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No More Watermelon

May 9, 2009 | by Danny Verbov

A tour of duty in the Israeli army shows one man the pain of a nation, and the pain of a family.

Chunks of ice-cold, juicy, bright red watermelon lay in the plastic bowl on the coffee table in the modestly furnished lounge of Geula Hershkowitz, a school secretary in Ofra, Israel. Her husband Aryeh was murdered by Palestinians three months ago; her son Asaf was shot dead by Palestinians in a roadside ambush last week.

Dor, her 11-year-old son, rushes in with some friends, eagerly grabbing a slice of watermelon, and licking his lips as he rushes out again. His shirt is torn at the neck, as is Jewish tradition during the first week of mourning.

Five minutes later, he runs in again, only to find the treasure missing.

"What? No more watermelon?!" he asks in dismay, as only a child can ask, as if his life depended on it.

"No, it's finished," says his mother, managing to raise a smile in a face wrought with sorrow and tears the day after the funeral of her eldest son.

How does one explain to a freckled, bespectacled 11-year-old, that there's no more watermelon?

You tell him there's no more watermelon.

How does one explain to the same freckled, bespectacled 11-year-old, that there's no more daddy... and now no more big brother?


I've just finished another three weeks of army reserve duty in the area where the latest shooting of Asaf Hershkowitz, 31, occurred. He was Geula's son, brother of 11-year-old Dor, father of two young children, and husband of Hila, an immigrant from England. The day that Ariel Sharon visited the Hershkowitz family in the morning, I spent two hours in their house in the afternoon -- sitting; staring; listening; contemplating; sobbing; trying to comprehend; to understand; to empathize; to feel the pain...

How long will this go on? How many more families are going to be destroyed?

On hearing the news the previous day, I'd cried uncontrollable sobs. I couldn't even speak to my wife when she came to meet me that morning. How long will this go on? How many more families are going to be destroyed? Why two people in one family? An 11-year-old has to cry at his father's funeral?? And three months later, at his brother's??

No one will ever know how much the army has succeeded in preventing tragedy. But I sense that when it comes to the crunch, our hands are tied.

There are shooting incidents every day. And sometimes all day. We don't realize how lucky we are that even more families are not horrifically traumatized. You don't hear half of what is happening on the news. Some shots miss completely; others may lightly graze a school bus full of children; still more might wound someone. And every so often, as with Asaf Hershkowitz and his father, they claim another innocent victim, and destroy a family.

After one particular shooting incident last week, five army jeeps went into the Arab village from where the shots had come. No traces of shooting were found; no indication of the exact location of the sniper. When we tried to leave the village, the narrow alleys had been blocked with rocks and garbage containers, and we drove into a raining bombardment of rocks and metal objects. The leading jeep narrowly missed being crushed by an old stove filled with rocks that was dropped from above, falling about a meter in front of the headlights.

Not a bomb, but a deadly weapon nonetheless.

The jeep narrowly missed being crushed by an old stove filled with rocks that was dropped from above.

I was driving the second jeep. Being my first time in this sort of escapade, I had no idea how I was going to get out of there. Thank God, it didn't take long to find out. Our soldiers jumped out and shot rubber bullets in the direction of the youngsters on the roof until they ran off. We then were able to move the roadblocks and drive safely out of the village.

But what had we achieved? Had we ensured that no shooting would ever happen again?


We need to learn how to feel the pain of other Jews. Deeply. Like we need to learn to feel the joy of other Jews. Children know it instinctively. When there's no more watermelon, they can kick and scream for half an hour. When we hear of "another shooting in Israel", do we drip a tear, let alone kick and scream? Or do we say "oh dear" and carry on with our important paperwork? Until we develop the ability to kick and scream, these killings will continue.

Unless it's happened to someone you know, it's hard to feel that pain. I know. Even in Israel, one sometimes becomes cold to the constant scroll of shootings and wounded. There is a certain relief if you don't know the person involved.

Here's an idea. Find a picture of one victim of the latest war. Or an article about the person. For five minutes a day, think of his wife, or her husband, or their children, and all the everyday situations they might now find themselves in and that we take for granted. How would you manage without your spouse at this time? How would your children cope without their parent?

How would you explain to your 11-year-old that he no longer has a daddy or a big brother?


The word "watermelon" appears once in the entire Bible. In Numbers 11:5, the Jewish people, suffering in the desert, are complaining to Moses for taking them out of Egypt, where they had fish and "cucumbers and watermelons and leeks and garlic! But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes."

Today, the Jewish people must learn to complain about what's really important.

When we focus solely on the watermelon, on the superficial, physical world that is "before our eyes," then "our soul is dried away." Today, the Jewish people must learn to complain about what's really important. What should really make us angry? Watermelons will come and go, but a human life, once gone, is gone.

We must learn to feel the pain of what we're really lacking. When we learn to kick up a fuss about what really matters, then maybe things will change. We must learn to feel the joy of life; deeply appreciate those who share it with us, and hurt with the pain of an 11-year-old losing his father. And then losing his big brother.

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