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Remembering "Shema Yisrael"

May 9, 2009 | by

The son of a Holocaust survivor, is also the father of a Sbarro survivor. His message spans the generations.

Friday night, after Sabbath evening services, my daughter and I were discussing the weekly Torah portion. What does the commentator Rashi say at the beginning of the portion, I asked? And Shira (Hebrew for "song") answered me, paraphrasing Rashi. I breathed a contented sigh.

Why would I burden you with such a description? It is such a common sight that of a father discussing the weekly Torah portion with his son or daughter. Except that everything here is new: the person, the time, and the place.

The place: Recovery Room, Intensive Care Unit, Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem.

The time: 24 hours after the suicide bomber terrorist attack at the Sbarro pizza restaurant in central Jerusalem.

The person: my daughter. Her body is bruised, battered and broken after a long surgery that bestowed upon her the gift of life. A new Shira, a new song.

Sabbath evening at the recovery room. The color white dominates every corner, so different from the Sabbath white that we are used to. The white of the operating room feels nerve-wracking and threatening, compared to the white of the Sabbath with its soothing aura of splendor and sanctity. Until then, I had no idea there was such different significance to the color white, depending on where you are.

Shira is alternately sleeping and awake. She is drowsy from the many painkillers she is being given. At one point she wants to ask me something. I lean down to listen. "Daddy, what about that family that was right in front of us in line for pizza? What happened to them?"

I know what family she is talking about. Both parents and three children were killed. In a choked voice, I tell her that God willing, the Almighty will help them. I thought to protect my child from the bitter news until a later stage. Fortunately, the humming of the machines around her drowns out the emotional storm that encompasses me.

But after several minutes Shira asks again, "Daddy, how is that family?" I ask her why she is asking specifically about them.

Shira tells me that when the terrible explosion occurred, the children were seriously injured. They were actually burning. Then one of the small ones cried, "Daddy, Daddy, save me!" And the father yelled back to him, "Don't worry, say with me Shema Yisrael -- Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."

"And suddenly there was quiet, Daddy." She stares at me, "What happened to them?"

And I, the son of my father, the almost sole survivor of his family that was destroyed in the Holocaust, grew up on the Shema Yisrael that Jews said before they were murdered, and knew well the spine-chilling stories of the Jews led to slaughter, losing their lives at the end of that phrase, "the Lord is One."

And here, now, I hear from my little girl the same story, and the Treblinka death camp and the Sbarro restaurant become one.

Grandfather, granddaughter -- and I the father in between. A genetic code -- mysterious, painful, deep -- connects the holy victims of the Holocaust and those of Sbarro, holy victims whose only sin was being a part of the Jewish people.

"Daddy, I will never forget those voices. Never."

Children were murdered then and are being murdered now for being Jews. The father, mother and three children standing in front of Shira were killed for being Jews. Images merge of the child of then and now that wanted his father to save him, and the father who knows where they are going, and cries to our Father in heaven the phrase "Shema Yisrael" together with his dying son. Shema Yisrael from within the flames, then and now.

I can hardly choke back the tears, and the heart refuses to believe. And I hear Shira's voice bringing me back to the present. "Daddy, I will never forget those voices. Never."

And then a difficult thought passes through my head. Maybe I myself forgot? Maybe I fell asleep while on guard? Maybe my father remembers that, "In every generation enemies rise up to destroy us," because he was there and felt the Holocaust. But, my friends and I, the generation of Israel's revival, have already sensed the light at the end of the tunnel, the vision of peace and humanity at our doorstep.

And now the images of flames and smoke, the voices crying out "Shema Yisrael," have been heard by the generations before me, and after me.

Shira, I want you to be able to forget the horrible images. I want you to have peace of mind. But I don't want you to forget the significance of those voices. Because faith from within the flames is refined, pure, unrestrained, firm and burning. But how can I ask you not to forget when I myself lapsed into forgetfulness and allowed myself to be led astray by illusions of a new Middle East?

A day earlier, when a doctor showed me the pre-operation X-rays, I saw nails, bolts and screws from the bomb, intended to increase the magnitude of injuries and deaths. Now they were all in your small body. You had become a veritable hardware store. Materials used by people to build and construct, are used by savage murderers to wreak havoc and destruction.

Then I recognized one of the screws. I recognized it at once. It was mine. "Hey!" my friends and I used to tease each other, "You've got a screw loose!" I saw the screw in the X-ray and recognized it at once. It was the screw that had become loose in my head.

Maybe I can prevent the excruciating pain and unbearable suffering from others in my generation. Maybe others could tighten their loose screws in order to better comprehend who we are dealing with. In the pantheon of horrors that will be remembered for all time, there is a place reserved for those terrorists and their handlers in the east of hell, together with their Nazi predecessors.

"Shema Yisrael" is heard, blood flows into blood, and we here in the Land of Israel will continue to raise a generation with a healthy soul and with faith, a generation that can eat a slice of pizza without fear.

A generation that remembers it all.

Shira Nemett, age 15, was released from Shaarei Zedek Medical Center on August 21. She faces a long period of recuperation.

To contact Shira, please email her at

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