Defining Moments

We all have moments that define our lives, even different facets of our lives. Certainly getting married and having children are some of those moments. Moving to Israel, visiting Poland, having my first son enter the Israel army, three of my children getting married, the birth of my grandson. All moments that remain with me. They are instances you can pull out of your memory long after they occur and remember, relive, and rejoice or mourn as if it was happening again now.

Two years ago, one of those moments occurred. Even as I first heard about it, I knew I would never forget, be forever changed in some place deep inside of me. It was almost 20 hours after the massacre in Itamar that I heard about what had happened to the Fogel family. My oldest son called to tell me that something bad, very bad had happened.

He started simply by naming the victims – two parents and three children, a baby he said. My brain didn’t take it in.

“Killed?” I had to ask.

“Yes,” he answered.

It took a few more hours, and even days, for the full horror to come out. The story of young Tamar Fogel coming home and finding the bodies of her parents, brothers, and baby sister; the Palestinians denying it was Arabs and suggesting it was Thai workers; the funerals. And again the voice of Tamar saying that now she would have to be a mother to her young brothers.

For a country that has seen so many terror attacks, this one remains one of the worst – perhaps not in numbers of victims, but certainly in the level of barbarity.

And while Israel was reeling from the pain and trying to learn to cope, my family had its own little drama. Nothing compared to what had happened there; so much within our small circle. Our youngest daughter is a few months younger than Tamar. They have never met. My daughter heard more about the attack than a young child should hear; more than she could cope with. She began her own personal journey deep into a fear that was almost crippling.

The worst moment was when I tried to reassure her that she was safe; that we would keep her safe. “How can you keep me safe?” she asked with tears in her eyes. “Udi and Ruti didn’t keep their children safe. They couldn’t protect them.”

Such truth from a child – and how could I answer her? She insisted on locking not just the house door, but her own door as well. The windows, as we approached summer, had to be closed tightly and the shutters closed as well.

She slept with a light on; and started having nightmares. We bought a window alarm…a silly little device that had an on/off switch, and yet she found comfort in it. Each time she demanded something, I gave it to her wondering if I was wrong. Perhaps I should force her to deal with what there was; and each time I agreed. Lock the door; leave the light on. Yes, you can close the window and yes, the shutters too.

A few weeks later, I think it was weeks, more details came out. Ruti’s body was found in front of the door where two of her sons mercifully slept through the murders and so were saved. My daughter took that to mean that Ruti had, even in death, protected her children.

It took my youngest months to begin to come out of it, to slowly shed each of the precautions she insisted we follow. One still remains – she locks her door on Friday nights and sometimes on other nights as well.

Her personal story is nothing compared to what Tamar Fogel has endured; what the Fogel family as a whole will have to overcome. But as I saw articles announcing the two year mark and memorial events taking place in Itamar and elsewhere, I know that for all of Israel, that attack was a defining moment.

Out of the horror, some amazing realities have come about. In the last two years, at least 34 babies have been given the names of the Fogel family members so that their memories will live on. Incredible amounts of charity have been given in their memory, buildings built to remember what they believed in.

As a society, we are richer for how we react to tragedies. We are stronger for accepting that from death, we can promote life. From destruction, we can build, and from immeasurable pain, we can survive.

There are lines of humanity that you can’t imagine someone would cross. Only when we are victims of being herded into concentration camps and gas chambers could we believe that a human being could do what was done in Hitler’s Europe. Only when two terrorists slit the throat of an infant could we believe a human being could do what was done in Itamar.

We are not richer for this knowledge but we can be stronger. We can remember and yes, we should let it change us so that it never happens again. Despite the lack of humanity shown by the terrorists, by the village that harbored them and by those that had the nerve to suggest it was anything but the nationalistic attack it was, we continue to find our way. 

May the memories of Udi and Ruti, Yoav and Elad, and baby Hadas be forever blessed, forever remembered.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.