Struck by terror close to home, the yishuv (town) of Neriya has suffered a tremendous loss. Eitam and Naama Henkin HY”D were very involved in the community, added so much to their surroundings, were very much loved and admired. It seems like we will never heal from this horror, much like we never fully recovered from losing part of the dear Schijveschuurder family in one the Sbarro’s murderous bombings.
Neriya, for those who don’t know, is located in West Binyamin and is part of the Dolev Talmonim bloc, just a few minutes from the town of Talmon. I cannot do justice and express the deep emotions and love we felt before Shabbat when each family in Neriya received cakes from families in Talmon. The note attached was strengthening and supporting to no avail. This experience threw us back in history to a bit more than a year ago. Then, Neriya did the same for Talmon, when Gilad Shaer from Talmon was one of the three boys kidnapped, and later discovered to have been murdered by the same murderous enemy who killed the Henkins.
As the eve of the holiday of Simchat Torah was approaching, speaking to other ladies in Neriya, I found out that I was not the only one who could not get my act together. We were all troubled by the horrible events brought upon us, and if or how exactly we would be able to participate in the mitzvah of being joyful on the holiday (“ve-samachta be-chagecha”). How would we dance joyfully and be happy? Turning to each other for more and more strengthening words on the Neriya women’s WhatsApp group, nothing was as strong as what happened next. Sitting in our Sukkah on the last day of “the homeless holiday” when we proclaim to God, “Here we are! We are ready to leave our comfort zone, our home, and move into these flimsy huts, rain or shine, Hashem, we are yours,” we were visited by special guests (ushpizin, if you will) from afar. Youth from Sderot came all the way to visit us on the eve of the holiday, bearing cakes and magnets that said, “In unity and courage, we shall win! We give you strength and we love you. — Youth of Sderot.” Let’s fathom this: Sderot, living under constant war, felt the need to bring us strength in our hard hour.
The holiday was getting closer. We heard news that Eitam’s HY”D parents, his two older children (Matan and Nitzan), and his brother and sister were planning on spending this important holiday with us. As this was the first time the children were returning to their home in Neriya after the awful murders, we all promised to make sure that the children would have a great Simchat Torah. With that purpose, we found new energy and grew excited about the approaching holiday.
It is customary in many places across the globe to hand out candy bags to the children on Simchat Torah. This year, Neriya’s children received double the bags, because Maaleh Levona, another yishuv in Binyamin, had sent over many boxes containing hundreds of candy bags, again with stickers of warm kind words of strength.
A few weeks ago, Naama Henkin HY”D expressed to another friend that she would like to have a shiur (Torah class) while the men were dancing the traditional hakafot with the Torah, instead of just watching the men dance (although we do have women’s dancing as well – including a few women, our youth, and always our rabbanit of Neriya). That friend spread the word and we held a shiur in her memory and in her merit during the hakafot.
When Rabbanit Henkin walked in during the Torah class and was told what it was about, she decided to contribute a few words as well. She gathered all her strength, and, as difficult as it was, she bravely added that the last verse of the Torah says: “And G-d said unto him (Moses): This is the land which I swore unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob saying: Unto thy descendants will I give it, I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but over to there shalt thou not pass” (Deuteronomy 34: 4). Rashi explains the deep significance of this for the whole mission of Moses, that it’s not that you die now and hence you rest, but rather, look, now your mission is to pray and advocate for the nation as they will go onto the next step in their entrance to the land. So too, Rabbanit Henkin continued, Eitam and Naama HY”D are not relived of their duties. They are not resting in peace. They have a mission. And they need to advocate for us at our next step towards redemption. The final circle of dancing went on longer than ever. It could not be stopped, and culminated with the song, “Am Yisrael Chai.”
After the holiday, many people from Neriya, my children included, went to dance at Hakafot Shiniot, public dancing with musical accompaniment that are traditional in Israel on the night after Simchat Torah. And I cannot stop admiring our amazing Am Yisrael. I am much comforted knowing that Am Yisrael Chai — the Jewish people are alive and kicking! But most importantly, a nation that is not afraid traveling the long away around. So, as we continue in this way too long of a way, may Hashem bless us all, give us strength, and turn our darkness to light, our sadness to happiness, our mourning days to holidays, and our exile to Redemption. Am Yisrael Chai and waiting….