National tragedy and personal loss

On July 1, Israel and the Jewish people buried three murdered Israeli teenagers, Gilad Sha'ar (16), Naftali Frenkel (16), and Eyal Yifrach (19).  On July 1, and for some weeks after, they are the children, the sons and brothers, of everyone in Israel.  Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal are the sons and brothers of the Jewish people the world over.  In Jewish community memorials, from North America to England, to France, to South Africa, to Australia, they have become part of the historic drama of being a member of the Jewish people.  The unspeakable crime committed against them is the subject of Israeli Cabinet discussion, plans for response, and the stuff of Israeli national news headlines.  The murder of three Jewish teenagers has captured the attention of the White House, the Kremlin, the Elysee Palace, and 10 Downing Street.  The murder of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal transforms all Israel into one family.  The Prime Minister and the Cabinet Officers, and the security and defense establishments, and the members of the Knesset are immersed in what has happened to Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal.  In these weeks, everyone in the Jewish world knows these three names and recognizes their faces, Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal.   

That is for now and for a few more weeks.  In not too many days the news will move their names and their tragedy aside and other events will overtake Israeli, Jewish, and world consciousness.  When that happens not too long from now, we, who will soon forget, must now remember that when all is said and done, Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal are the sons, grandsons, and brothers of only a few people.  After today is gone and the Sha'ar, Frenkel, and Yifrach families go home and sit down at dinner this Shabbat evening, there will be an empty place at the Shabbat table.  That empty seat will never be filled.  And on Shabbat morning these teenagers will not walk to synagogue with their families, and will not be late coming home for Shabbat lunch because they were hanging out with friends after "shul."  

When today is over, after all is said and done, Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal will have died only to their parents.  For each one of them has only one father and only one mother, and only those six parents lost a child.  Only those six parents will live the rest of their lives with this palpable void.  At family moments, sad and happy, at milestone moments when they would have been 18, 21, 25…, when if they were still here they would have been doing this or achieving that, or helping with this or saying that, there will be an abyss.  

Not a day, not a week, not a season, not a holiday, not a year will go by without these three mothers and these three fathers knowing who is absent, and whose absence is a chasm in life.  These six parents will never again experience a life's moment that is entirely surrendered to joy and happiness.  In the midst of all celebrations and happy times there will be that absence that establishes a presence that washes over and floods these six parents.  These six parents know that in the real sense of the term "death", they too have died.  The Jewish response to mortality is continuity.  Each of these six people is now father and mother to a child who will not bring children into this world, who will not perpetuate their parental legacy in children and children's children.  Three Israeli teens were murdered.  Generations to come were murdered.  Soul in waiting will not animate lives lived.  A portion of the life of these three mothers and these three fathers will not be given the blessing of immortality through continuity.  

For in the end, while the Jewish people have a long memory, national tragedy and historic events are never as close and as real and as enduring as the death of three children to their three mothers and to their three fathers, who will live out the rest of their lives always wondering what might have been, what might have been.   

Rabbi Yehiel E. Poupko is rabbinic scholar of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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