Old traditions and new memories

She thought it might be too soon.

Just four months ago, Moriya Arami from the small town of Achiezer was the happy mother of two young children and had recently found out she was expecting her third with her husband Netanel.

And then terror struck home.

While Netanel was doing external work on a construction site in Petach Tikvah, suspended from the 11th floor, his safety cables were intentionally severed by terrorists and he plummeted to his death.

It was a brutal act whose true intentions were kept hidden from the general public for several weeks. While Moriya and Netanel’s family knew that the tragic death could have only occurred as a result of intentional sabotage, the authorities kept that knowledge under wraps. It was only after continued family and media pressure that close to a month after it occurred, the death was officially ruled as a terror attack by nationalistically-inspired Palestinian terrorists.

That waiting period added to the heartbreak for Moriya and her family. As horrific as a terror attack is for any victim and his or her family, it is typically associated with a national outpouring of compassion and support brought on by media coverage and visits by senior officials. For Netanel’s family, the bitter grieving process was forced to occur almost completely alone.

Rosh Hashanah and Succot were observed in painful solidarity, Netanel’s seat left empty while Moriah faced the constant knowledge that she would need to build her young family without a father.

When Chanukah came along, Moriya began to recognize that she needed to confront that pain- if for no other reason than for her own emotional health and that of her two young children and the third growing inside her.

With the support of friends and relatives she came to a retreat of widows and orphans in Jerusalem, organized by Colel Chabad for the past ten years. Despite knowing it was best for all involved, she nonetheless feared how being surrounded by others who faced difficult losses would affect her fragile emotional state.

But quickly after arriving, she realized that she had entered into a whole new emotional world — one which had been created by tragedy but was defined by hope and joy.

It is well known that the holidays can be incredibly difficult for those who have lost a family member, especially when it is the head of a household. Traditions that were once the highlights of celebrations now serve as a reminder of what was lost. We know it’s incredibly difficult to continue on and be strong for our children. So we decided to help these families make new memories.

At our three-day Chanuka retreat for widows and orphans, hundreds of children were entertained and cared for with crafts, activities, entertainment and parties. And parents were provided with concerts, trips, and of course, no cooking or cleaning up after.

For the past 10 years, we have hosted thousands of children and hundreds of parents at our special holiday programs. But it doesn’t stop there. One of our programs at Colel Chabad is dedicated year round to this often-neglected sector of the population. We work hard to provide for the material and emotional needs of these families. Whether its food, clothing or social services, our social workers carefully and sensitively determine how to best help each child and parent.

But it’s not just the orphans who need help. Widows like Moriya are now left with the burden of providing the financial and emotional support necessary to survive. Cash grants, food deliveries, holiday clothing vouchers, career counseling and retraining, even driving lessons are only some of the ways in which we work to support these families’ needs.

So when Moriya arrived at the retreat in Jerusalem, she saw she was not alone. Her children were not alone. And while it will always be painful, they can form new holiday memories together.

Moriya asked me to share her story with the world out of appreciation for the time she and her kids spent in this space of emotional escape. But more so, she wanted the world to know that even in the places of deepest tragedy and despair there can always be a source of hope.

And if Moriya, who continues to experience so much pain and uncertainty for her families future can recognize this, what should it mean for the rest of us…?

About the Author
Menachem Traxler is the Director of Volunteering for Colel Chabad, the longest serving social welfare organization in operation in Israel helping Israel's neediest families for the past 226 years.