KJ Hannah Greenberg

I Can’t Imagine


JERUSALEM—In the deadliest incident since the start of the war in Gaza, 21 Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed on Monday, Jan. 23, when a building collapsed on top of them due to a massive explosion after rocket-propelled-grenade missiles fired by Hamas terrorists were aimed at an IDF tank guarding the soldiers and at the building.

According to an IDF spokesman, a combined force of infantry, armored and engineering troops entered two two-story buildings near the Gaza border located about 650 yards away from Israel’s kibbutz Kissufim. Terrorists had been launching missiles from the buildings for months, and the soldiers were planting explosives to demolish the buildings to help enable the return of Israeli residents to border towns (Ort).

I can’t imagine (and, please Hashem, I hope never to have to imagine) what it’s like to receive a call that your grandchild died while defending the rest of us. It’s sufficiently crazy-making to have a son, a son-in-law, and the sons and sons-in-law of dear friends fighting for our survival. A grandchild is another matter altogether.

Sure, it’s wonderful to have children and, in turn, it’s double wonderful when they then have their own children. Sure, it’s incredible when those branches are Israeli. Sure, it’s great to be emotionally and geographically close to one’s descendants. However, if it’s hard to bury a child, it’s that much more painful to bury a grandchild. We’re supposed to precede our shoots in entering Olam HaBa, not the other way round.

I’ve heard it said that grandchildren are like children minus the challenges of parenting. We pamper grandchildren. We also return them to their parents who, ordinarily, attend to those wee folks’ mundane goings-on. Specifically, grandchildren are life’s bonus. No matter their needs, we rarely feel that responding to them makes us exert ourselves.

Moreover, grandchildren are our future. They represent the potential for all sorts of goodness that we might never have achieved and that we might never have guided our children to achieve. For that reason, as we pray for our grandchildren’s burgeoning middot, we’re able to rectify our own. It’s a truism that grandparents are more patient and less prescriptive with their grandbabies than they were with their own brood. Children might be flesh and blood but grandchildren are heart and soul.

Consider that nearly all grandparents are amazed at the miniature people who constitute their own youngsters’ newborns. As challenging it was to believe that Hashem partnered with those grandparents, decades earlier, to create life, it’s beyond human reckoning to accept that the very men and women who originated from those grandparents, in turn, have had new beings originate from them. In a word, when we mull over the reality that grandchildren are our children’s children, we’re boggled.

Thereafter, grandchildren move from life actualized to life evolving, just as our children had, prior. Those young get physically larger and become more skilled in both fine and gross motor development. They learn to understand language and to produce it. Eventually, they also read and write. What’s more, they juggle numbers and pictures and delve into hard and soft sciences. Overall, they gain cognitive prowess.

Most importantly, our grandchildren, akin to our children, grow in morality. They learn that they dwell alongside other people and that each person’s life is precious. They come to understand that Torah Jews act consistent with high principles and they try to emulate the adults in their lives who live by those ethics. Furthermore, they learn to trust The Almighty in all matters. All in all, they work on improving their inner selves.

Therefore, when we hear our grandchildren chirp about derivatives and integrals, when we become audiences for the short stories that they’ve written, when we admire how they’ve seasoned soup, sprinted a kilometer, or taken care of their payot, we’re nurturing them. More so, when we debate the fine points of kashrut with them, discuss ideas for chessed with them, or listen to them practice their Bnai Mitzvot parshiot, we’re participating in their growth.

Consequently, I’m shocked on behalf of the friends who lost a grandson in the Gaza Strip. These loving parents, who are also blessed to be grandparents, suffered an unthinkable loss. A portion of their legacy has been irretrievably truncated, has been irreversibly pared away, has been prematurely ruined.

No matter the number of other grandchildren and the sum of children born to them, no one can replace the cherished young man who gave his life so that his safta and sabba and the rest of his family can experience increased safety. Every neshemah is a world and, on January 23, 2024, an entire measure of Creation was destroyed.

I can’t conceive of how my friends, the dead warrior’s ancestors feel. None of us should ever have to envision such loss.


Ort, Yaakov. “21 Israeli Soldiers Killed in Deadliest Incident Since Start of Gaza War.” 23 Jan. 2024. Accessed  26 Jan. 2024.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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