From Darkness to Light /From Sadness to Gladness

The past 24 hours have been an emotional roller-coaster. On Wednesday evening, I stood under a chuppa on the Haas Promenade (the “Tayelet”) to marry a couple, who was about to begin a new life, together. The evening air, the unreal scenery of the Old City/New City looming in the foreground and the weather, all combined to make that simcha simply magnificent.

And then, near the very end of the wedding, my wife and I received a message from Chicago that our nephew, Bill Lavin, who had been battling cancer, was nearing the end. We left the wedding with the mixed feelings of joy for the newlyweds and with fear in our hearts of that inevitable phone call telling us that he had passed away.

We awoke the next morning to the sad news that indeed, while we had been asleep, Bill had passed away. The family mourning had begun. Phone calls, emails, whatsapp messages all began in earnest. And then, later in the day, as we sat on our couch in Maale Adumim, we listened in to the funeral 7,000 miles away via telephone. We heard the words of love, the words of comfort and the cries of our family members. It was a surreal and sad moment.

And then, I got off the couch, changed into Shabbat clothing and boarded a bus at 9:30 at night.

I was heading in to Jerusalem to join thousands of others at the wedding celebration of Sarah-Techiya Litman and Ariel Beigle at Binyanei HaUma. I felt that despite our personal, family tragedy, I needed to honor Bill’s memory by attending this wedding. Getting up off that couch after listening to his funeral to go to the wedding was extremely difficult.

No, like 95% of the tens of thousands in attendance, I did not know them. But, I HAD to be there. I HAD to show that no matter what, terror was not going to change our lives and make us cower in a corner.

As you know, Sarah’s father and brother were murdered by terrorists just days before she was to marry. Rather than postpone the wedding indefinitely, the chatan and kallah chose to do the exact opposite. Shortly after shiva ended — they were to marry. But that was not sufficient. This wedding needed to be of a different caliber. It needed to show the world that terror does not win…ever! So, they invited the world to celebrate. Tens of thousands watched their wedding streaming live on the internet. And, tens of thousands came to dance with the couple at their wedding.

On the trip from Maale Adumim to the wedding, I was so happy to see so many of my fellow community members on that bus going to the wedding. We got off the bus, and that is when it became obvious that this was no ordinary wedding.

I began to walk with a sea of people towards the wedding hall. And suddenly I stopped. I literally stopped and stood off to the side and thought about the juxtaposition of that moment and one other that I had experienced but from a very different perspective.

It was March of 2011, and I found myself following a sea of humanity to accompany the Fogel family on their final journey to be buried after being massacred by terrorists. Back then, I walked just following the masses. Back then 95% of the people did not know the family, either. Back then, we all walked in silence with sounds of sobbing filling the air.

Last night, we walked in joy and happiness. Last night there was singing and dancing. Last night there were shouts of Am Yisrael Chai and Hashem Hu HaMelech. The joy was palpable and the crowd swelled outside the wedding hall to huge numbers. Most people could not get inside the hall. Most people never even saw the bride and groom. Most people danced OUTSIDE the hall and not inside.

The chattan and kalla under the chuppah

But the message was clear: with all the tragedy around us, we move from darkness to light and from sadness to gladness. No, the pain will never be completely gone. But, we raise ourselves out of the dust and ashes and triumph. We do not allow the terror to rule our lives. We trust in Hashem and we try our best to live a life focused on the good and not the evil.

May Hashem bless this new married couple as well as all the other new married couples of the Jewish People. May we always be able to rise and share in each others’ joy in spite of the very difficult times we find ourselves in at the moment.

And while we share in the national tragedy and in their joy, we see our own personal family tragedy and ask Hashem to send  comfort to the family of Bill Lavin. To his mother, Barabra, and his brother Judah, and to all of his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. May they also merit to see Hashem’s comfort in their lives and may we ALL merit the arrival of Mashiach to be reunited with our loved ones.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Bill Lavin a”h
About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.