When Chaya Zissel Braun awoke on the morning of October 22, she had her whole life ahead of her.
At the age of three months she was surely able to smile, and was probably beginning to know the difference between her parents and everyone else.
Every baby is a miracle. But there is an extra measure of wonder attached to those babies whose parents struggled for a long time to have them.
Chaya was such a baby.
And on that day, on Oct. 22, with her whole life ahead of her, Chaya’s parents took her for the first time to the Kotel. Can you imagine the gratitude her family felt as they held their baby girl close to the warm, golden stones? Can you imagine their joyful tears? Their prayers of thanksgiving?
I can imagine this, because just days earlier my husband and I, our daughter, son in law, and one year old granddaughter Nava, went together to the Kotel.
It was Nava’s first visit.
We laid Nava’s little hand against the wall, my daughter placed her hand on top, and my hand rested over both of theirs. Together my daughter and I whispered the shehehchianu prayer.
Afterwards, Nava’s daddy and grandpa took her to the men’s section of the wall. More prayers of thanks, more awe, more gratitude.
Last, for good measure, all five of us went together to the new, egalitarian section of the wall.
“Do you think that Nava will remember any of this?” my daughter asked. “No”, I replied, “she will remember nothing. But through photos and our retelling, it will become part of her story of herself.”
On that glorious Friday, bathed in the kind of light found only in Jerusalem, we left the Kotel, strapped Nava into her stroller, and walked blissfully back to our vacation apartment.
Chaya Zissel Braun left the Kotel in her stroller too. Her family must have felt like like we felt, as though they were walking on air.
They headed for the light rail train which would take them home.
At the train stop, a Palestinian man rammed his car into the group of people waiting for the train.
Chaya and her family were among them. Chaya was killed, her father one of eight people injured.
He tried to flee the scene, was shot by Israeli police, and died later at the hospital.
His mother insists that what happened was an accident. If so, that will be verified in the investigation.
It’s worth noting that in recent years a number of terrorists, usually in Jerusalem, have used vehicles as a low tech, readily available weapon to kill or maim a crowd of Jews. Any Jews. Including babies.
Both Hamas and Fatah are celebrating the killing of this three month old infant.
Al-Shaludi is being hailed as a hero and martyr.
Is there a lower level of moral degradation than this?
The image of Al-Shaludi’s car plunging headlong into this group of people is so horrific that we stop ourselves from truly going there. But I think we owe it to those whose lives have been shattered and who must live with this memory forever, to at least bear witness for a moment.
To imagine, however briefly, a car catapulting a stroller into the air with a baby strapped inside.
To realize that when the day began, Chaya’s whole life stretched out ahead, a story yet to be written. When the day ended, she was buried in a Jerusalem cemetery.
Infants die every day due to accidents and illness, and these deaths are a tragedy.
We live in a world where these things can and do happen.
We also live in a world where truly evil people derive meaning from inflicting suffering on the innocent. Sadists walk among us. We try to protect ourselves and most of the time we succeed. But not always.
The sheer randomness of this awful act is what makes Chaya’s death even more cruel, more excruciating.
A stop for coffee on the way to the train, a few more minutes at the Kotel, and the outcome for Chaya would have been different. On such tiny decisions fate turns. Most of the time we go about our days unaware of this. Thank goodness.
For the rest of my life, whenever I think about our blessed, holy, awe-filled afternoon at the Kotel with our granddaughter, I will also think of Chaya and her family.
May her memory be a blessing and may God comfort her family along with all the mourners of Zion.