Monday, July 15, 2013

15-Jul-13: Summer reveries don't have quite the same golden gentle glow for us as they do for others

Jerusalem: Last year's charity fair in memory of two murdered girls
In the world of Jewish memories and experience, this time of year has a stressful and difficult character. It’s a very hot Monday here in Jerusalem at this moment. When the sun sets this evening, Jews in Jerusalem - and everywhere else - will start the observance of the ninth day of Av

People who have a hard time relating in a personal way to the events of a year ago will wonder about this. But Av happens to be a difficult month for people who live by the traditional Jewish calendar. Why so? Because the ninth day of Av is when the Babylonians - in modern terms, the residents of ancient Iraq - destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. In doing so, they brought an end to independent Jewish life in what we call Israel today. They killed some 100,000 Jews here, while exiling almost all the others. 

Some 640 years later, in the year 70, it was the turn of the Roman empire to conquer Israel and for the second and last time the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This time, some two million Jews were killed; a million more went into an exile that lasted many centuries. An independent Jewish nation in its own land did not arise again until the establishment of modern Israel 65 years ago.

Av the ninth is marked by a sunset-to-sunset absolute fast that begins tonight. We say mournful prayers, deliberately allow ourselves to experience physical discomfort and engage in a great deal of personal and community introspection. Beyond the ancient history aspects, the same date has been associated with some of the Jewish people’s blackest moments. 

The Maale Adumim 2013 bazaar is advertised in this Hebrew handbill
On this day, the entire Jewish community of Spain was expelled in the fateful year 1492. On this day in 1942 in the city of Warsaw, Poland - a third of whose entire population was Jewish at the time - the Nazi Germans began to liquidate the ghetto and send its inhabitants to their deaths in the Treblinka factory of death.

The rest of the summer for most religiously observant Jews gets easier and more enjoyable once the ninth of Av is safely behind us. That relaxation does not quite impact our family in the same way, unfortunately. This is because twelve years ago, in 2001, our eldest daughter Malki, 15, was killed in a Hamas terrorist outrage in the center of Jerusalem. 

So even as most Jews breathe a sigh of relief with the end of the fast, in our home we prepare ourselves for the annual pilgrimage to Malki's grave and the public commemoration of the anniversary (called azkara in Hebrew) of her murder.

I don't mind sharing that we feel indescribable pain. But I say that we are not morose or neutralized. We’re terribly sad, even overwhelmed by the feeling of loss. But we have full, constructive lives to live.

This is not self-evident, or at least is should not be. With so much death and anger around, and a full-time industry of propagandists declaiming about the unbearable insults and shame suffered by their pride, a person might be forgiven for thinking that in a community like ours here in Jerusalem, where hundreds of innocent young people were killed in terrorist attacks, the mood would be characterized by vengeance and confrontation. 

It simply isn’t so.

Malki died alongside her best friend. They were two beautiful young girls, busy with a day full of good deeds, standing at the counter of a bustling pizza shop at lunchtime. For the past 12 years, they lie side by side in Jerusalem’s soil. Their friends from the neighbourhood and from their youth organization – many of whom were as close as teenage friends get to both girls – suffered an incomprehensible double blow which has marked their lives deeply.

We have heard people say over the years that they could easily imagine passionate young people reacting to the vicious and deliberate killing of their closest friends by resorting to their own acts of hate-based violence. The reality, as anyone who knows anything about Israeli society, is far from that. 

Here is what the friends actually do.

The 2013 bazaar in Jerusalem, set for this
Wednesday, is advertised in this version
Every summer for the past 11 years, the graduating group at Malki's youth organization (it’s called EZRA) sits down and organizes a public fun fair and bazaar. It runs from mid afternoon until late at night, and it takes place in a small and pleasant public park just near where we live on Jerusalem’s north side. A second version takes place in Maale Adumim, a desert community on Jerusalem's eastern edge where Malki was a youth leader in the last year of her short life.

The park in Jerusalem happens to abut the building that serves as the clubhouse for EZRA in our part of town. That building was still just a few weeks old back in 1997 when we rented it for an evening and held Malki’s bat mitzvah party there on her twelfth birthday. On the awful night twelve years ago, August 9, 2001 in the hours after the massive explosion that demolished the restaurant in the center of Jerusalem, that same building was filled with hundreds of youngsters. They spontaneously arranged a prayer vigil while the search went on for the two girls in other parts of our city. 

By the evening hours of that day, we already knew that Malki and her friend Michal had both been inside Sbarro that afternoon. But we did not know their fate for some time. In fact, it was 2 o'clock the following morning before the friends and families learned what had been done to Malki. 

