Mori Sokal

Pictures of you

The sirens were not loud enough today. Even when the missing man formation planes flew overhead, it was not as loud as the scream in my heart, the confusion in my head asking why. Why were we here, how could this be real?

Before the siren, the group standing around your graves was singing. I couldn’t sing with them then, I had no voice to join aloud. But many songs pierced my heart, brought the tears I thought gone back to the surface. We have been crying so much, I didn’t know I had any tears left. 

It’s real, it’s not real. It happened two and a half weeks ago, it didn’t happen at all. Two weeks and four days ago it happened. Two weeks and two days ago we buried two of your children. Two weeks ago exactly, we were standing in this same place, at your funeral. But it didn’t happen, no. Two weeks and three days ago I stopped counting the omer- who needs that count if you have another. At that time, I and many others couldn’t even keep track of what happened on which day, and kept asking each other, what day is it today again?

Today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s national Remembrance Day for the fallen, those who have given their lives in service to their country, to our country. I don’t remember when it changed from including just soldiers to also those killed in terror attacks. But those people- not heroes, just people – have also watered our land with their blood, and I feel that it’s right to include them. 

That the attack took place so close to this day- that we stood there today with the graves still fresh, the mud on top covered in rocks of remembrance, our hearts still torn open and our tears still fresh on our faces- made this the hardest Yom Hazikaron I have ever experienced. 

I am writing this while listening to children playing in the park on this beautiful day, and I’m glad that they are. I am glad that life is going on, that laughter still exists, because Lucy and Maia and Rina would have wanted that. To all who knew Lucy (using the past tense still hurts), whether they knew her well or just saw her, they knew how her smile lit up a room. She would want us to smile. To wear makeup and jewelry, to present ourselves as true b’not Hamelech- daughters of the King. I often try to wear at least earrings, but both Rena (our friend and rakezet) and I have been making sure that looking our best- or as good as we can, given lack of sleep and tears- is a priority now, for you. I didn’t know the girls so well, but they too had big, beautiful smiles, and carried themselves with grace, as they must have learned from you. 

So much has been written and said already, especially by your family, that I don’t know if my words will be of any help. But I’m finding it hard to talk, so writing is what I know will help make sense of this- although nothing really will.

This week’s parsha is Acharei Mot Kedoshim- after the holy ones have died. Everyone keeps saying how holy they were- they gave their lives to live in Israel. I agree- they are holy, they are deserving of all of the respect we can give to those who die Al Kiddush Hashem- to sanctify God’s name. The reason that is the name of this parsha is that in last week’s parsha Aharon Hacohen’s sons lost their lives by making a mistake in their service to God- and were given the death penalty for it. But Aharon, for the first and I think last time in the Torah, was spoken to directly by God, because when they were taken from him, as it says, “Vayidom Aharon”- and Aharon was silent. He didn’t question God’s plan, decree, actions- he just accepted it. Leo Dee did the opposite- he has spoken and spoken, and honored you all with his words. I don’t know where he gets the strength, maybe I’ll ask him. But his words have all been to sanctify God’s name as well. 

Why then, am I saying they were not heroes, they’re not angels? Because they were real people. We didn’t lose symbols, here in our community- we lost friends. In our school, we lost a teacher who does so much for her students, even marking tests as we were going on vacation so that the students could have their grades. We lost someone who made others smile just by her presence in the teachers’ room, even if she was taking up the end of the table with her marking, or leaving voice messages for parents, students, and family both here and abroad. We lost someone whose occasional sigh would drive me crazy- and yet I’d give anything to hear it again. Okay, Rena? I lost a friend who ran out to meet me at our rock just a few hours before shabbos because I really needed her. Our community lost an incredible, energetic and caring woman who was so invested in the women’s weekly Shabbos shiur that she took over the planning, and now we even have the lessons scheduled for the next two months. 

Lucy, I miss your smile in the teacher’s room, at the women’s shiur, on our walks which sadly didn’t happen as often as we would have liked. I miss your sighs, your patient help with marking the bagrut, your sharing with me and asking advice. I miss you calling your house a tip though it was never a mess when we had tea there- and I miss learning new British sayings like tip. I have missed, for two weeks, an erev shabbat or chag picture message from you.

You didn’t get to see the last picture we took together with Rena, when we went to the Dames of the Dance show together at your urging. We were all tired from so much work, but we went- and I’m so glad. I forgot to send you that picture, and only realized it when you were in the hospital and we were all praying and praying for you to wake up. Now, the only pictures of you that I see are from Yehuda’s bar mitzvah last year, and they are everywhere. The giant poster on the mountain leading up to our hill, the smaller poster in our school, the bumper stickers that jolt me when I see them on the cars in front of me. But I don’t want those- I don’t want to see your smile up on the hillside, out of reach. I want your smile right in front of me, when you are about to give me a hug. Lucy, I’m sorry for anything I may have done to hurt you, for sometimes pushing you away or not having a smile in return. I will try harder to follow “Lessons from Lucy” and smile even when it feels hard.

