In the midst of our national tragedy and this horrific wartime crisis, personal tragedies do occur. Two days ago, I learned that the mother of a friend lost her life while rushing to reach the shelter upon hearing an air raid siren. Although it may seem unrelated, this death is strongly connected to the war. As frightened older people rush for safety, accidents happen more frequently. Sadly, during wartime, there is almost no capacity to address these ‘routine’ accidents. It appears that while the entire nation mourns the loss of 1,400 citizens and the abduction of 200 more, my friend and her family have limited space to grieve their private loss, and almost no legitimacy for personal mourning. At this point in time, in Israel specialized teams are still busy identifying the bodies of the murdered citizens from October 7th, and two weeks later this mission is almost impossible. And private citizens are making frantic efforts to establish connections and find ways to bring back the hostages in Gaza before more tragedies occur.
When we met today, we discussed the etiquette of mourning a loved one during a time of war. While the rules of sitting shiva are clear for Orthodox or traditional Jews, for secular Israelis who are actively engaged in the war effort, there appears to be room for a more flexible approach. I have no real frame of reference to think about my friend’s loss. But the only thing that comes to mind is the Yom Kippur war 50 years ago. In September 1973, my then-boyfriend passed away suddenly. At that time, we had no idea that less than a month later we would face, like now, a surprise catastrophe. My friend’s family sat shiva but didn’t even have a chance to complete the 30 days of mourning. In comparison, at this time, my friend’s family had to bury the mother amid air raid sirens. Fifty years ago, the majority of casualties in the war were soldiers. This war is different because so many civilians, of all ages, were murdered by Hamas.
So, under these circumstances, I stand by my friend and applaud her decision to continue contributing to the war effort and postpone the practice of mourning for later. From personal experience, I know that you cannot avoid dealing with the loss of a loved one, whether it’s done immediately after the loss or at a later time. You can’t escape the heart breaking truth that your loved one will never return.