When Steven Spielberg decided to film Schindler’s List in black and white, he only highlighted half of his genius. The other half was displayed when he drew the watcher’s attention in multiple scenes to the lone girl in a red coat. She was the only person that was in color throughout the movie. This unnamed girl’s journey to the ghetto, then her wandering during the chaos of the liquidation of the ghetto, and finally, her lifeless little body still wearing the red coat, being cremated, showed the short and painful arc of her tragic life in color amidst the gray. Spielberg was reminding us that every person, every kid, every pair of shoes and each hat and coat is its own story. A unique history. A particular future, cut short.
On this mission to Israel, one of our very first meetings was with Dvir, the burly uncle of the 10-month-old twins I wrote about a few days ago. These babies’ parents were murdered early on the 7th of October in their home. Dvir’s nuclear and extended family live in Kfar Azza, near the border of Gaza.
Yesterday, when writing about heroes without capes, we met with Hatzalah first responders who were the very ones who took custody of these orphaned infants early in the morning of the 8th of October when they could be saved, safely. The babies were crying ferociously and were dangerously dehydrated. The Hatzalah responders called their headquarters asking for counsel. Never had they encountered an experience with treating babies, when no parents were present or accessible. On this same day, we met the medics who treated the dehydrated babies and visited the same hospital where they were examined and nourished and reunited with aunts and uncles and grandparents.
Today, we donned military grade helmets and bullet proof vests for a tour of Kfar Azza. Three residents who used to live there, took us around and told us stories of people who lived in the Kibbutz. I intentionally used the past tense. They also shared the fate of each person as we passed their home. This one was killed. This one was kidnapped. This one was injured. This one was a miracle. This one was out of town that weekend. Unreal.
A few minutes deep into the devastation and horror, tiptoeing over broken glass and charred homes and bullet holes in every direction, the guide pointed out the home where terrorists used the babies to draw people in and kill them. The very same twin babies whose uncle, Dvir we met, and who the responders from Hatzalah saved and brought to the hospital. We saw the remnants of their nursery and what must have been their stroller on the porch of their home. I could not believe how close we were to their story.
Then, we left Kfar Azza and headed to a small village just a little north of Tel Aviv, called Shfayim, where my kids used to play in the water park during our summers in Israel. Most of the displaced of K’far Azza are making Shfayim their home for now. We went to meet these forced refugees and hear them recount their stories. Each was more frightening than the last. We saw the homes and destruction and their stories closed the loop of their nightmarish saga.
Upon walking in to Shfayim, I saw a woman whose face looked familiar but I could not place her. She was on the floor playing with twin babies. I had a strange intuition.
Without permission, I plopped myself down on the floor where the babies were holding on to furniture, cruising. I turned to the woman and calmly asked in Hebrew, “Are you Dvir’s sister?”
“Yes” she said with a look of some surprise – since I came out of nowhere and clearly knew her, but still, little is surprising her these days.
I then reached out my hands to the twins and one came to my embrace. I said, to her, “These are the twins.” I did not ask the question. I was making a statement. She looked at me with eyes that said yes. No nod. No words. But we both knew.
I kissed one of the babies on his forehead like he was my own. He is all of our babies. I played peekaboo with him. He flashed giant smiles that showed me his baby teeth breaking through their gums. He kept a keen eye on his brother. Thank God for those smiles, or I would have been streaming tears. No one needed that. These kids will have a lifetime of people looking at them and crying. Let them smile and learn to walk.
On our first day of this mission, we met Dvir and heard his story and the story of his twin nephews. On our second day, we met the medics who rescued the twin babies and transported them to the hospital. We visited the hospital that treated them and reunited them with their aunts, uncles and grandparents. The next day, we saw the home where these twins lived and the place where life was ripped from their parents. Today, we walk into the relocated community of Kfar Azza, now in Shfayim, and the first sight we encounter are these same twins. In the flesh. In diapers. Smiling. Drooling. Whining. Sucking a bottle.
It was like Spielberg’s girl in the red coat. This coincidence was unrehearsed. Unscheduled. They were there in technicolor.
The twins’ story has been woven into each day and is living in my heart and head. It will be forever. These babies. Our babies. Their pain. Our pain. Death and life. Smiles and tears. Despair and hope. One thread weaving through it all. Is the thread making a quilt to warm us or is the thread unraveling the blanket of security and comfort?
Time will tell.