Three smiling faces in a row look at me from my computer. My children, arms around one another, captured in a moment of celebration at my daughter’s bat mitzvah. And over my sweet Ayelet’s shoulder, there where I can see it, floats the invisible shadow of her oldest brother, who, but for the murderous rampage of an Arab terrorist, would have been smiling right along with them.
Four not three. That is the only answer that I can give to strangers who ask, “And how many children do you have?” Four, not three pairs of boots should have been lying in a pile beside the door these past eight winters. Four not three uncleared bowls of half-finished cereal should have been left frustratingly on the kitchen table each morning for me to clean up. Four, not three should have been fighting over who sits up front in the car this trip. But he rides with us anyway—the quiet shadow that is the memory of a first-born son, an older brother.
Avraham David is there. The catch in my throat when I speak at my daughter’s simcha and need to skirt any mention lest I break down and cry. He’s there any time I pick up a gemara and miss the sweetness of my hevruta who already knew three sedarim of mishnayot by heart at sixteen. He’s there when friends invite me to their children’s weddings and each invitation’s joy brings me a knot in my stomach, knowing there’s one I’ll never celebrate.
And of course he’s with his siblings as well. He is the glue that binds my son the IDF soldier to his mission in ways others cannot imagine. He is another hurdle to be struggled over by my teenaged daughter—whose uneasy journey from child to young woman is made all the more complicated by the brute insensitivities of those who intrude upon the privacy of her mourning. He is the anxiety that my youngest faces—”Abba, I want to be at the cemetery, but I have to be with my class for the school ceremony!!”—she is stuck with choices she shouldn’t have to make.
At the siren’s wail the terrible loneliness of his presence bears down upon us all. The impish toddler bouncing on my shoulders as we take our daily hike. The smiling child proud of riding on two wheels, or of mastering his first vowel-less book. The older brother carrying his little sister on his shoulders this time. The serious yeshiva bochur arguing over a point of law, thinking out loud about a new sugya. The boy whose birth turned me into a father and whose horrid death has torn a ragged hole in our family.
At the siren’s wail we stand together, surrounded by too many others whose loved ones are missed and whose hearts are broken, silence all we can utter.