Dear Bat-Galim, Iris and Racheli,
What is there left for me to say? There are no words to describe the grief and pain we have all been feeling for your beautiful boys.
Racheli, I read your final good bye to Naftali and hot tears spilled down my cheek. “Rest in peace my child. We will learn to sing without you.”
Iris, your husband spoke for you to Eyal as the nation listened: “Your siblings want you near them…but Ima said that you are right now at God’s side. She asked that you whisper to God; ask Him to give her strength, to give us all strength.”
We all feel the same. There is a huge hole inside our hearts. We ask for strength.
I would like to thank you, dear mothers, on behalf of all the Jewish people, especially us mothers who know what it is to feel a child’s heart beat within. We mourn the loss of your precious sons. From the very first moment of this tragedy you carried Am Yisrael on your shoulders even as you bore your own anguish. You walked and talked with dignity as the eyes of the entire world were on you. We never heard you utter a word of complaint, a grumble, an angry scream of ‘why me’. Instead you taught us how to live with the light of faith so blinding it defies even the darkest nightmare.
You inspired all of us to do better and be better for your sons. We made promises to be kinder and watch our words. We vowed to kindle our Shabbos candles earlier; some for the very first time. We cried as we circled the flames and covered our eyes thinking of you. Little children went to sleep with a prayer on their lips, “Oh God, please bring our boys home.” Who could not be touched by the battalion of combat soldiers who have undertaken the commandment of wearing tefillin daily for the merit of the souls of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad?
Jews of all types, usually divided, stood together as never before. Young and old, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, all united. For once there were no walls. For 18 days we loved unconditionally. In unity we discovered how easy it is to break down barriers between brothers and sisters. You showed us the way. You did not choose this grueling test but you did pave the road on which we now walk, humbled, right behind you. It is a road paved with oceans of tears. I dare say it is holy.
Taken by the Nazis
When I was a little girl I would hear stories of brave Jewish mothers who suffered the loss of their children. Mothers like Channah whose seven sons refused to bow down to idols. Their only ‘crime’ was that they were born Jews. Not one son agreed to renounce his faith. Channah was forced to confront an unbearable pain. And yet she remained steadfast in her loyalty to God. I remember trying to picture the scene in my young mind but it seemed like an ancient tale from long ago.
“How can I sleep in my bed when Yosef Dov is not here? Is he cold? Is he hungry? Is he frightened?”
When I became older my father once shared with us the story of his own mother. One night there was a knock on the door. My father’s older brother, Yosef Dov , was brutally taken away as the Nazis began to come to power in Hungary. That evening my grandmother sat on her couch weeping. Hours passed. My father urged his mother to try and lay down in her bed. “How can I sleep in my bed when Yosef Dov is not here? Who knows where he is? What has happened? Is he cold? Is he hungry? Is he frightened?”
That was the very last time my grandmother laid eyes on her son. My grandmother never again slept in her bed. She mourned her child until the day that she, too, was taken away and both died Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the name of God.
I think of my grandmother’s sleepless nights, her many tears, her longing for her son and I think of you. You now join a long line of courageous women who brought precious life into this world only to be asked to return that life to the heavens above in sanctity. I think of your pain. I contemplate your suffering. I know that you are the Channah’s of today. You have given the greatest sacrifice. You have touched us all.
Is there any comfort we can offer you?
Please know, holy women, that we will never forget your sons. Their sweet faces are etched into our memories. When I close my eyes, I see their photos side by side. Young, shining stars, whose lights were snuffed out too soon. Their smiles do not leave me. I know that I am not alone when I say that we have all been transformed. We have tried to take this time of suffering and use it to rededicate ourselves. Many of us are trying to be better human beings and better Jews. Though time will pass, we will not leave the memories of your sons behind. We dare not.
You do not stand on this earth alone. Passover night we sing ‘Who Knows One?” The song continues as we ask “Who knows four? Four are the mothers,” we reply. Dear three mothers of Israel, remember always that there is one more mother who stands beside you. She has stood through exile, pogroms, inquisition, and Holocaust. She is Mother Rachel who to this day weeps for her children. Together you make four.
As the Jews were taken into the Babylonian exile and our Temple was in flames, it was the prayers of Mother Rachel that finally gave us hope and consolation. God responded to her tears.
“Thus said Hashem: A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children are gone. Thus said Hashem: Cease your weeping, wipe your tears, for there is reward for your accomplishment. Your children will come home. (Jeremiah 31, 14)
Bat-Galim, Iris and Racheli we say to you that your tears are not in vain. Mother Rachel joins you and weeps for your sons. We all do.
I pray that God answers our prayers quickly. It is time for our children to come home.
“May God wipe away your tears.”
Slovie Jungreis Wolff