In that same park, on a hot September 2001 night some thirty days after the Sbarro massacre, we held a public memorial event. This was an azkara, to allow our friends, our neighbours and us to express our grief, collectively and privately, at the loss of two such beautiful, innocent, good lives. 

The agony of that evening remains etched in our memories, greatly sharpened by what had kept most of us glued to our televisions throughout the afternoon and evening leading up to it. That's because this was the night of September 11, 2001: 9/11 as we now call it.

The EZRA fun day is held annually in memory of Malki and Michal; all the proceeds go to charity. This year’s will be the eleventh such fair. It is set for this coming Wednesday afternoon, July 17, 2013. The Jerusalem version will run from 4 in the afternoon until 10 at night; in Maale Adumim, from 5 until 8. A banner announcing it is already stretched across the road leading into our community to create awareness. The Hebrew words state the message of the fair: “To give when you love”.

It’s a message which puzzles us, year after year. Why do the children in our community here in Jerusalem and in nearby Maale Adumim who have lost parents, siblings, friends to acts of overt hatred, respond by doing acts of charity, declarations of love? 

It’s not so obvious. They’re busy kids at the end of their final year of high school. The boys are weeks or months away from starting their army service, so they probably are grappling with complicated thoughts. Most of the girls will be starting their national service (most girls of religious orientation do this in place of army service, but some do go into the military) and are aware of the challenges ahead. 

Still, when they take time out to do something as a cohort of friends, a collective action, it’s about charity and remembering and – their choice of word – love. Should that be obvious?

It’s hard not to make invidious comparisons with what we see in the news from other parts of our region: young men and women, strapping bombs to their chests and expounding on how anger and pride demand that they kill people and perhaps themselves as well. We’re all too familiar with the horrifying dynamic.

But over here, the dynamic is about recruiting vendors who will set up tables to sell school books, pens, small household appliances, decorative objects and works of art, clothing and gifts. They find jugglers, food-stall operators, people who will install inflatable bouncies in the shape of castles or large animals which delight the toddlers who are brought by their mothers. The volunteer team, high school kids all of them, advertise the event by flyers distributed throughout Jerusalem; by ads in bus stations, synagogues, message boards and other key locations. Emails, Facebook pages, word of mouth.

And it’s not just in our neighbourhood. People of all ages have addressed the painful memories of their own lost loved ones by creating worthy undertakings, concerts, park benches, small libraries, and on and on throughout Israel. Our Malki, all of fifteen years old when she did it, served as youth leader for a group of Maale Adumim's nine year old girls. On Wednesday, when the youngsters there hold their own memorial fair (of course, with proceeds to charity) in Malki’s memory as they do year after year, we remind ourselves that the cohort of friends now taking charge were only six or seven when Malki was alive. They cannot really have known her. Yet they understand the symbolism. It resonates with them.

There is an apocryphal tale told about Napoleon who was walking in the streets of Paris on the 9th day of Av. His entourage passed a synagogue and the sounds of wailing from within caused him to send an aide to ask what terrible thing had happened. The aide enquired, and reported to Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their temple. Napoleon asked with indignation: “How could this happen without me being informed? When did this occur? Which temple?” The answer given by the aide was that the loss occurred on this date 1,700 years ago and in Jerusalem. Napoleon was silent for a moment, and then is famously reported to have said: "A people that mourns its loss through countless generations will surely survive to see the rebuilding of its temple."

A society that chooses to honour the lives of its murdered children through constructive acts of remembrance, joy and charity has a special resilience. Their pain is not removed or even lightened; their hopes and dreams are not necessarily granted to them; and the men (and women… and children) with the bombs strapped to their chests are not thwarted. 

The strength of a society that knows how to remember is something to behold. It is a privilege to be living in its midst.
For times and locations of Wednesday's two charity fairs (one in Jerusalem, one in Maale Adumim), and for details of the annual memorial service at Jerusalem's Har Tamir cemetery in memory of Malki and Michal (set for Sunday July 28 at 5 pm), please email us at

The Hebrew banner adjacent to the local EZRA youth organization branch reads "Latet K'sh'ata Ohev", "To Give When You Love". That has been the slogan of the annual bazaars in memory of Malki and Michal for 11 consecutive years.
[The post above is a reworked version of one we uploaded in a previous year. Most of what we said then remains relevant today.]

1 comment:

Dafna Yee said...

You and your families, as well as all the students who run the fairs, are truly an inspiration to anyone who is a parent and to anyone who loves Israel. Thank you so much for sharing Malki's story with your lucky readers.