Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of when Rav Nechemia Lavi, HYD, and Aharon Benita, HYD, were brutally murdered in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, during the last moments of Succot.
Those murders, more than any of the other recent tragedies, hit my family really, really hard, for a few different reasons. First of all, they were so close by (but I could make that claim about most of the attacks you read about in Jerusalem…) Second, one of my kids was taught by the wife of Rav Lavi. Third, both of my kids were in the Old City when it happened. Fourth, my kids – and their friends – pass by the spot where the murders happened all the time, as a big Jewish residential building, Beit Wittenberg, is right there.
Me and my family went into shock a year ago, and I think it’s taken a whole year for us to start coming out of it again, one way or another.
But in the meantime, the teenagers and kids of the Old City have spent the last year coming up with a whole bunch of meaningful ways of remembering the dead, many of which came to fruition this week.
Firstly, they unveiled a memorial to the dead men, at the spot the attack happened.
Next, they spent months collecting 40,000 shekels (!), then they found an empty shop in the hard-core Arab Shuk, fixed it up, and turned it into a ‘pinah chamah’ or ‘warm place’ for the IDF soldiers, magavnikim and other security people who are in the Old City. The ribbon was cut on the pinah chamah a couple of days’ ago.
The boys’ school in the Old City also wrote a Sefer Torah, in the merit of the deceased, which was finished shortly before Succot.
Next, they arranged to do ‘hakafot shniyot’ at the place where the murders they happened, turning it into a permanent fixture in the Old City calendar that is now bringing hundreds of people into to dance in the Muslim Quarter.
Last, the family of Rav Lavi interviewed a whole bunch of people who knew him, and turned it into a film of his life, to show who he really was. The film’s first screening happened yesterday, at the Heichal Shlomo hall next to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.
Both my girls came home in floods of tears, as they told me some of the stories about how good, and how idealistic, Rav Lavi had been.
They told me that when the Arabs were regularly blowing up buses in Jerusalem, there was one bus line that was had been attacked twice in a row, at exactly the same time, killing lots of people.
When the third week rolled around, Rav Lavi decided to stand at the front of the bus for the whole morning, holding an Israeli flag.
These sound like small things, maybe, but when you consider how many people would devote a whole morning of their time to boosting the morale of their fellow Jews like that – for free – it really speaks volumes.
As all this activity has been occurring around the remembrance of Rav Lavi, and Aharon Benita, it’s really brought home to me WHY I live in Israel.
Tough things happen, like they do everywhere else in the world. But nowhere else in the world do tragedies like this underscore the beauty of life, and the strength of the Jewish soul.
Both my kids got a lot of closure from all the remembrances, and the activities, and the dancing, and the crying they did this last week. It seems to me, Israel is the only place that you can dance and cry together like that, or where violent death can transform itself so amazingly into the purest stuff of life.
Sometimes, it really does take a year to heal from these losses, even when they’re just happening in the periphery of your life. That’s why God is a genius, and tells us it takes a year to mourn, properly.
My kids cried a lot yesterday, and I also had a few tears leak out, as I listened to them. But underneath it all, I could feel that some of the sadness I’ve been lugging around with me for ages seems to have dissolved.
It’s a new year. A new start.
Rav Lavi and Aharon Benita are sadly gone – but their legacy lives on, embodied by the idealism, generosity of spirit and hope of my kids and their friends.
The younger generation really showed me something amazing this week: Jews remember their dead by being even more alive, even more idealistic, even more determined to do good and be good. They don’t let the ‘bad’ take them out – they take it as a prompt to start adding even more good to the world.