Since Israel must be constantly on guard against attacks, the army is an important part of daily life for most of Israel’s young people; sadly, some lose their lives protecting their homeland. Sergeant Ofir Kit, Staff Sergeant Ari Yehoshua Weiss, and Lieutenant Daniel Mandel were killed by terrorists while serving their country as members of the Israel Defense Forces during the Second Intifada, leaving behind loving and grieving family members.
Their three mothers, bereaved by terrorist violence – Dina Kit, Susie Weiss, and Cheryl Mandel – recognized the importance of sharing their sorrow and overpowering feelings of loss and pain with other mothers whose grief only they can understand in a special way. At the same time, these three mothers found meaning and are committed to making a difference through extraordinary action and altruism – selflessly helping others like themselves, struck by terror, be able to return to life with strength, hope, and healing – contributing to society, and turning tragedy into action or activism.
After losing one young son to cancer and then a second son, Ofir, to a suicide bombing while on patrol, Dina Kit started to volunteer for OneFamily where she not only helps others, but also is helped in doing so. Dina has become a cornerstone of OneFamily and is the full-time office manager at their main office in Jerusalem. She personally runs many of the OneFamily workshops and retreats for mothers. “They see that I lost two sons and I am productive and strong, and they get encouragement from this. And they see that when the body begins to strengthen, the spirit begins to work with and take care of the body.” Her husband, Omer, is a member of the OneFamily men’s choir with eleven other fathers who lost their children in terrorist attacks or in the IDF. He sings to make others happy and to “make our children remembered.”
Susie Weiss and Cheryl Mandel are kindred spirits, helping each other with support, comfort, laughter, and advice. They recognize the importance of sharing their sorrow and overpowering feelings of loss and pain with other mothers whose grief they can understand in a special way. And they both are strengthened by their husbands and their children. As they are quoted often as saying, “I have more left than most people start out with.”
In addition, both women provide others with support and hope through acts of altruism. Susie founded Ochel Ari (the food of Ari) and, “between pity and my persuasive powers” gets wholesale prices and donations from all over Israel and America to provide extra food for soldiers in the field, like the spontaneous feast that she had organized for Ari and his “starving” unit thirteen days before Ari was killed. Susie explains: “He was just a kid whose mom wanted to give him something warm to eat.”
As a bereaved mother, Cheryl feels like she has been handed a heavy machine gun to carry and wasn’t trained to carry this heavy load – not physically and not emotionally. “But I am doing it with as much dignity and as much positiveness as I can.” For Cheryl, keeping her sense of humor is a positive, as is the positive way that she has dealt with Daniel’s death and her determination to maximize her situation. She makes other people happy by performing and dancing with the Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company and with her troupe of dancers.
As concentration camp survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves.”
These bereaved parents and the others in my previous two blogs – Dina and Omer Kit, Susie Weiss, Cheryl Mandel, Iris Yihichya, Chana Nathansen, Elaine Hoter, Arnold and Frimet Roth, Sherri and Seth Mandell, and Amin Hassan – have discovered for themselves that the meaning does not lie in the disaster, but in the way they respond to the disaster. Through their actions and deeds, they have demonstrated their determination to rebuild their lives and to triumph over the terrorist – a victory of the human spirit! May their stories be an inspiration to the newest “families of the bereaved” – the families of the 65 IDF soldiers and officers killed in Operation Protective Edge, the three yeshiva boys who were kidnapped and brutally murdered, and the nine other individuals killed by Palestinian violence and terrorism this summer.