The Newest “Families of the Bereaved”…National and Personal Losses and Grief

Many lives have been lost as a result of politically motivated violence and many lives have been changed forever. According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since September 2000 and the start of the Second Intifada in Israel, 1,260 people have been killed by Palestinian violence and terrorism, including the recent tragic deaths of three yeshiva boys who were kidnapped and brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists – Gil-ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah.In addition, sixty-four IDF soldiers were killed in the ensuing war against Hamas terror in Gaza – Operation Protective Edge. Thousands more have been maimed or psychologically scarred for life.  At the same time, Palestinians have suffered great losses and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza in events precipitating or following such attacks.

These are not just statistics. These are human beings. Each one has a name and a face and a life to be remembered and honored. Each of these deaths was mourned by their families and by the nation as both a personal loss and as a national loss.

When Rachel Fraenkel was interviewed about the loss of her son Naftali and the intense military effort to find the three teens that led to the discovery of the Hamas tunnels, she said that “we’ve suffered a terrible tragedy and that’s the personal issue, but on a national level, it might have saved dozens of lives.” And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the family of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was feared to be kidnapped and then was officially declared killed in action: “I know that you are going through terrible agony, the feeling that a part of you has been taken away and you are no longer whole. This is pain that has no relief, not even for a moment. I hope that you will find consolation in the fact that he fell to uphold the people of Israel in the struggle for our independence.”

What will happen to these families of the bereaved whose loved ones fall victim to such indiscriminate and horrific attacks? Will the physical and emotional scars overwhelm them?  And/or can they transcend this experience to lead healthy, fulfilling lives?

Ten years ago, I listened to the stories of twelve bereaved parents who lost daughters and sons to terror-related attacks during the Second Intifada. For parents, there is no greater grief than losing a child; but when a child dies suddenly as the result of a terrorist attack or in the service of one’s country, it’s the parent’s worst nightmare. There is no time to prepare for the worst or somehow make their farewells. These parents may have a very difficult time in finding closure; yet some have demonstrated incredible resilience, strength, and determination. They have turned their grief into doing good for others, turning the most negative episode in their lives into something infinitely positive. They have responded to pain and suffering by building, growing, making meaning out of suffering, and choosing life. They have learned how to “live next to” and “move forward with” their feelings of grief, pain, and helplessness.

To fill the big holes in their hearts created by their losses, many searched for and found the silver lining, creatively giving back and moving forward with action. Some created memorials to meaningfully recognize and honor their loved ones. Out of their disappointment in others who do not know how to react to their bereavement, others created opportunities to educate and raise awareness. Still others committed to making a difference through altruism – selflessly helping others like themselves, struck by terror, be able to return to life with strength, hope, and healing – contributing to society, and turning tragedy into action or activism.

It is my hope to share some of the inspiration from these twelve bereaved parents who have channeled their grief, pain, anger, and helplessness into life-affirming activities of remembrance, education, good deeds, and activism, honoring the memories of their beloved children and truly making a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

Let’s begin with three families of the bereaved who have discovered the healing value of speaking about their experiences, and, at the same time, educating and raising public awareness. In upcoming blog postings, we will hear from parents who help bereaved children express their feelings through art and writing and mothers who are helped by sharing their sorrow and pain with other mothers and through altruism.

Arnold and Frimet Roth remembered their daughter Malki, killed in the Sbarro Pizzeria bombing, by creating Keren Malki (the Malki Foundation) to provide solutions for the special needs of families in Israel – Christian, Muslim, Druze, and Jewish alike – who want to give the best possible home care and paramedical therapies to their child with severe disabilities. They also speak out and write about terrorism as parents of a child who was murdered. “Because we have experienced this, we have learned things that people should never have to know. So please listen to us.”

Likewise, Sherri and Seth Mandell decided to create something special to honor their young son Koby, who was stoned to death, and keep his memory and spirit alive in the world. Determined not to let their lives be ruled by hate, they established the Koby Mandell Foundation to help bereaved families keep their hearts open and spirits alive. It was their way to take the cruelty of Koby’s murder and transform it into acts of kindness and hope. They wanted to enable people like themselves, struck by terror, to return to life with strength, hope, and healing. They also believe in spreading their important message widely to help others, speaking publicly and writing books, blogs, and newspaper articles.

After the death of his daughter Maysoun in a bus bombing  – the first Druze woman to be killed in a terrorist attack – Amin Hassan felt he had two options: either he could allow his bereavement to control him or he could utilize his loss to do something positive. So he decided to honor his daughter by dedicating his life to advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, speaking out about reform and tolerance between people.

Through these acts of healing others, over time, these bereaved parents heal their own hearts and souls, and leave a legacy for future generations. As Roberta Bernstein z”l, an Israeli social worker, expressed so beautifully: “There is so much destruction and devastation and yet if one begins to look, there are people out there who somehow find the strength to move onwards despite the ongoing deep pain in their hearts. These people do rebuild their lives in new ways that they had never known before.” Let us hope and pray that all of the newest families of the bereaved also can find the strength to move forward and find their own paths to lightness through this darkest period of their lives.

About the Author
Zieva Dauber Konvisser, PhD, is a Fellow of the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University. Her research focuses on the human impact of traumatic events, such as terrorism, genocide, war, and wrongful conviction. She served on the National Commission on American Jewish Women and is currently on the international board of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma and the advisory board of Strength to Strength. She is the author of "Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing" (Gefen, 2014). The book can be ordered here:
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