her husband and five young children aged 1-11 in the fire in Rehovot. And what does Avivit say to her? She encourages her to make aliyah. They both spoke of the goodness of Hashem and that what He does is for the best. Both women, watched by an incredulous world, expressed hope that their response to their tragedies will bring others closer to their faith and that they will succeed in bearing the pain of their sacrifice with dignity.
These women are experiencing the greatest tragedies a person can go through, loss that is beyond endurance and their first thought is to help others, help each other and inspire the Jewish people.
We are known as Am Ivri – we are the others who know how to look beyond; we rise above our tragedies in inconceivable ways and we transcend.
Tamar Fogel who only a year ago, at the age of 12, lost her parents and three siblings when they were brutally murdered in a terrorist attack in Itamar said during the shiva that this will not break the Jewish people; we will continue to live in Israel. She and her family had been expelled from Gush Katif seven years earlier. They had only been living in Itamar a year and a half. At the shiva, she said that her family was dedicated to the unity of the Jewish people. When Prime Minister Netanyahu came to visit her, she begged him not to give in to American pressure and to keep building in Israel. That is what concerned her.
Because that is what Jews do, they build. From ruins, they build, from destruction they create, they shake off the dust soaked with their tears and blood and ultimately, through this building, they will build the Third Beit HaMikdash.
In August 2001, I was in Los Angeles and a friend and I paid a shiva call to the Haymans who had lost their daughter Shoshana Greenbaum in the Sbarro bombing. She was their only child and was carrying their first grandchild. Shifra Hayman hugged and welcomed me like a long lost friend although I had never met her. When she heard that I live in Israel she said “Thank G-d you’re safe.” I was overcome.
Israel’s Independence Day is always preceded by Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers. One reason of course is to honor the memories and mourn those who have given their lives to help create and maintain an Israel dependent only on the beneficence of Hashem. Another reason may be to demonstrate a recurrent theme of Jewish history. The Jewish people may be pushed down, but we always rise, we are an indestructible people because we have the protection of the Creator of the Universe and we not only survive tragedy but we rise above it, we grow, we inspire others and we build.
Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the heroes and martyrs of the Holocaust. It is commemorated by their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who came to the shores of the Holy Land and built a living memorial to their ancestors – Torah true families, a fertile land blossoming from a barren desert, cities teeming, a country thriving and a people flourishing. And more than anything, testimonials and offerings of chesed and faith.
Not everyone of course has the fortitude, bravery and spiritual greatness of these remarkable women who have gone beyond what even Hashem could expect. Or perhaps we do. We are all daughters of the King. We are all each other’s sisters. Avivit She’ar, Eva Sandler, Tamar Fogel, Sherri Mandell and Shifra Hayman would never have wished to be tested in the way that they have been, but the magnitude of their spiritual response is a reflection of the greatness of the many Jewish martyrs and heroes who in both life and death and from death to life have made a Kiddush Hashem. We all have that potential within us, to transcend and inspire and as Sherri Mandell says, Celebrate Life!
God tests us, all of us, in many ways; some to a lesser degree, some with trials of greater scope, but the response can always be that of increased kindness, augmented faith and infinite inspiration.
For all of us there is a time to weep, a time to plant and a time to build.
May we see ultimate salvation and may it come in the blink of an eye.
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