Stephen Daniel Arnoff
Author, Teacher, and Community Leader

Broken English at Kibbutz Be’eri

A soccer ball and a shoe in a yard at Kibbutz Be'eri. Photo by Stephen Daniel Arnoff.

As part of the heart breaking, sleepless, inspired mission of some 30 clergy and communal leaders that joined the three-day FJC Israel Solidarity Mission this week, we sat in a safe room, deep underground at Hadassah Hospital (Mount Scopus). A social worker introduced us to three victims of the war upon Israel who had nearly lost their limbs during the first wave of attacks, had barely survived, and were now recovering miraculously in a rehab unit that needed to quadruple in size overnight.

“I apologize for my broken English,” the social worker said. “I don’t speak English well on a normal day, but today I really have no words.” She paused as we held our breath, also speechless. “But I have many pictures.”

We all have many pictures from the last three days, let alone from the last three weeks, let alone from the last 3,000 years.

There is a picture from a house at Kibbutz Be’eri, where more than 100 people were slaughtered. We were the first group of civilians to visit the site of a massacre of unfathomable brutality.

It is a picture of a floor covered with the blood, which is all that is left of a families’ mother, a butcher’s knife laying on top of the coagulated blood that left a body which was then doused with gasoline and set on fire. I heard there the voice of God piercing the air with the words of Genesis 4:9, “Your brother’s [and sister’s] blood cries out to me from the ground.”

I won’t share that picture here, but trust that it is implanted upon my eyes forever.

There is a picture of a soccer ball and one shoe next to the porch of the house, and another of my colleague, Cantor Luis Cattan of Sutton Place Synagogue, chanting El Male Rachamim for the dead in the ruined yard.

There is an image of two soldiers, each twenty-one years old, describing how they lead a unit digging through the rubble inch-by-inch to find a fragments of a human being – mostly teeth and hair because the terrorist who raped and tortured and bound and shredded residents with gleeful fury burned as many of the houses as they could with those still alive trapped inside.

Such remains are sent to the Shura base where our group traveled next. This is where a sliver of bone or a lock of hair can be identified in order for families to know the unknowable so that they can mourn forever, so that their loved ones can receive a proper burial in one of the stacks of simple wood coffins we saw lining the halls.

We came to witness an unbearable burden, giving voice to these truths for anyone who would dare to claim them to be untrue. But like that social worker at Hadassah, we now have no words. There are no words to describe these things. There are pictures to make you sick, to make you weep, to scald your soul, to be carried on your back like a Book of Lamentations that is as big as that pillaged, shattered house – a ruin that is as big as the entire world.

About the Author
Dr. Stephen Daniel Arnoff is the CEO of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center and author of the book About Man and God and Law: The Spiritual Wisdom of Bob Dylan.
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