Thursday, January 04, 2024

04-Jan-24: Adjusting to a new reality

Our family is about as well-adjusted, mutually supportive, loving as those around us here in Jerusalem. Maybe in some respects even a little more than many.

That's not only relevant but perhaps even core to the experience we're undergoing right now.

Those who know us - not via our writing or our social media presence but as neighbors and actual friends - will already be aware of the crushing challenge that's overtaken us in recent weeks. But for the many who pass through our blog or come into contact with articles penned by people outside our family circle, a few lines here to explain.

We were as private as most families are until the summer of 2001. And then lost some of our anonymity in the explosive horror of a bombing in the heart of the city we have called home since moving to Jerusalem in the eighties. 

The middle child of our young family, Malki, a sunny, sweet-natured, generous and talented fifteen year old, was one of many children targeted for her Jewishness in a massacre engineered by Hamas and centered on a pizzeria that's gone on to become a by-word for carnage and vicious cynicism: Sbarro Jerusalem.

Half the victims of that early afternoon atrocity, timed for a busy school-vacation afternoon in one of this city's bustling gathering points, were children. The shocking-enough death toll was fifteen, with some 130 others injured, overwhelmingly mothers and children. That, we soon learned, was the explicit plan. The list grew to 16 just a few months ago when one of the victims - a young mother out for lunch with her toddler daughter - died of her injuries decades after the bombing without ever having regained consciousness.

Accompanied by one of her very closest friends and our neigbours' daughter, Malki was standing at the counter placing her order when an exploding young man (not the terrorist as he is mistakenly called but the terrorist's human bomb) walked in off the busy intersection of King George Avenue and Jaffa Road and, after a few moments of seeming to study the overhead menu, pressed a button on his chest. The button was wired to the guitar case slung across his back. But what was inside was no guitar. 

Though this wasn't obvious to our family for a while, the massive explosion that ensued, destroying the eatery and the tranquility of dozens of families like ours, marked the end of one stage of our lives. And the start of a new and very painful and challenging one.

For us, losing Malki was traumatic in ways we won't try to articulate here. 

With time, the wounds and scars did what they usually do. Not quite healing, they remained ever-present parts of the reality of coping with loss and pain as well as the sometimes-quite-complicated background to lives-going-on.

The years that followed included family weddings, the births of grandchildren, the passing of older members of our families. And, in passing, the ongoing pursuit of the atrocity's mastermind who is safe and shielded in Jordan until today. There were private and occasionally public celebrations, along with observances that for an Orthodox Jewish family like ours give specific shape to the flow of the months and years and even lifetimes. And a myriad of shared experiences that anyone who is close to anyone will recognize. 

On December 7, 2023, just after we lit the first Hanukah candle, several sombre-looking members of a special purpose team from the Israel Defence Forces knocked on the door of our son-in-law's family. Two of our youngest grand-daughters were in the room with their Mummy enjoying a special family moment. It was a relief from the stresses and strains of living without their Abba (Daddy) who was posted to far-away Gaza - along with several hundred thousand other Israeli Abbas - as part of the largest mobilization of military reserves our country has ever known. Again, as in the Battle at Sbarro, the enemy was Hamas.

The special family moment ended as soon as that door was opened. 

The army buried our son-in-law with pomp and very respectful formality three days later. In atendance were many hundreds of people whose lives were touched by this lovely young man, along with his extended family. Though his military role as a reservist involved being inside a tank, our son in law was a physiotherapist with a burgeoing career and many apprecative clients.

But first he was a loving and adored husband, father, son and sibling.

In heart-breakingly gentle tones, our newly widowed daughter spoke at the graveside and then in a television interview during the shiva of losing a deeply admired partner who saw his responsibility, without question and without delay, as being to help defend his family and the society in which we live. 

His life, like that of our Malki 22 years earlier, was distinguished by an all-embracing love and a pureness, a fineness and a nobility of personality that is almost impossible to adequately express in words.

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