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Tanya White
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‘The pain is temporary, the pride is eternal’: Remembering Amitai z”l

Our community of 35 families is a microcosm of the country, where every loss is unbearable, and worse when it's one of your own
(courtesy)
(courtesy)

When you bring a child into the world there are some things you prepare yourself for — sleepless nights, teething, illnesses. As your kids get older, the problems get bigger — school issues, relationship problems, life choices, and many other complexities to navigate.

Nothing, but nothing, can prepare you for the moment you have to tell your child that her best friend — the person she grew up with from age 3, her co-madrich (youth counselor), the person she spoke to almost daily and spent many years experiencing the best of life together — was shot dead in an ambush by terrorists.

Nothing can prepare you for watching the child you are mandated to protect from pain collapse from the pain of excruciating loss.

Nothing can prepare you for accompanying a coffin of a boy who you knew and loved and who felt like a son pass his house and then yours and stop outside your beit knesset (synagogue) at the exact spot he would dance his heart out every Simchat Torah.

Nothing prepares you for seeing your child breakdown uncontrollably, and then find the strength to stand up at the funeral in front of thousands of people to speak through a deluge of tears to bid her and her friends’ final farewell to their lifetime “brother,” expressing the love of childhood friendships that grew into unwavering bonds of loyalty between young adults.

Nothing prepares you for the sleepless nights as you listen when she cries herself to sleep and the endless days, as she navigates a world in which part of her own soul is no more.

Nothing prepares you for seeing your daughter’s distraught face being broadcast all over the news at home and abroad. Or for holding back your own pain, tears, and deep loss so that you can be strong to hold her up.

No, nothing can prepare you for this moment however much you think you might be prepared (because here in Israel we always prepare for the worst).

Amitai was a cliché. Truly a cliché. Not only was he tall, handsome, and with joie de vivre, he was also dedicated to Torah and tefillah (prayer) and the perfect ba’al koreh (Torah reader).

You couldn’t help but gravitate towards him — to his presence, to his core being. He had a purity, but also a cheekiness. He was caring and involved, opinionated and self-confident, but with zero arrogance or self-righteousness. He had Jewish chutzpah and dreamed big. He ticked every goal he set for himself and fulfilled every responsibility he was handed.

Living in a moshav among a community of a mere 35 families, there’s no such thing as “friends”; there is only “family.” Our daughter Meital has the most incredible group of friends who consider themselves siblings. They know everything about each other, have gone through everything together, and can predict each other’s every move. Their bond is unshakable. Amitai’s loss is nothing short of earthshattering.

Amitai was loved by every kid on the moshav. He spoke to them at eye level even though he physically towered over them. His indelible mark was felt at every turn. He lived and breathed leadership and education – Bnei Akiva was his life and soul. He taught them to love Torah and Judaism just by being who he was, by role modeling what a life of “Torah and Avodah” looked like. He taught boys their bar mitzvah leining (Torah reading) and then, of his own volition, he continued to learn Torah with them for years after his official “job” was over. Our kids owe so much to him and the moshav is a better place for his presence. He was, in no uncertain terms, the poster boy who all the kids looked to emulate.

His mother, Mali, keeps telling me, “You always told me איזה ילד יש לך — what a son you have!” Every person in our community knew that if you needed something done, you asked Amitai.

Amitai, you had a fire in your eyes that could not be extinguished. You were disciplined and determined in ways that defied your young years. Even as a small child you never allowed yourself to miss minyan. You had it all: seriousness and persistence as well as a brilliant sense of humor and the ability to also be crazy. You danced, you laughed, you got the chevra (friends) to do intense tiyulim (hikes) encouraging them to love the land as much as you did. To your friends, you were the center of the action and never missed an opportunity to make everyone laugh (the source of all the “tzchokim” as they say in Hebrew), to your teachers and your rabbis, you were the curious, serious, inquisitive student, and to your family, you were the reliable steadfast son and brother.

Whenever we chatted, you always asked me about something you had learned. You had read Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Lonely Man of Faith twice and asked me to learn it with you because there were parts you were struggling with. Of course I said yes, but never fulfilled my promise — you went into the army and I didn’t follow up. I will forever regret that.

Amitai, you were always the first of to knock on our door Friday nights, starting the weekly get-together of friends, who spent the night laughing and shmoozing. What will we do now? How will we fill that enormous gaping hole your left by your death?

