April showers are very uncommon in Israel, and yet, showering it is.
This is not seasonal rain. The heavens are weeping.
Passover, the Jewish festival celebrating and reenacting the Exodus, is almost over. This is a holiday that marks the coming of spring, offering a sense of rebirth, new beginnings, freedom from oppression, and spring cleaning. Yet, unfortunately, in Jewish history Passover has sometimes also been accompanied with a sense of fear. Eastern Europe Jewry saw classic antisemitism rear its head with blood libels propagating the lie that Jews would kill Christian children to make their matzos and thereby justify pogroms.
Tragically, in the words of Solomon, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’.
Although Israel is a secular state, it has been engaged in a religious war for survival since its birth. The mere celebration of a Jewish holiday is considered an affront by some of our Muslim cousins, and they are committed to marring our celebrations with violence and death.
A particularly striking example was the tragic 2002 suicide bombing in the middle of the Seder at Park Hotel in Netanya, killing tens of people in the middle of their Seder. But there is rarely a holiday that goes by without vicious attempts and often successes of violence by Palestinian or Israeli Arabs living among us.
The Ramadan is another catalyst for violence: religious fervor together with hunger results in a short fuse and the willingness to go out and demonstrate religious beliefs by attacking Jews.
As I cleaned and cooked and studied in preparation for the holiday, while looking forward to imparting our beautiful values to our children at the Seder and spending quality time with family, the occasional dreadful voice in my head still said ‘what this year?’ ‘Are we going to pass this Passover in peace?’
After the first day of the holiday, as news about tensions in the South and North arrived, I thought, ‘here we go again’, but still, I was not ready for what Friday would bring.
I do not know the Dee family well, although we live on the same street. We are number 33, and they live in the 20’s, but the street is a bit wonky so 25 houses separate us. Their girls have run a back-yard baking camp attended by three of my daughters over the years, which was great fun and of course serially destroyed my feeble attempts to diet. I would see the sweet and smiley Dee girls around the neighborhood, the kind of girls with which one feels at ease entrusting the care of one’s daughters.
Friday afternoon we found out that a terrorist had shot up a car driving through the Jordan valley and the family in that car was from our neighborhood.
As details became public, we realized in disbelief that two of the Dee girls, Maia and Rena, these young, beautiful, cheery girls from our neighborhood, were murdered. Their innocent bodies were riddled with bullets, and their mother Lucy was in critical condition in the hospital. The details of the murder were so gruesome that Israeli media refused to publish them. Suffice to say, this was not a stray bullet, not a drive-by shooting, the murderous terrorist shot the three women at point blank after the car war run off the road and the mother still had a fighting chance, as her daughters valiantly shielded her with their bodies.
Sunday afternoon, I stood among the 10,000 people who attended the funeral of Rina (16) and Maia (20). I have had the unfortunate opportunity to attend a fair number of funerals over the last 3-4 decades – some very tragic – but I have never seen so many tears shed; so much crying it was hard to hear the eulogies. The father, Leo, and his three remaining children spoke with what appeared to be superhuman strength and the portrait of these young women began to emerge for me and others who didn’t know them well.
Only now we became aware of the outstanding character, values, and contribution of these sweet young women in their brief time on this earth. Rina was the popular girl in the class, the center of her social circle, taking a stand against bullying at a young age – not because she was told to by the school or her parents, but because that’s who she was. She was a young woman with leadership qualities, compassion and maturity beyond her years.
Maia (20) touched so many people as a youth movement leader. She did her National Service in a fringe town, working to enhance education and joy of learning in children from a lower socioeconomic population. Israel has lost two of its finest young women, women who would surely have brought light to many people if their lives had not been cut short.
After a very difficult day Sunday, I thought it would be healthy to maintain our plans and get out of the house with our six children. We had made up to meet friends from Philadelphia who also made Aliya, for a short hike, and they recommended a place not far from their home. The trail is located in the “Forest of the Martyrs”, a forest of 6 million trees planted in memory of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
Language provides so much insight into the soul of a nation.
For the Jewish people, martyrs are Jews who were killed while maintaining their religious beliefs, murdered for representing and espousing the values and messages of G-d on this earth. We read about the martyrs killed by the Romans two thousand years ago, the communities that endured the Crusades and refused to abandon their beliefs, and the list goes on and on.
Rina and Maia are our martyrs. They were brutally murdered for being Jewish, for fulfilling the commandment to observe the laws of the Torah, for leaving the comforts of London to settle the Land of Israel.
These are our martyrs.
The Muslims have martyrs as well. They call them “Shahid”. But their idea of martyrdom is very different. “Shahidim” are people who lose their lives for the lofty goal of murdering infidels, i.e. people whose beliefs are different from theirs, namely Jews and Christians. The suicide bomber who blew himself up and murdered men women and children at their Passover Seder is a Shahid. The suicide bomber who blew up Sbarros in Jerusalem and murdered innocent men, women and children who were simply enjoying their lunch, is a Shahid. In Muslim belief, the word Shahid has a positive connotation; they are admired by many within their society, and even envied.
Maybe not all, but certainly a good number of Muslim mothers would be proud for their sons to be a Shahid. In stark contrast, no Jew aspires to be a martyr, and no Jewish mother wishes her child to be a martyr. Our martyrs become such not by choice but because they have met a tragic fate by the murderous designs of our enemies.
This is not a subjective matter or a question of perspective. For Jews there is no ambiguity; a person who kills innocent women and children at point blank is simply a murderer. Whether the victims are Jewish or Muslim or Christian or Hindu or Atheist, a person who takes an innocent life because they belong to another faith or for any other reason for that matter, is a murderer.
Leo Dee, the father of Maia and Rina, has taken his unimaginable pain and broadcasted this message to the world:
There is good and there is evil.
Israel stands for good. We value human life, we invest in the future, in education, in clean technology, in medicine, Jews and Arabs alike benefit from this building. “Stand with us, don’t choose to justify destruction and death”.
Echoing this message – it is easy to lean on popular antisemitic propaganda and justify a narrative which blames the victims and fabricates some kind of moral equivalence, but the simple truth is that if you blame and vilify Israel you are condoning and justifying murders, plain and simple. The choice is yours – do you support evil and death or goodness and life?
On the way home from the forest of the martyrs, we received the news that Lucy Dee, the mother of this beautiful family that has just been ravaged, has too succumbed to her wounds. Today we will be attending her funeral. I can’t even imagine how Leo and the three remaining Dee children can go back to the cemetery two days later for another heart wrenching funeral.
And so, the heavens are weeping.
No, they are bawling.