What feels hard right now is knowing what to do next. All the years I wondered how families and those directly affected managed to go from Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day, to Yom Haatzmaut, Independence Day. I have been close to people we lost before, but never this close. It is the most respectful way of showing how those who gave their lives for our country matter- that one day flows directly into the next, but how does one do that in their heart? 

The day after Pesach was supposed to be the last day of vacation. But we teachers were at Orot Yehuda. It was the first day of shiva at the Dee’s house, and the day before our students would return. We met in order to discuss how to help the students through this very difficult time, both emotionally and with their studies. That discussion did happen, but later. First, the whole staff went around and said something about Lucy, about what we felt, what we were thinking, how we would miss her. During this time, the weather was howling and storming- the skies were crying with us. It’s not supposed to rain after the first day of Pesach, but most of chol hamoed- the in-between days- were foggy and cold. It’s not supposed to happen that a mother and her two daughters, driving up north for vacation with the rest of the family, would be run off the road and since that wasn’t enough, shot at 22 times. It’s not supposed to happen that a family loses a mother and wife, two sisters and two daughters, all in the space of a few days. 

One song that was sung during this time, during vigils and get-togethers, is the song we sing on the first night of Pesach- Vehi Sheamda. This song reminds us that in every generation, the world rises up to destroy us, but God saves us. God didn’t save Lucy, Maia, and Rina. Lucy, with her last acts of service, saved five other people with organ donations. Lucy was gone while we were praying for her, just like the three boys we lost not quite nine years ago. They were already gone, and we were still praying, coming together as a nation, for twelve long days. I didn’t know, could only imagine how difficult recovery would be for Lucy, but I hadn’t thought she would be taken also. My daughter asked then what our prayers had been for, and I told her that I don’t know, but they were for something. Later that summer the terror tunnels were found in Gaza, so maybe that’s why. For now, I don’t know where all the prayers for Lucy went, but maybe they will help heal this nation. I truly hope so.

I don’t want to get political here, but before this happened I had started a post about the current climate here- and I’m not talking about the weather. I wanted to say that we don’t need a harsh reminder, as we’ve had before, that we are one nation. The news about how violent demonstrations were getting, Jew against Jew, hurt to read, to know. Vehi Sheamda- They are rising up to kill us, to destroy us! We don’t need to do it to ourselves! I wanted to tell everyone dayenu- it’s enough! But I didn’t have time to share those thoughts before the tragedy.

The other song that keeps going through my head now is Acheinu. The words are:

אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַנְּתוּנִים בְּצָרָה וּבַשִּׁבְיָה, הָעוֹמְדִים בֵּין בַּיָּם וּבֵין בַּיַּבָּשָׁה, הַמָּקוֹם יְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם, וְיוֹצִיאֵם מִצָּרָה לִרְוָחָה, וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹרָה, וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְאֻלָּה, הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב.

“Our brothers,​ the whole house of Israel, who are given over to trouble or captivity​, whether they abide on the sea or on the dry land:

May the All-prese​nt have mercy upon them, and bring them forth from trouble and pain to spaciousness and ease, from fog and darkness to light, and from imprisonment to redemptio​n, now, speedily and at a near time; and let us say, Amen.”

This prayer/song is in my wallet. This is what I pray for, for all Jews everywhere. I pray we remember we are family. We have all just lost family, as so many have shown by visiting the Dee family and sending food to them and even to our school. But why? Why is the question that screams in my heart, did God have to take them? And why, why can’t we stop fighting each other? Why can’t God send mercy to us, bring us out of our trouble and pain? When will we remember that we are family?

During the meeting at school, the fog rolled in and we could no longer see Efrat outside our windows, the Dees house right across the hill.

But the next morning, as I tried to write, it was once again beautiful out. It was weather in which Lucy and Leo would have hiked, with the kids or alone together. It was a day in which Lucy’s status would have made me smile: “Let’s have a fantastic year!” It was a day of light despite the darkness we felt.

One of the other words in Acheinu that hit me today was Hamakom, as a name for Hashem- God. Hamakom Yinachem Otchem- That is part of what we say to those who are sitting shiva, who are in mourning. The word Hamakom also means “the place”- as if to say, may the place comfort you. Today, the place that was both sad and comforting was the cemetery, the gravesite in which Lucy and her girls are resting. On Sunday I stopped by there when going between my two schools- the elementary school was on a trip around that town, and I had to park near the cemetery. On Sunday, I didn’t feel that they were there at all. It was quiet, and all I felt was emptiness. But today, with so many people surrounding me and singing, I felt the presence of love- the presence of Lucy and the girls. It was there in the heartfelt singing and tears, there in the flowers and stones covering their graves. The place, and being in this land, brought a measure of comfort.

Lucy, I will try to stop looking for you in the teachers’ room, in your garden, at our rock. I will try to accept that I will see your face only in pictures of you on my phone and on the posters and bumper stickers. It will not be okay, but it will have to be enough.

Tonight will mark the end of Memorial Day, but we will not forget. The celebration following may be bittersweet, but we will all try to smile. For you, for your girls, for your family. 

May all of Am Yisrael be comforted, and may we know no more sorrow.

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a SIXTEEN 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, is a copy editor, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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