June 14, 2001
Another sleepless night. Sleep has not come easily over the last 8 months, but over the last week it has been non-existent. See, this week my 5-month-old cousin, Yehuda Chaim Shoham, was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Tossing and turning, I mourn my family's loss and Israel's loss, wondering when and if this nightmare will come to an end. Looking back though on the past few days, I gain strength from the most unlikely of sources, and this is what I would like to share with you.
My wife and I were on vacation in the United States when we got the phone call. The phone call every Israeli family fears and prays will never come. Benny and Bat-Sheva were on there way home from paying a shiva call to Benny's parents, who were mourning the untimely death of Benny's 27-year-old step-brother in a car crash, when tragedy struck again.
Just minutes away from their home in Shilo, a terrorist flung a boulder the size of a watermelon through the windshield of their car, hitting little Yehuda in the head. Upon arrival at the hospital it was clear that only a miracle would save Yehuda's life, as his skull had numerous fractures, and within hours it was established that his brain stem was destroyed as well.
As I put down the phone, in a state of shock, I began to cry. Although we have all but become accustomed to dealing with heartache and continuous tragedy in Israel, this was different. This was my baby cousin, whose mother I had grown up with. Bat-Sheva was my cousin, my neighbor, my best friend.
Barring a miracle, it was just a matter of time.
We spent a grueling few days in New York trying to get on the next flight back to Israel, finally getting out on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the doctors had declared Yehuda brain dead, and barring a miracle, it was just a matter of time. I prayed that I would make it back to Israel on time to say my goodbye to Yehuda, and be there to comfort Benny and Bat-Sheva.
Upon arrival in Israel, we went straight to the hospital. It was 1:30 a.m. Benny and Bat-Sheva had just put their heads down for the few minutes a night that they allowed themselves. Yehuda's grandparents, my uncle and aunt, were bedside. My Uncle Jerry had just gotten off the phone when we walked in, and relayed his conversation to me. The phone rang in the ICU at that ungodly hour, and the nurse called my uncle over saying that someone was on the phone asking for a family member.
The man on the phone, from Rishon Letzion, said that he had he never met the family but he could not sleep. He was heartbroken and called the hospital to see how the baby was doing. He wanted the family to know that he was praying for them, and asked if it would be all right for him to come visit the next day. As I heard about this phone call, and the numerous others that had occurred over the past few days, I realized how Yehuda's condition was truly in the hearts of all Israel.
We went home to catch a few hours of sleep before we would return to the hospital. On the drive back to the hospital we got a call, it is only a matter of minutes, get here quickly. As we walked into the ICU it was clear that Yehuda had just passed away. I immediately broke down, as my sobs joined the chorus of screams and tears that filled the room. Looking at Benny and Bat-Sheva, I got my first glimpse of their true greatness, courage and faith. As I stood over Yehuda, wailing, it was Benny who came over to comfort me. As he hugged me, he said that this was all from heaven, and that the Almighty had his reasons. Walking around the room, it was Benny and Bat-Sheva who looked to comfort us all.
That evening the funeral procession started at the Prime Minister's office. As Benny spoke, there was not a dry eye in the crowd of thousands. He spoke of how Yehuda's death had united the people of Israel, and had brought them together in prayer. He stressed that we not lose faith in God's mercy, and that our prayers will ultimately bring the final redemption that we so long for. Once again it was Benny whose words were of comfort to the crowd.
"We are all Yehuda Chaim Shoham."
As the procession made its way from Jerusalem to Shilo, the convoy of cars went on for miles. As we passed the settlement of Ofra, which has lost a number of people to terrorist attacks over the past few months, we were witnesses to a heartwarming sight. Hundreds of residents, men, women, and children, stood by the roadside at 10 o'clock at night as we drove by. They stood in silence, some holding Israeli flags, others with signs that read, "We are all Yehuda Chaim Shoham." At every settlement that we passed, this scene repeated itself. The pain and love in their eyes was just another sign of the unity Yehuda had brought to our people.
The burial of a 5-month-old baby is heart-wrenching, even more so when he's your cousin. As the tiny body was placed in the grave, Benny recited the Kaddish we all said our teary goodbyes. We prayed that this would be the last death in our fight to defend the land of Israel.
From Shilo we traveled to Neve Aliza, where Bat-Sheva and Benny would be sitting shiva. The house that Bat-Sheva had grown up in was now her house of mourning. As I was leaving the home, I was awestruck. I had come to comfort them, they had just lost their one and only son, but the opposite happened. They comforted me. Through their continued show of tremendous courage and faith in God, they strengthened my love for our land and our people, never doubting for a second that our cause is just and that God will prevail.
The courageous message that I got from Benny and Bat-Sheva was loud and clear: we mustn't let this death be for not. Yehuda was just a baby, without sin or enemy, yet he was killed for one reason only, he was a Jew on his way home in Eretz Yisrael. Each and every one of us must act to assure that we are doing our utmost for the people of Israel and the land of Israel. We must return to Israel from the four corners of the earth, and we must settle the land. We must return to God, for it is only the Almighty that can help us through this terrible hour. Help us help ourselves, as we hope to make this the last tragedy to befall Am Yisrael.