Today, when four Jewish fathers were hacked to death while praying in their Jerusalem synagogue, I thought back to the day that my father died, many years ago.
My father dropped dead of a heart attack when he was fifty-three years old and I was eighteen.
I thought about his last morning, that frigid winter day, how he helped me jump-start my clunky old car so that I could drive to my classes at the university. I remember that I started to drive away, realized that I had not thanked him, and spun the car around. For some reason, it seemed very important to say thank you then and there. I remember his green eyes, the only colorful thing on a colorless January day.
I never saw him again.
An hour later he lay dead on the frozen ground, next to the truck he drove for a living. By the time anyone saw him and help arrived, it was too late.
No warning. No chance to say goodbye. The day starts like any other, and then the person you love is ripped out of your life. The trauma of that stays with you forever.
Today over twenty children in Jerusalem were hit with the trauma of the father who will never come home.
But the trauma that these children must live with is immeasurably worse than what I have lived with all these years.
My father’s life was cut short, but no one murdered him.
In those early days after he died, and periodically since then, I have wondered about his final moments. Did he suffer? Was he afraid? Did he understand what was happening? I will never know. I have always banked on the hope, not implausible, that he died quickly, that he never knew what hit him. That it all happened so fast that there was no time to be afraid, no time to suffer.
When the children whose fathers were murdered today think about their father’s final moments they will be dealing with a nightmare scenario. Meat cleavers, axes, guns, terror, and rivers of blood.
How do you live with the knowledge that your dad was hacked to death?
How do you live with the horror of his final moments, his terror, his agony?
There are pictures of the murder scene and this is what they show: that the gates of hell opened, the barbarians emerged, and they set upon innocent Jewish fathers in order to satisfy their blood lust.
Palestinians who share this pathologic hatred of Jews handed out sweets and celebrated the murders. Because hacking Jews to death somehow helps the Palestinians toward a better future, right?
Today I am fueled with coffee and rage.
And the certitude that even though I lost my father suddenly and way too young, I did not suffer one percent of the horror that these children are suffering and will continue to suffer.
The murdered fathers have been laid to rest. A sense of unreality prevails. Surely Abba will be coming through the door soon, right? Maybe that’s him on the telephone.
Now he will visit them only in their dreams. Or nightmares.
The day began with years of life ahead for these fathers and ended with them in their graves.
You never realize that you are seeing someone for the last time. Until afterwards.
May their memories be a blessing and may God comfort these children and their families along with all the mourners of Zion.