Sharing Our Grief

July 3, 2014

9 min read


Three women share their pain and reflections.

Every Jewish Mother

By Zivia Reischer

This essay was written by every Jewish mother. Every Jewish mother who put her sons to bed each night while three other of her sons were kidnapped, gone. Every Jewish mother who did not eat and could not sleep for three weeks while she held on as tightly as her panicked consciousness would allow and waited, waited, waited for news.

Every Jewish mother. Because, as the sun rose and fell and the days bled into each other, it became apparent that it was, indeed, every Jewish mother. And every father, and son, and daughter, and brother. The three missing boys were on everyone's minds; their names as familiar on our lips as the names of our other children. I am Naftali's mother, I am Gilad's mother, I am Eyal's mother. I am living the nightmare of every Jewish mother; waiting, waiting, waiting for my son to come home from school.

So many prayers, so many tears, so many people hoping and wanting and waiting.

So many candles lit early for Shabbos, so many women taking challah, so many spiritual pledges made and kept and strengthened.

We were one nation and we felt it keenly – each of us seeking, desperately, to do something, anything. If your tools are hashtags and skydives and awareness campaigns, for once it did not serve to divide us; I totally understand, because we share the same goal.

Strange how we used to think so much divided us. It's hard to remember it now. Was it the difference in head-coverings that confused me? Or the language barrier? Because it turns out in the end that we are all exactly the same. I looked at the pictures of your sons and thought each looked exactly like my own sons. I looked at the pictures of their mothers and I saw another three women in the line of Jewish mothers who have assured our existence through the centuries.

For three weeks we lived and breathed as one unit; I will never forget this time. We prayed as one, and we searched as one, and we waited together, our hearts beat-beat-beating in time. And now we mourn as one, for our three lost boys, who we searched so hard for but could not bring back.

We cannot go back in time to do things differently, but neither can we go back to do things the same. For three weeks we saw clearly that our differences don't actually exist, the seeming vast divides all vanished in the face of our one, common desire.

We lost three of our sons; let us not also lose the new knowledge we have of ourselves: that we are not disparate fragments of a people but one, one, one nation, with one goal, waiting as one for the day when God will bring back our boys.

Still Praying

By Elisheva Blumberg

I found out the devastating news of what happened to our missing boys by way of a Facebook invitation.

At first, I assumed the neighborhood Psalms get-together I was invited to was to recite psalms for the missing Israeli teens in the hopes of their safe return home. But when I read the invite, I discovered the awful truth of what had happened; that our prayers over the last few weeks were not answered in the way we had hoped. The Psalms recital was organized not to pray for Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, but to pray for their anguished families who are now mourning the death of their heroic sons. The event was a call for us to come together and show that we are united, that despite the tragic outcome we will persevere.

After being dealt such awful news, I felt defeated, broken, jaded. Just two weeks before I had joined with a number of other women to complete the Book of Psalms each day in order to merit the young men’s safe return home. With two small children at home, reciting my portion of the holy words every day was a challenging feat. Every two minutes I had to pause and respond to their needs, and at the same time pray for the missing boys.

“Mommy, look how high I can climb!” God, please keep these boys out of danger. “Mommy, can we have a snack?” God, please make sure they are being sustained wherever they are. “Mommy, can you play hide-and-seek with me?” God, please reveal their hiding places and release their mothers from this living nightmare.

When you pray for someone, you forge a connection with them. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali became a part of me, as they did for all the many thousands of Jews around the world who prayed for their safe homecoming.

Finding out what had happened to them was like a punch in the gut. How can you pick yourself up again after such a defeat? How can you continue to pray after all of your hopes have been dashed?

My intense reaction to the idea of prayer "after the fact" made me realize there was something lacking in the way I perceived prayer.

King David composed Psalm 56 when he was captured by the Philistines. He faced enemies who wanted to take his life, and his terror is evident in every passage in the Psalm. He beseeches God, “Place my tears in Your flask, are they not in Your record?” What King David is telling us is that Hashem stores up all of our tears. While we may not see the direct result of our heartfelt prayers, they are not for naught. God counts them up and saves each one.

After hearing the tragic news yesterday, I just wanted to curl up and distance myself from all of the heartbreak. To think that people are still praying, and not giving in to despair seemed a superhuman feat.

But as Jews, our strength comes from our resiliency and our togetherness. If we would have given up after every tragedy in our long history, we would no longer be here. We are a stubborn nation. I think of my grandfather, may he rest in peace, who walked out of the concentration camps a few breaths away from death; his right arm inked forever as a reminder of the horror he had gone through, the family he had lost. He was as broken as a human being could be, but nevertheless maintained his faith in God and the Torah.

We must endure; our history shows us that.

There is eternal beauty in the idea of holding ourselves together despite wanting to fall apart. Jews have proved time and time again that we will not be broken. This Facebook invitation shows that we will endure no matter what. Despite my initial despondency, I feel compelled to continue praying for the dire situation in Israel. To stay strong. To perpetuate the Jewish tradition of keeping our spirits high, our prayers strong and our eyes towards that glimmering future when all of our broken hearts will be mended.

Three Extra Candles

By Adina Ciment

There are three extra candles on the tray in my dining room. Three extra candles that I lit with the rest of my Shabbat candles for the past few weeks. Each week, as I welcomed the Sabbath, I said a small prayer for three boys whom I had never met. Said a prayer for three families whom I didn’t know.

Their names were typed and posted on my dining room wall. A constant reminder every time I passed by.

And now, I have three empty candlesticks and I don’t know what to do.

For years I lit an extra candle for Gilad Shalit, the young soldier who was captured and held for five years by Hamas terrorists. Every Friday I said a special prayer for his safety. For his swift return. And when he came home, I wasn’t sure what to do with “Gilad’s Candle.” I was going to send it to his family with a letter telling them how the candle carried all our hopes and prayers each week. How even though it was a such a dark time, this candle lit our home each Shabbat. It brought us warmth. It brought us light.

I never sent that letter, and I never stopped lighting “Gilad’s Candle.” Instead, it became our little symbol of faith. It was a candle for Gilad’s health. A candle for all the soldiers in Israel.

But now, what do I do with three empty candlesticks?

Like the rest of the world, my heart broke when I heard about the deaths of Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal. There would be no joyful homecoming. There would be no dancing in the streets. Instead, there were wails and anguished cries. My Facebook and twitter feeds blew up with cries of despair. With anger. With shock and disbelief. Once again we all came together, a nation broken and grief stricken.

We were all left standing with our broken, empty candlesticks. The hope that we fervently held onto was extinguished so quickly and absolutely. How can we find light after this seemingly impenetrable darkness? How we will ever light those candles again?

It is easy to give in to the gloom and the wretchedness. But while Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal are not physically here, I still feel their influence. Without a word they united Jews around the world. Without a sound they inspired prayers and good deeds. They reminded us about family and identity. They prompted thousands of people to refocus their values, to align ourselves on the side of good and righteousness in the face of evil and cruelty.

What do I do with those three empty candlesticks? I will keep them lit. Every Friday night. Every week.

For three weeks, Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal were part of my family. They were brothers to my children, sons to me and my husband. This Friday night, I will light those three candles again. Even though I am no longer lighting them for the reasons I first started, they are still my children.

And I will never let their light go out.

United in Grief: A compendium of articles and reflections

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