On the corner of Leib Yaffe Street in Jerusalem, in the quiet neighborhood of Talpiot, two houses stand across from each other. In one, Aner Shapiro is being mourned. My 23 year old neighbor who went to dance in the desert and instead found himself catching live grenades and lobbing them back at terrorists, protecting his friend Hersh and many people he did not know, until one grenade eventually took his life.
Across the street, Judah and Hadassah Troen, members of my synagogue, were mourning the loss of Judah’s sister Shahar (Debbie) Troen-Mathias and her husband Shlomi Mathias, two talented musicians, people of love and light, who were murdered by Hamas gunmen who invaded their home on Kibbutz Holit. Debbie threw herself on her 16-year-old son Rotem to shield him from the gunfire. She and Shlomi were killed; their son, who was wounded by a bullet that penetrated his mother’s body, survived by hiding under a blanket in the laundry room. After nine days of waiting, the Mathias’ bodies had been identified, and finally a funeral could take place.
Standing between those two homes, it’s hard to breathe.
On Monday morning our synagogue Whatsapp group shared the news that the Troens were organizing to leave for Shahar and Shlomi’s funeral, in the town of Omer in Israel’s south. Within minutes, someone offered we go there with our flags. Word spread in groups and facebook posts. When I got there with my daughters, we were 25 people, within 15 minutes there we over a hundred. Members of my synagogue, Kehilat Klausner, mixed with members of Arnonim, the Shapiro’s community. Young women from Midreshet Lindenbaum, the nearby seminary, came out as well. Neighbors left their homes and passersby joined the tribute. A police car came by, wondering about the disturbance – then rearranging themselves to protect the small moment of solidarity. People who had come to Leib Yaffe Street to comfort one family stayed to comfort the other, and vice versa. They stood holding Israeli flags, some still bearing the remnants of stickers from the recent protests. Together, we paid our respects.
“Wait, so why are we actually standing here?” my teenage daughter asked. The words came out before my usual parental censorship could stop them: “Because it could have been us. It just happens to be them this time. So how can we let them leave our neighborhood alone, as if this is their private event? This happened to all of us.”
The Troen family set out for the funeral embraced by friends, neighbors, and strangers. We sang as they walked slowly to their car. I steeled myself for my community, my daughters, for the mourners. But my heart broke. When their car disappeared down the street, I turned to the crowd, thanked them for coming, and grasped for words of encouragement. I spoke about our neighborhood of Talpiot, which has known days of war and loss – from 1929 to 1948 to 1967 to 1983 – and which will know times of peace. As long as its residents continue to come out together and stand shoulder to shoulder with their neighbors, we will know times of peace. But the crack in my heart remains. The pain is deep.
It could have been us. In this case, it just happened to be them.
The author thanks Shira Pasternak Be’eri for her help in adapting this post to English. Photo gratis courtesy of Abigail Dauber Sterne.