In memory of First Lieutenant Shir Hajaj z”l

It's too easy to lose sight of the bereft in the face of a tragedy that provokes political harangues and crises of faith

The low murmur above the sea of olive drab was pierced by howling as the coffin entered the burial area. The volume of wailing rose in direct proportion to the descent of the pain into the soul of the mourners. Parents aren’t supposed to bury 20-year-old children. The timbre of the sobbing reflected just how horrible it must be to do so. On Monday afternoon, First Lieutenant Shir Hajaj was laid to rest in the military cemetery at Mt. Herzl. Shir was murdered in a terrorist attack on Sunday at the Haas – Sherover Promenade. Fadi al-Qunbar, a resident of the Jabal Mukhaber, intentionally drove his truck over a group of soldiers participating in an officer training course. He killed four and wounded 15.

I never met Shir Hajaj. Like many others, I went to her funeral to pay respects to a young soldier, to comfort her family, and to demonstrate solidarity with and give support to our soldiers. I also went because this attack cut very close to home, exactly seven minutes from my home, in fact. The Promenade is the most beautiful overlook of the Old City of Jerusalem and one of my favorite places in the world.  From there, you can see and sense the past and dream about the future.  On Sunday, this place of dreams was turned into a nightmare.

I learned a lot about Shir during the funeral. Her siblings, Shir Hajajcommanders, and the mayor of her town described a person of quiet determination and tenacity. Shir wasn’t originally accepted into the officer’s course. She had to fight her way in. It was her tenacity in fighting to get into the course that made all the difference. The mayor spoke about Shir returning home on breaks from the army to volunteer in the community. According to her siblings, Shir was a song of joy to her family and friends, colleagues and commanders. Now, in the solemnity of Mt. Herzl, the only song heard was that of El Malei Rachamaim, the memorial prayer.

From the moment al-Qunbar drove his truck over the soldiers, a cacophony of noise shattered the quiet of the Promenade and the entire country. Immediately, there were the sounds of the attack itself: the terrorist driving over people; the sound of the truck being shifted into reverse so he could murder more; the gunshots aimed at the driver and truck; the cries of pain and suffering; and the silent sound of death that replaces that of life.

Immediately afterward, the country should have been silent in unity. We should have stood together in quiet support, inaudible anger, silent rage. Silence should only have been broken by the crying of the families. As soon as security video footage, showing an attack that lasted a total of 20 seconds, was released, however, nearly every pundit and politician rushed to share an opinion about happened. In the short video, you could see soldiers frozen, trying to understand what was going on. While some ran in shock, others started shooting until the terrorist was stopped moving.

The absence of audio left a vacuum to be filled by political noise:

“Maybe they didn’t shoot because of the verdict in the Elor Azariah trial, fearing they would be accused of manslaughter instead of stopping a terrorist”

“Maybe they were afraid the government wouldn’t support them.”

“Maybe this happened because the prime minister was distracted.”

And the list of theories goes on. In the rush to judgment, the discourse descended into political grandstanding and divisiveness.

It is easy to forget that this tragedy is not about us, or our need to understand, or our demand for giving or getting answers; rather, it is about the mother and father, sibling and grandparent, close friend and comrade. It is about their sorrow, their crying, their pain from the hole that loss creates in the soul. Internecine bickering only distracts us from our primary task — being menahem aveilim or comforting mourners.

At moments like this, we need to stand together and be the best family we can be. We must be quiet, make room for the family members to cry out, and stand next to them in support. When we do that, we strengthen Meirav and Herzl Hajaj, Shir’s parents, ourselves and our nation. We become the embodiment of the words we will shout out on Shabbat morning when reading the last verse of the Book of Genesis,

Hazak, Hazak v’Nitchazek!

Be strong, be strong and, together, may we be strengthened!

The final sounds of the funeral, gunfire from a 21-gun salute, pierced the air. They were followed by the sounds of crying for Shir, a life, a
song cut short, and then…silence. Someday soon, I hope the sounds of sadness and silent anguish will be replaced with those fulfilling the words of Jeremiah:

So says Adonai: “Once again, in this place…in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem will you hear the…the sounds of joy and happiness…

May the souls of Shir Hajaj, Erez Orbach, Yael Yakutiel, and Shira Tzur be bound up in the bond of life.

May their memories be for a blessing.

About the Author
Loren is a new Israeli Citizen and a rabbi. He lives with his wife and their two daughters in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Their son attends college in the US. Loren was the director of several Jewish overnight camps including serving as the founding director of Camp Ramah Darom and Camp Yofi: Family Camp for Jewish Families with Children with Autism.
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