I write this from Israel thinking about the week that was and reflecting on attending a shiva the memories of which will last me a lifetime. It was a unique experience, a learning experience, a first-hand view of the most difficult, heart-wrenching side of Israeli life.
As I write, there have been 64 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza. One of them was Hadar Goldin. He was my daughter Emmanuelle’s 23-year-old brother-in-law. Before his death was confirmed, there was reason to believe he had been kidnapped and his story became huge news around the world. In Israel the story took on epic proportions. The whole country galvanized around the Goldin family.
It was amazing. My guess would be close to a thousand people a day came to the shiva. A huge tent was set up in the parking lot outside the Goldins’ condo building in Kfar Saba. Security fences leading to the tent were draped with Israeli flags. Filled with plastic chairs this tent even had air conditioning. Outside the tent stood two portable toilets which I only mention to illustrate how huge a public event this was.
Food for the visitors arrived free of charge by the truckload. No one ever made an order. No one ever sent a bill. There was everything imaginable. Tables lined the tent walls filled with food.
Israelis came from everywhere – from all parts of the country and all walks of life. This outpouring was the product of a proud, determined people fighting yet another war costing yet more young soldiers’ lives. But the mood at the shiva was never gloomy. The mood seemed to be one of resolve, acceptance, sadness – but no tears.
Hundreds of soldiers came to the shiva with their ever present machine guns slung over their shoulders. Many were friends and colleagues of Hadar and his twin brother Tzur. The soldiers looked so young because they are. And while it seems so unfair that they face such danger, they look so strong and appear so unshakeably fearless. The sad truth is these young people with almost baby faces are hardened professional soldiers who don’t play war games. They may only wish they could.
Hadar’s parents, Leah and Simcha, spent a lot of time talking to the soldiers. It seemed to be a comforting way for them to remember and honour their son’s memory.
Hadar was engaged and would have been married in mid-September. His fiancée, Edna Sarusi, and her family never left the shiva. A lasting memory was watching the father of Hadar’s fiancée – a small religious man with curly hair and a thick moustache, with, so far, 22 grandchildren – as he never stopped offering food and water to the visitors.
Other lasting memories are of the old high school friends of Simcha and Leah who worked tirelessly cleaning and organizing family meals and of all the other special friends who supported and reinforced the Goldins’ strength. It was always easy to know who those people were.
For two days in a row, my daughter pointed out those she said were “Hadar’s soldiers.” On the first day I didn’t say anything but on the second I asked why those soldiers weren’t in uniform. They were not in uniform because they had recently completed their military obligations and were not called up to serve in Gaza.
Hadar, too, could have been out of the army with them. But he and his twin brother agreed to stay at least another year. Hadar may have made the military a career. We will never know but we do know his staying on the extra year cost him his life. But no one says a thing about that. Israelis look forward. There is no time to waste on regrets or second guessing.
As the shiva wound down as Shabbat neared, they began to take down the tent. This extraordinary event ended. Shabbat fell a week to the day after Hadar’s suspected kidnapping in that tunnel in Gaza. A week, only a week, and yet so much had happened, so seemingly slowly and quickly at the same time.
As I left to say goodbye after Shabbat, I embraced Leah and Simcha, reminding them I will be back in January to celebrate a happy occasion: the birth of a grandchild we will share.