Levels of Tragedy

Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na’ama Henkin were murdered last night. They were shot as they drove with four of their six children in the car. The children were not physically hurt. The car was found in the middle of the road…inside, the parents were dead; the children unhurt but aware.

Yesterday, I was sitting beside the Sea of Galilee, as at peace as a human being can be. The water glistened, the sun sparkled. We have been blessed, so blessed, my husband and I. Five children; three of them married. Three grandchildren and with the help of God (and our children), we hope to welcome many more. It doesn’t really get more perfect than yesterday. A beautiful sea, a surprisingly uncrowded beach, smiling faces around us, great food, a comfortable breeze, a child sitting on my lap munching on an apple as I turned it for her.

We came home tired but happy…until my phone beeped. Two parents were shot; four children in the car but unhurt. Another beep moments later. The parents had died; four orphans…only there are six because two weren’t in the car, my son told me later.

Only it gets worse. The children in the car range in age from nine years old to four months old. The nine year old, at least, will remember the moment her/his parents were murdered. And still worse, a tragedy by itself, the four month old will never remember, never know the parents that were lost last night.

And the levels of tragedy go deeper and deeper. While not all infants are breastfed, statistics say that as many as 87% of all babies in Israel are. And so I thought about who would feed this baby…if it cried for food before and after the children were found.

Four months old…who will nurse this 4-month-old child? Yes, yes, there is formula so we all know the child will not starve, and hopefully grandparents, uncles and aunts and, of course, five traumatized but loving siblings. But the wonder of breastfeeding a child, of holding it in your arms…and for the child, that close bond…tragically cut short. In the grand scale of things, it is still a tragic result of yesterday’s attack.

And more…in just a couple of days, Israel will celebrate the most joyous of holidays – Simchat Torah – the happiness that is ours because God gave us the Torah. Last year, Rabbi Henkin danced with his children, to celebrate as we read the final chapter of the Torah…and then immediately begin it again. Will his children dance this year? Who will dance with them in the years to come? Fathers all over Israel lift their children onto their shoulders and dance with them…on whose shoulders will these children sit now?

Who will take these children on vacation? Yes, yes, there are likely grandparents and aunts and uncles…but this void, this question of who…when earlier today that question did not exist…this adds another level to the tragedy.

Forever, they will be orphans, no matter who steps in to take care of them in the coming years. One of the greatest blessing God can give to a parent is to see them all married; to see them all have children. I see my parents – with three married children, eleven grandchildren, and now four great-grandchildren. That is life.

Eitam and Na’ama Henkin never lived to see their children grown, will never see them marry. They will never know their grandchildren, never know the blessing of great-grandchildren. There are so many levels of tragedy here; and as each one comes to mind, the heart breaks that much more.

Hamas has praised the attack, calls the murders “heroic.” Heroic?

This was a family traveling in their car. Cold-blooded murder is not heroic and sickening is a culture or world that would think it is. The glee they express, adds more suffering to the family, more tragedy, more levels.

Soon, the anger will come – it is one of the stages we Israelis experience. First comes the crippling pain, the overwhelming sadness that terror has struck again, that new tragedies will unfold in the coming hours and days. Six orphans, the youngest an infant still. Parents who have lost their children and may well have to become parents again to these grandchildren; a community that has lost friends and neighbors.

After the pain and the sadness, comes the anger and the grief. In our anger, we will curse the murderers and those who are now celebrating this cowardly act.

After the anger and the grief, comes acceptance. We accept that this deed was done. That the Palestinians who attacked this young family thought in some twisted way that they were serving their people, their God.

What value to this world is a God that craves death, destruction, murder? In the Jewish religion, it is not God, but Satan that values this darkness.

I cannot speak for Islam or for the Palestinians. Supposedly, Mahmoud Abbas does. At least, he did during his speech before the United Nations. The lies he told seem more bitter tonight than they did even a few hours ago.

“We are working on spreading the culture of peace and coexistence between our people,” said Abbas. And in the Israeli mind comes the thought that yes, we saw what was spread tonight – bullets and blood. No culture, no peace, no coexistence was spread tonight.

Abbas spoke of the Palestinians’ “cultural, humanitarian and spiritual contributions to humanity from the start.” I’m honestly at a loss to know what cultural contributions Palestinians have brought to humanity, what great humanitarian gestures, what spiritual contributions?

Jesus was a Jew who lived in the Jewish nation known as Judea. Only Abbas would have the nerve to get up before the world and claim, “Palestine is a country of holiness and peace. It is the birthplace of Christ, the messenger of love and peace.” On any other day, his absurd attempt to hijack my people’s history would be funny but tonight it is simply pathetic and tragic.

The mythical Palestine that Abbas dreams of is merely the birthplace of terrorism, hatred, war, and death.

And though Israel is focused now on the levels of tragedy that have hit our nation and the Henkin family in particular and the community of Neria, where the Henkin family lives, the reality is that the Palestinians themselves continue to suffer through levels of tragedy as well.

First and foremost is the tragedy of leadership. They have consistently chosen leaders that lead them to violence rather than to peace. Never have they had a leader that fought for peace as any long-term solution or any resolution other than one that would give them full domination of “Palestine” from the river to the sea.

Then, there is the tragedy of their children. This past week, several young Palestinians have been caught throwing rocks, firebombs, and shooting fireworks at soldiers.

And the tragedy of lost opportunities. Israel has offered numerous opportunities to negotiate a long-term, lasting settlement. The closer an agreement seems, the fast an Intifada is launched to spur the region into yet another downward spiral of violence and death.

Last night, it was Jewish blood that was spilled in this never-ending quest they have. For now, we will focus on the Henkin parents, who must be buried later today and mourned by family, friends, neighbors and a nation that has no choice, no other option but to choose, again and again, life. We will mourn and grieve and the Henkin children will be raised – not in hatred but in love. They will not be taught that the solution rests in violence, in revenge.

They will be raised to dream of a day when no other child – Palestinian or Israeli – is suddenly turned into an orphan because of blind hatred and fanaticism.

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.