You encapsulated everything good about this world, this people, the youth of today, and you touched those around you with your infectious energy.

When I tell people that you were the best of the best of the best, it is not a cliché or an exaggeration. In a world that can no longer differentiate good from bad, truth from falsehood, you stand as the zenith of what pure good and pure truth are.

No one prepared me for this pain, but at the same time no one prepared me for this pride. The pride of a generation that includes boys and girls like Amitai. The pride of Amitai’s friends, who have faced his loss with courage, dignity, and strength. A generation that knows how to wear the Jewish badge of honor with pride and fight for its place on the stage of human and Jewish history. A generation that, rather than demand individual rights, shoulders the burden of national responsibility. A generation that we, their parents, wanted to protect from pain, but which instead has ended up protecting us with body and spirit.

In two weeks, my husband and I mark our 20th aliyah anniversary. We made a conscious decision to try to integrate into Israeli society by moving to an “Israeli” moshav — not just by living in the land, but by familiarizing ourselves with its language and immersing ourselves in its cultural norms. It has not always been easy, but there have been some incredible watershed moments, like, for example, when our eldest daughter started the army. Moments that connect you to Israel in new ways. Amitai’s death is a watershed moment that we did not foresee. This time, we have been inaugurated into the collective experience of loss and sacrifice. And it is an extremely bitter pill to swallow.

Amitai, your death has left our entire moshav totally shattered. We are so small and so close, I don’t know how we can possibly go on without you. It seems almost impossible. Yet, we know we will; we have been through a lot and, like our people, we are strong and resilient. When God gives our forefather Jacob the name “Yisrael,” in the midst of his struggle with a stranger on the river’s edge, he foreshadows the story of our people. A narrative of struggle, of strength, and of resilience.

“כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי שָׂרִיתָ עִם אֱלֹקים וְעִם אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל”

“Because you are with Israel for you have struggled with God and men — and you will prevail”

This story of Amitai is one of thousands like it in the last six months. We are struggling — oh are we struggling! We are shouting at God: “Please stop this pain.” And we are shouting to our people: “Please stop the hatred.” As your mother said at the funeral, our enemy doesn’t see our differences; to them, we are all the same. Let’s stop seeing each other as the enemy.

Your commander, Ido Baruch, who fell with you in battle, lived just up the road. You were religious and politically orientated to the Right. He was secular and politically orientated to the Left. But from all accounts, you both possessed the same passion and love for your people and land. You fought together in life and were buried just hours apart, side by side, in death. In the struggle for our survival, we have no choice but to unite.  But, yet despite the continued external threat, the internal struggle has begun to return to its pre-October 7th status quo, and it is quite unbearable. The struggle is so great and so overwhelming.

But we will prevail. We have to prevail because it is our narrative, the story of our people.

When Jacob leaves the encounter with the stranger, we are told he limped. No one comes out of a struggle whole. There are always scars, something has forever changed.

But the image of that smile of yours, Amitai, and the memory of your infectious personality will be enough to keep us moving forward.

And the image of every person — each a universe — that has fallen has to be the anchor from which we will ascend.

Amitai, you will be the light that guides us through this dark, dark place we are in right now. I’m begging everyone to look at your face, to remember the good you brought into this world and to fulfil the legacy of your life that was cut far too short. And one day, after we have dried up what appears to be a never ending stream of tears, we will look at your beautiful picture and those of the thousands more we have lost and we will laugh again. And one day, despite the trauma of these deep wounds we will celebrate again.  And one day, despite the pain, we will dance again.

Because we are a people who will prevail.

As Amitai always used to say:

הכאב הוא זמני  הגאווה היא נצחית

“The pain is temporary the pride is eternal”

We are the eternal people. We are deeply wounded and traumatized. We are in excruciating and seemingly endless pain. But our pride has not died nor will it ever. Our children will save us.

We will prevail.

Am Yisrael Chai.  עם ישראל חי

About the Author
Dr. Tanya White is a lecturer in Tanach and Philosophy and a Sacks Scholar. She is currently a senior lecturer at Matan, LSJS and Pardes and acts as scholar in residence for many communities in Israel and abroad. Tanya has published numerous articles in books and on social media. To contact her or read more of her ideas visit her webpage www.tanyawhite.org
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