I went to Reuven to pay a shiva call yesterday. The posted times were 10 am – 10 pm. Back in the day, Reuven never started his day before noon. He also never ended it before 2 am. We decided to go there early and arrived at 10:30 am. I was hoping he was awake. The apartment was packed and I could barely get in. There were around 50 people there. It is not a big apartment and I couldn’t even find him. Suddenly, around 30 people left. I am not sure why; perhaps they all came on a bus together. Now I see him. Reuven was still surrounded by many people. He has many friends. As I mentioned, he is the type of person you want to be friends with, and I am obviously not alone in this opinion. He sees me and he gives me a big hug. He asks me to stay, he still needs to speak to some people. His wife comes into the room, and again I get a hug.
The day before Reuven was interviewed by the local news. I did not see the interview, nor would I have understood it if I had, but I am told that he spoke about being on the other side of the knock on the door. For those of you who don’t know, let me explain. Whenever there is a war, the worst thing that can happen to a family is hearing a knock on the door. It usually means that representatives of the army have come to tell you that your child has been killed. Reuven has had to be the messenger several times. This time he was on the other side.
As I am waiting for Reuven to come back, a feeling of uneasiness comes over me. Why was no one crying? Why was no one screaming? I wanted to do both but knew it was not my place. I realize that the initial shock of what has happened is still there. This unbelievable tragedy cannot be believed and so it hasn’t. Reuven comes back after working the room and tells me a story. Omri was called up at the beginning of the war. He did not come home often, but the few times he did, he did something unusual when he went to hug Reuven goodbye. Instead of just a normal hug, Omri nestled his head in between Reuven’s shoulder and neck like a small child. Reuven thought this was strange but didn’t ask anything of it. He looks at me and says, “Menche, I still don’t understand why he hugged me like that. I don’t understand.”
I can’t breathe, and I want to go. I make my way to say goodbye, and he asks me to wait so he can bring his other son, Nadav, Omri’s twin, to say hello. I say this is not necessary, but Reuven insists. He asks people where Nadav is, and they say outside. A giant tent was erected in the front of the building to accommodate all the well-wishers. Reuven tells me that the previous night people stayed until 3 am. This made more sense to me and was more in line with what I remember Reuven’s hours to be.
He asks a friend to take me to Nadav. He is out front. I come over, he looks at me, trying to place me. It has been over five years since I last saw him. He is a grown man. I am trying to think of what I can say to him. How can I console a person who just lost his twin brother? I remind him who I am, and he gives me a big hug. He mentions it’s been a long time, and I concur. I want to say something, anything, but, for perhaps the first time in my life, I am at a loss for words. I want to cry but I don’t. I knew it was not my place.
I say goodbye and almost lose it on the way back to the car. I can’t understand how these people can be so strong. How can they go on? At that moment, I realize that our enemies don’t understand this either. They think they will wear us out. They think that we are weak because we place a high value on human life, especially our children. They have no idea of the strength of the Jewish people and the sacrifices they will make for their homeland.
They have no idea about people like my friend Reuven.
With this thought, I enter the car. I find comfort in the fact that I know that Omri did not die in vain. I no longer feel like crying and drive home.