It’s happening again. And it seems that there is nothing that I can do to stop it. Each breath comes with more difficulty, my eyes grow heavy with tears, my chest constricts as if it is being both crushed by a weight and struggling against being torn apart from within. My limbs are as heavy as if I had the flu. I want to shut out the world and ignore it—but I know that it just won’t go away. It’s that time of the year—the anniversary of my son’s murder is coming and tonight will be the first in a series of memorial events.
Even though its been four years already—even though the image of my sixteen-year-old’s too-thin frame, swaddled in a tallit, being lowered into the hands of a neighbor standing chest deep in the brown earth of our local cemetery is etched forever in my memory—I still catch myself wondering if it ever really happened. Was it really me being told that he had been killed? Was it me sitting in the sun at his funeral, standing at his grave saying Kaddish? Could it really be that my bright, too-serious boy, who had just a trace of peach fuzz beginning to cover his adolescent complexion was one of the eight young men murdered that night? Like the implausibility of winning the lottery (despite knowing that someone must get that check) the chance that this time it was my son shot by a terrorist still seems too remote to be real. But I know that it was all too so.
Each year since then, and each and every time I find myself drawn back to that horrid night of murderous terror, my heart breaks anew. I can actually feel it tear in two, like the shirt that I wore to his funeral which was slit and torn over my chest. My eyes well up with tears and my voice catches. I want to scream, but can’t, the pain is so deep. Yet, yet I can’t let go of these memories, and I won’t.
Elie Wiesel, one of our people’s most profound exponents of tragic memory (speaking against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s troubling presidential visit to the final resting place of dozens of Nazi Waffen-SS troops in Bitburg, Germany ) stated that “if there is one word that defines the fragility, the vulnerability but also the invincibility of the human condition, it is memory.” To forget, to allow all that is left of my beloved first-born to vanish into the vaporous wisps of time seems to be as unimaginable as was his loss. How can I?
I recall my incredulity, my bewilderment, at the remarkable manifestation of such pure hatred and evil. My son’s killer, armed to the teeth for the occasion, had murdered eight unarmed young men at point blank range. He had taken his time with the last four (my son among them) who had huddled between the stacks in the library where they had been studying. Their murderer had methodically made his way to each row—shooting whoever he found, up close, seemingly unperturbed by their screams as the bullets from his Kalashnikov rifle tore through their bodies. How could he? How could anyone? It was something inhuman to even contemplate—let alone perpetrate.
But this cold-blooded terrorist was no mere beast. He was a man, created in the very image of God, blessed with free-will, who had contemplated his every step. He had trained and planned ahead. He had chosen. He had chosen evil.
And against this, in spite of this, I chose humanity, in all of its pain—I chose to remember, not to forget. For whatever reason, Ala Abu Dheim chose the first of the Hebrew month of Adar. This is the very month in which we recall our people’s battle against evil, against Amalek, that attacker of the weak, of the stragglers, of the now nameless young and old who had survived Egypt’s enslavement, who had crossed the Red Sea into freedom—only to be cut down mercilessly in the desert (Ex. 17). “Remember” we are commanded.
I remember the first time I held my son. I remember my own father’s tears as he held his first grandson on his lap to be circumcised, as he was named after his own father, my grandfather Avraham. I remember my son’s smile, his wonderment at the world as a child, his applied studiousness as an adolescent. I recall seeing his face one last time, as I identified his body. I remember wanting to kiss his forehead when they peeled back the plastic body bag—and regretting not touching him one last time.
Remember these boys all, don’t let them be forgotten. Remember Neriya; remember Segev Pniel, Yonatan Yitzchak, Avraham David; don’t forget Yochai, Roei Aharon, Yonadav or Doron. Remember them all: by word, by deed; in thought, in prayer. Forget them not and may their memories be a blessing.
Those interested in visual memory are invited to visit www.tragic-death.com.
Dr. Naftali Moses has a PhD in medical history. He is the author of Really Dead? The Israeli Brain-Death Controversy, Mourning Under Glass: Reflections on a Son’s Murder, and has translated several works of Jewish thought into English.