Shiva Like No Other

Shiva is not easy for anyone. Seven days of public mourning via sitting in one’s home, and being visited by loved ones and friends.   It is emotionally exhausting for anyone who has lost a family member.  Recalling memories is a means of giving comfort and resolve to the family in mourning.  As the family tells the anecdotes, the history, the ups and the downs of the lost soul, it gives blessings and comfort to the family left behind.  But, what happens when the person being mourned is a child?  A child who was merely sleeping late in bed, unexpectedly attacked by a crazed fanatic? What then?!

The greater Modiin area was given the opportunity to visit the Ariel family in Kiryat Arba last night.  A bullet proof bus was hired to answer Rena Ariel’s call that “Everyone in Israel should come and visit us here in Kiryat Arba during the shiva” of Hallel Yaffa. Fifty-two seats were filled with mourners — young and old — who felt compelled to visit the family and share in their grief.

Hallel Yaffa was merely 13 years old, sleeping off a long night of a dance performance that she had aced the night before.  She had worn a white dress “befitting of a bride”  as part of one of her dance routines, her mother stated at the shiva house.  This beautiful, pure soul was stabbed and murdered in cold blood by a seventeen year old boy from a local Arab village who had entered Kiryat Arba with the sole intention of killing someone for the sake of the Palestinian cause.

As we sat, and perused old photos of Hallel Yaffa from her Bat Mitzvah, which was one year ago, we could not ponder the gravity of a situation.  This young beautiful child, whose life was snuffed out for the mere sake of ideology, was planning to sleep late and then tend to her father’s winery.  Her summer vacation had just begun, and she was about to enjoy the fun summer of freedom of every Israeli child cherishes. But, her dreams and summer plans were snuffed by an act of hate.

Hallel Yaffa’s mother Rena was putting the other children to bed, as we had arrived.  She was putting them to bed in the room that their sister was murdered in only a few days before…A friend turned to me and said “All mothers are afraid to put their children to bed after this…but, how does she put her children to bed in the room of this [tragedy]?”  There are no answers here, only pain.

Rena came out to the shiva room with a smile and words of encouragement and thanks to all for coming to visit their family. She told us all how people have heeded her call, and have visited her humble home on the outskirts of their winery. From North to South, people young and old feel the need to לנחם אבל  (visit the mourners).  Government officials, and local neighbors are all gathering to give comfort to this family.

Rena told us how Hallel Yaffa was as beautiful as a bride at her dance performance the night before her tragedy. And, she told us how her daughter was excited to help her father the following day in order to prepare their Ariel BYehuda vineyard for the next bottling season.  Her father had returned home from synagogue in order to wake her up for the day’s activities.  He and a couple of friends were in for the shock of their lives when they realized that Hallel Yaffa was injured by an attacker, and that he was lurking around the home.  By sheer miracle, Hallel Yaffa’s father Avichai was saved from being stabbed himself by the attacker by a good friend Rabbi Kahana.  Rabbi Kahana saw the attacker, and immediately immobilized him with a shot fired from his protective firearm. [It should be noted that Rabbi Kahana’s father made aliyah on the very day of the attack more than 25 years ago. He stated that his aliyah was in order to save Avichai’s life with his son’s hands].

Hallel Yaffa’s life was snuffed by a young man whose political ideology was ingrained in his mind that killing Jews is the answer to the Israeli -Palestinian conflict.  He had been born and bred on the rhetoric of killing for the sake of the Palestinian cause.  Unfortunately, he found solace in hatred, instead of discussion and dialogue.  And, a young vibrant young woman lost her life because of his ideology.

As Rena  continued to speak to the crowd gathered in her living room, I was awed.  Here we were, sitting in chairs and on the floor to listen to the words of strength from this mother.  Her world had been rocked by the ultimate nightmare, but she was there, giving words of encouragement and strength to us.  I stared in awe. I saw the pictures and artwork of Hallel and her siblings gracing the walls of this humble abode.  Hallel Yaffa had a purpose on this Earth that was snuffed by evil and hate.  But, her purpose has now grown. She is an example of the strength of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

Hallel Yaffa,  her mere name means “Praise of God is Beautiful.”  She was a life taken early in a time of tremendous tragedy to Israel.  And, it is not coincidence that we also mourned the passing of Elie Wiesel the day before this tragedy.  Elie Wiesel was a beacon of light after the Holocaust of spreading the word that “Never Again” can we allow tragedies to occur just because of one’s religion, skin color, or race.  But, alas, Elie Wiesel is now crying with Hallel in Heaven as we see that hatred is a hard stone to unturn.  May their continued prayers give us strength and guidance as we all try to understand the gravity of the evil in our midst.  May we all have the strength to sing :

הללו את ה” , כל גוים, שבחוהו כל האומים. כי גבר עלינו חסדו, ואמת ה” לעולם, הללויה (תהילים קי”ז).

“All should praise God, All Peoples, All Nations. For, God’s Kindness is Great, and in Truth God continues forever. Praised be God. (Psalms 116).”

Please note that bottled wines from the Ariel B’Yehuda winery can be purchased by calling 972-052-473-2599 – AFTER SHIVA IS OVER.  At present they are selling a Merlot from 2013.  Please consider supporting this family during this time of suffering.

About the Author
Ariel Blacher, MSW, has been an educator in the Israeli school system. She is currently a writer working in the Hi-Tech industry. Her recent book, Gila Makes Aliyah, was published by Koren Publishers in 2018.