Names or Numbers

In memorial-and to celebrate the life of a young girl;  #bzchutHallelYaffaAriel

Hallel with candle

Last night, two weeks and two days before my year of mourning was up, I accidentally attended a live show. Yes, it was by accident. I didn’t really read the flyer, but when my friend Elana posted that as many of us as were able should go to Kiryat Arba for a gathering to mark the Shloshim, 30 days of mourning since a 13-year old girl as murdered in her bedroom on the last day of the school year, I said yes without asking what was going to take place. When we got there, I realized we were at the school auditorium not because it was the largest gathering place they could find — and they needed that room and more! — but because there would be a program, including singing and dancing. I was reluctant for only a moment, because I realized that for whatever reason, I was meant to be there, and moreover, it wasn’t for joy or pleasure. My instincts were right; despite beautiful ballet, shared songs and a slideshow, and despite the strong, brave words of parents who had lost their firstborn child, it was mostly heartbreaking and tear-provoking.

As the auditorium filled up, one of my first thoughts was how much each of the lovely young ladies, some of whom filled the row in front of and next to us, could each have been Hallel. Their brave families live on the edge, in an area known derisively as a “hard line settlement,” and I am sure that were any of them asked why they continue to live there, they would answer, “So that you can.” If they left, we would no longer have access to The Cave of The Patriarchs, Me’arat Hamachpela. Just like that, a place that is nerve-wracking and yes, somewhat dangerous for us to visit, would be completely off-limits to us, as was our own bit of the Temple wall not so very long ago. So when people in the world condemn Hallel’s own family as the reason she was killed, I say look again. She was love and light, as you could see in the beautiful video of her dancing, and she and her family give hope and strength to the Jewish people, even now at a time that must be unbearable- they show us how to turn tragedy into blessing, and horror into hope.

The speakers were all outstanding, but the most notable performance of the night was Hallel’s five year old sister. Even before everything got started, she boldly twirled onstage in her white tights, leotard and satin skirt. The room was full beyond capacity, but there she was, in front of us all, fearlessly practicing her heart out. The evening began with a speaker thanking the community for being there. Then the dancers dressed in white came on, Hallel’s troupe, performing without her. The feeling during the first dance was one of love, sadness and somehow also, the loss of innocence. Towards the end, Hallel’s middle sister came out and joined the dance. She also danced beautifully, but this only underscored the missing Hallel. The littlest sister joined too, both being raised up by the troupe of dancers. Everyone clapped, and you could feel that it was for more than the performance- it was for the show of strength from the girls, the family, and the whole community.

dancers in white

After this, there was another speech, and then another dance from the girls, this time dressed in black. Without a word, but with lights and music with a powerful beat, we could all feel that in this dance there was something different, more raw, more real. Anger and defiance that this had happened, and that we want—we need—to stop it, that message came across loud and clear.

Some events are now mixed up in my head; it was a late night. Each of Hallel’s parents spoke separately, some of her aunts, and a cousin who sang a sweet, sad song. What stands out in my mind, though, was that throughout the evening, after the first dance, the little girl in white, the five year old sister, kept coming back on to dance her heart out. It wasn’t her turn? That’s okay. Her middle sister tried hard to cajole her offstage, even to take her off, but it didn’t work; she was not going. The music was playing, people were singing, and she was going to dance.

sister of Hallel

I think all of us, especially those older, both laughed and cried every time. Because it was sweet and funny, it was life, and yet in the back of our minds we know; someday soon this little girl will understand that her big sister is just not coming back. Hallel won’t get to see all the cute, funny things this girl does, or see how she emulates her oldest sister who was known for her dancing, or even be annoyed with her as any older sister might. Hallel won’t have any of that, and her sisters won’t have her, her parents won’t get to watch her grow up, because all of that was taken the day a person filled with and brought up on mindless hate broke into Hallel’s room and killed her in her sleep.

Two other pieces from the evening also stand out. The first is a song sung by Hallel’s father, set to a video. It speaks to the world, it screams his anger. Not just at losing his child, but at the awareness that the world won’t all see this as the loss of a child, but only another ‘settler’ killed because she was in the wrong place. Blaming him, and taking away from Hallel’s memory, her right to be seen as a person. In one line, as he begs for this, he asks that if she could even be seen as a pet! As if, to be where he is, where we are, we lose the right to be mourned at all. He also bravely admits to feeling both terrified and terrorized, because that is what our reality is. And yet, in his speech, there was nothing about leaving, about giving up; only being strong and staying true to who we are.   The other piece that also affected me deeply was a slideshow. Pictures of Hallel and her friends, her family over the years, set to an Israeli song that tells of how life is a series of Matanot K’tanot- “Small Presents.” This usually heartwarming song was instead very sad when seen against this background, and the slideshow, one that could have (or even may have) been set up to proudly celebrate Hallel’s bat mitzvah, just a year and a half prior, is now a memorial.

I started this with a thought in mind about names. Our list of names of the dead, our lost, keeps growing and growing, and we have not even included all those who were ‘just’ injured in attacks, not to mention those who are the collateral damage, hit by the shrapnel of ‘just’ losing a loved one, a sibling, a parent, a spouse, a cousin, a friend. We already have oh so many endless names. My heart has broken so often recently, I sometimes wonder when I find it back in one piece, what the glue could be that holds it all together. When I read about Hallel and the outrage in part because of her age, I couldn’t help thinking of the Fogel family, murdered in their beds just five years ago —the youngest of whom was just a baby, three months old. Also 10-month old Shalhevet Pass, killed in her stroller so very close to where Hallel lived, not so many years ago—she would have only been a few years older than Hallel now, had she lived. I think of these names and even one other comes to mind, and please forgive me if you don’t like the juxtaposition; tonight I found out that Mahdi Satri, a self-proclaimed Zionist Israeli Arab, was killed. We needed him and many more like him, like we need the Ariel family; to prevent more sacrifices like Hallel. We need to be sad, and we need to go on and live, but we still need to be angry and defiant; and we also need people like Mahdi to show that we aren’t the evil, inhuman ones, and that our state can be loved and appreciated by all, making peace a real part of our future.

I notice that we have names, that we publish each name and more, the person behind the name. There was a time in our recent history when we had numbers. Although those left with the actual numbers on their arms are few, it is a lesson we will not soon forget; we will not let ourselves become numbers again. Therefore, I also notice, although perhaps I am just not getting to the right news feed, that the other side publishes numbers and not names. This many innocent civilians were killed, wounded…whether or not they were, perhaps, put in harm’s way in order to increase the numbers…and I wonder two things; are these numbers right? Where are the names, faces, histories to go with them? And if they include those like the one (I can’t think of a publishable word here) who killed Hallel, who is judging their ‘innocence’? The only names I seem to see is those who they want to memorialize, the ‘martyrs’ who are, in our language, terrorists and nothing worth remembering.

Overall, this evening, as emotional and inspiring as it was to see a community pick up the pieces and go on after a horror like this was committed in their midst, brings to mind one very strong thought; in whatever way we can make this happen, we need to be able to stop adding names to the list.

Dedicated to Elana Kronenberg, Lisa Melamed, and the ‘Ladies who Go.’ Thank you for including me.

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a TWELVE year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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