Once again tragedy has struck Shilo with the murder of Avi Siton.
Yehuda Shoham was a 5-month-old baby who was murdered one year ago when Arabs threw a rock into his parents' car, crushing the baby's skull. Shilo, my town in Israel, almost made a whole year without losing anyone else. Almost, but not quite.
The last week in May did not start out well. Monday, a terror attack in Petach Tikva outside an ice cream parlor took the lives of a little baby and her grandmother. A number of others were injured, many of them children. Tuesday afternoon a man was murdered on our road to Jerusalem. Tuesday night I went to sleep fighting depression.
At 11 o'clock, a few minutes after I'd turned off the light, I heard the phone ring. My son Yoni answered it and I drifted off to sleep. It rang again at 11:30 and again Yoni answered it. This time he came upstairs to our bedroom and told us that another son, Akiva, had called twice. He was okay but a terrorist had infiltrated Itamar, where his yeshiva is located. He had told Yoni to wake us so we wouldn't be in shock in the morning.
The terrorist had been caught after opening fire on a group of boys who had just finished playing basketball.
Of course, my first inclination was to call Akiva. However we have been warned that in case of attack to use the mobile phones only for absolute necessities, to keep the lines from overloading. So I checked out the news and after a quarter of an hour it seemed as if everything was under control in Itamar. I called Akiva. He told me that the terrorist had been caught and there was one high school student who was seriously injured, after the terrorist had opened fire on a group of boys who had just finished playing basketball. A number of boys from Shilo study in the high school there. Akiva did not know who was hurt, but said he would call as soon as he knew, even if it was the middle of the night.
I called our older daughter Shoshana to tell her that Akiva was okay, but she already knew. Apparently he had called all his siblings. (The oldest five all have their own mobile phones.)
THE AWFUL NEWS
A half-hour later the phone rang again. It was Akiva. He was very upset, probably crying. He told me that three boys had been murdered. One was Avi Siton. Avi lived down the street from us. He was a toddler when we first moved to Shilo, two years younger than Akiva. Watching him grow up had given me a lot of pleasure. He became a real mensch. It was impossible to believe he was dead.
Since I didn't know how the story would be presented on the news, I called my father in America to tell him we were okay. Then I had the strongest urge to go to Avi's house and to be with his mother, but we are not that close and it was not my place. The night was incredibly long and I could not fall asleep. Later I found out that a number of my friends had also heard the news and were unable to sleep. But for the middle of the night we were alone with our thoughts of grief and sorrow until we finally were able to catch a few hours of sleep.
Not knowing how the story would be presented on the news, I called my father in America to tell him we were okay.
At 6:30 a.m. the phone rang and woke me up. It was my daughter Dvora. Her class was in the south for a workweek, helping out on one of the agricultural settlements. She was so hoarse I could barely hear her. Obviously she had been up most of the night crying. She wanted to know when the funeral was but we did not know yet. When I called her an hour later she was already on the bus on her way home.
Then I had to do what I was dreading the most: telling our young children what happened. No matter how many times we have gone through this, it is unbearably hard to tell the children.
All day long the teenagers of Shilo made their way home. Some came from close by; others had been on the road for several hours. Some had left their studies; others were in army uniforms. All were suffering. You could see it their eyes. Most of them clung to each other, receiving their comfort from their friends.
I remember what it is like for a teenager to lose a contemporary. I was 14 years old when a friend was killed in a car accident along with three other boys. They died because someone miscalculated the amount of time it would take for the car to cross the railroad tracks. This week, Avi Siton and his friends were murdered because there is an evil in this world called anti-Semitism.
Boys went flying under beds, hid in closets, and others ran for their lives. Some did not make it.
The Arab murderer entered the high school campus Tuesday night and began shooting. One boy yelled to warn the others before he died. Boys went flying under beds, smaller boys hid in closets, larger boys cowered in the bathroom with the lights off, and others ran for their lives. Some did not make it.
It is important for everyone to know all the pain we are going through here. The grief that I feel is multiplied by the hundreds who were at Avi's funeral. And that is multiplied by thousands who were at the five other funerals of terror victims in Israel this week. We are talking about an enormous amount of anguish.
And still there are reporters who portray us as aggressors and Arabs as freedom fighters. Freedom fighters who attack babies at an ice cream stand and unarmed high school students in their dorm. Newspapers will write the headline: "Three Israelis and One Palestinian Killed in New Round of Violence." It's important that you know the true story.
Wednesday morning, after my youngest son had calmed down, I asked if he was sorry that we had come to live in Israel. His answer pleased me. Now more than ever, he was glad we live here. We are not going away. We are not going to go to the gas chambers without a real fight. Maybe that's why the world is so angry with us.
I don't think I will ever forget the pain in Akiva's voice when he told me that Avi was dead. One of the greatest grief a parent can have is to see their child suffer. Our teenagers here in Shilo are suffering, and yet, they give us hope. All the friends and rabbis who spoke at Avi's funeral spoke of his love of life, his humor, and his commitment to Torah and the Land of Israel. I pray that all of our children, in spite of their grief, will be able to follow in his ways.
We must start in our little village, and hope that true caring for each other will spread among all of the Jewish people.
Despite all horrible tragedies that this war has brought, we have seen that life goes on -- even for the family of Yehuda Shoham, the baby murdered one year ago. His mother gave birth to a baby boy a few weeks ago. Avi's family will also continue with their life.
Avi's mother said that it is not just Arafat who is responsible for the murder of her son, but also estranged relations among the Jewish people. It is our job, as parents, to try and bring an end to all the selfish arguments, petty jealousies, and bad-mouthing that exists among us.
We must start in our little village and hope that true caring for each other will spread among all of the Jewish people, and the Almighty will see fit to end this horrible war. So that Avi's and Yehuda's bothers and sisters will never again know the pain that we are going through now.
Postscript: Tragedy struck the Shiloh community again on June 19, 2002, when Shiloh residents Shmuel Yerushlami and Gila Kessler were murdered by an Arab suicide bomber at a bus stop in Jerusalem. Only 3 weeks earlier, Shmuel had survived the terror attack described in this article, when he was able to hide from the rampaging Arab gunman.