Yesterday was the hardest day of my life.
Yesterday we buried Dalya.
I knew before I picked up the phone. I looked down and saw Brenda’s name on the ID, Dalya’s mother, and I just knew. I picked up the phone.
Brenda said, “Adina.”
“No, no, no,” I said. I cried.
My four-year-old wanted to know what was the matter, so I pulled him next to me. The toddler nursed; he also understood that something was wrong and sought connection in his most familiar comfort.
“HaShem loves us so much, and when people are no longer alive — when they are dead — their bodies are no longer with us to see or feel. They are up in shamayim with HaShem. You remember, we’ve spoken about this before?”
“Sometimes there are bad people in the world. People who hurt and kill other people.”
“Tonight a bad person killed cousin Dalya.”
His look of shock, of horror, the instinctive wail washing over him. It was the same reaction I had. We cried together for a few minutes — my husband, my son, toddler nursing, me.
The statisticians fail to account for the murder of a child’s innocence.
He got up and walked over to his toys and abruptly began playing and building. He was getting aggressive towards his brother, so I went and put the toddler to sleep. While I was away he built a car and put four people in it. He explained, “this is the car filled with our family when we went to Tekoa last time. We’re all driving to visit the Lemkuses.” Just a month ago, Dalya was here in our home, playing cars with him, catching his heart with her love and attention.
By the time I came out, he was coloring a large styrofoam block. He colored that whole block — every side, every crevice, every corner — for over an hour. My husband and I agreed not to stop him; we believe he was initiating his own form of art therapy.
In a way, parenting in a time of crisis is a release for me — a distraction — a way to at least focus on something I can do, rather than face the utter futility of Dalya’s tragic death.
A woman, a civilian, an innocent bystander. I don’t understand it. How anyone could see Dalya as some sort of symbol of frustrated nationalism and oppression. How can he look into the face of a brown-eyed, kind-hearted woman. A woman with a sharp mind and generosity of spirit. A Lemkus chin. How she held her lips together just so. And her elegant hands; hands that saw and conveyed beauty, hands that were constantly extended in giving.
How could he look at her and stab her. Repeatedly.
It’s beyond my ability to fathom.
I feel like a pretender — who am I to grieve? A cousin by marriage, I only knew Dalya for a few years. I saw her at family gatherings, or the occasional Shabbat. Yet the horror of her death, played out against the uncertainty and fear we live in daily, is for all of us.
There is a phrase Israelis say when they hear of loss or tragedy. They say “mishtatfim b’tzara.” In English we can say — I’m so sorry for your loss, for your gaping hole, for the fear and anger and tragedy that will never be fully remedied. But in Hebrew we say — I join with you in your pain. Every Hebrew-speaker I met in the past day — they join with me in my pain.
No voyeurism, no spectacle. A collective grief.
I stood at the funeral and looked at Dalya’s body, clothed in white burial shrouds and then covered in embroidered velvet. Like a Sefer Torah. But under the Sefer Torah, not the scrolls and rods, not the parchment and silver clips of our ancient text, but the body of a woman. How it draped her body, the shape so clearly defined under the velvet cover. You could see her head, her chest, her legs, her feet. The Western coffin is a far cry from the Israeli velvet-draped body. The starkness and reality of the shape of her still, long body. You cannot escape knowing that this ceremony of death is about a real person. Even as they buried her the dirt fell across the shape of her body, mimicking it, reminiscent of that sand-buried game we play at the beach.
How Shoshanna followed Dalya’s body, crying, “I want to stay close to you Dalya. I want to stay close to her.” Holding onto the stretcher, crying over Dalya’s body, one last hug yet no reciprocation. How Shoshanna, pregnant, aching, hobbling to follow, touch, keep close to her beloved sister, her husband Ido gently supporting and guiding her. Good God, what raw grief. As no one should have witness.
And Brenda. How can a mother mourn the death of her child? Brenda moaned, sobbed, shuddered. She said no public eulogy, but as they lowered Dalya’s body into the ground, Brenda wailed “I love you Dalya; please Dalya forgive me for everything.”
And then — it will remain seared forever in my memory — the tone, the accent, the crying, broken words — “bye-bye baby.”
How a mother
said “Bye-bye, baby”
to her daughter.
Tears stream down my face.
Nachum stood strong, his grief as a father bereft held closely inside of himself, a private pain as deep and strong as his quiet, constant love for his children.
We went back again in the afternoon to visit the Lemkuses. When we left I said goodbye to the family. We drove home. I thought to myself, “have I said goodbye to everyone?” I went down the list: “I hugged Michal, Miriam, Shoshanna, Brenda, waved to Haggai and Eliezer, spoke to Nachum. Oh no! I forgot to say goodbye to Dalya.” As if she was just upstairs when we left, we will have to see her another time.
But we never will.
A few weeks ago Dalya was at our house, eating dinner with us. She said to me, “this salad is divine.” It wasn’t a complicated salad — romaine lettuce, avocado, cucumbers, onions, green apples, a light vinaigrette.
Come back, Dalya. I’ll make it for you again.