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Gilad’s Precious Diary

Gilad’s Precious Diary

Bat-Galim Shaer recalls her son’s murder and message to the Jewish people.

by

Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine.

Every night before going to sleep I take an inventory, caressing the faces of my children sleeping peacefully in their beds and thanking God for the merit of being their mother. I have to make sure that the flock has returned home, confirming that each one is where she should be at that moment. I love to watch them sleep, their faces shining, their breathing tranquil. I hope that their steady breathing can somehow help my own labored breath, and restore the sense of calm that I haven’t had for a long time.

On that night, it was close to one o’clock in the morning. I had finished my preparations for Shabbat; the cooking, the cleaning, the routine things that don’t take much thought. So I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking about or what I was doing at the time. Of course, I had no idea of what could possibly happen to change the routine. Sometimes reality overwhelms anything you can imagine.”

The three boys, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach

These are the opening lines of the diary of Bat-Galim Shaer, the mother of 16-year-old Gilad Shaer, who was kidnapped and murdered along with two of his friends, launching a series of events that shook the State of Israel, led to the outbreak of war, and turned the world of the Shaer family upside-down.

Police knocked on their door. They had found some things that might have belonged to their son.

And then, ten months after the tragedy, as the family was starting to prepare for their son’s first yahrtzeit, a delegation of police knocked on the door of their home in the Talmon settlement east of Modi’in. Asking to speak to Ofir and Bat-Galim, Gilad’s parents, they explained that they had found some things that might have belonged to their son. Opening a case, they showed the Shaers some photographs of a number of items, including the burnt remains of a tallit bag containing a tallit and tefillin, a backpack and some other small articles. Did they think that these had belonged to Gilad? they asked delicately. The parents were ecstatic to see their son’s possessions, which they were sure had been lost forever.

The last item to be brought out was a spiral notebook with a red cover, the edges of which were scorched. The notebook showed signs of water damage as well. Inside, handwritten notes and random thoughts filled the pages. Gilad’s bereaved mother flipped through them in amazement. It was clearly her son’s handwriting, despite the damage caused by water and flame, but she had never seen this notebook before. She tried to read a few words, but much of the ink was smeared and blurry. Still, she was able to decipher some of her son’s sentences, one of which jumped out at her: “I love Mommy. Very much.”

It was like a punch in my stomach to suddenly receive a greeting from the son we had thought we would never hear from again.

“It was like a punch in my stomach,” Bat-Galim recalls, “to suddenly receive a greeting from the son we had thought we would never hear from again. Seeing his words and sentences, his private thoughts written in his own hand, in a diary that had accompanied him until his last moments… To me, it’s a real miracle.”

Also amazing was the fact that Bat-Galim herself had begun keeping a diary after the kidnapping, unaware that her son had also been keeping a journal.

The abduction and murder of the three teens three and a half years ago by Hamas terrorists electrified Israel and the world. For three weeks straight the entire country seemed to be searching for Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer, as klal Yisrael looked on and prayed. Israel was traumatized when their bodies were discovered in a shallow grave in the West Bank. The horrific murders led to a military response against Hamas, Operation Protective Edge, in Gaza.

Bat-Galim Shaer has now published her diary, entitled Mah Yeiled Yom (“What the Day will Bring”). When she first began to put her thoughts onto paper, she did not know that her own musings would one day be stitched together with the diary of her murdered son. “I’ve always enjoyed writing. I used to write about family events or things related to my work as a teacher, but I had never kept an actual diary. This time, I wrote about my emotions and experiences as a way of coping with the pain I was feeling. It was a way to lessen the weight that was crushing my heart. When I saw that it was turning into something substantial, I realized I had to expand it to fully describe what I had been through ever since hearing the news of the abduction. I understood that a book like that would be relevant to the public both in Israel and abroad, as everyone had shared in our story. That’s why we decided to publish it.

Naftali and Gilad

“The first thing I had to do was figure out what kind of an approach to take, because in a book, the main thing is the plot. But in this case, everyone already knew all the details of the story. So I decided that my book’s value would be in its message. Then we found Gilad’s diary. What an amazing surprise that was! We knew he had a way with words and a talent for writing, but we were unaware that he was keeping a diary. Each time I read it I realize what a miracle it is to have it in my possession: firstly, that it survived, and secondly, that the Palestinian policemen who discovered it didn’t toss it in the trash and gave it back to us. Truly a miracle!”

Thursday evening, 15 Sivan 5774 (2014) is a date that is etched into the Shaer family’s memory. It was already past midnight, and they were waiting for Gilad to return home from his yeshivah, Mekor Chaim in Gush Etzion. They were getting worried, as they had repeatedly tried to contact him by phone and gotten no answer. When they called some of his friends from the yeshivah they were informed that Gilad had left the school with another friend, Naftali Fraenkel. But when they tried calling him, he also didn’t pick up the phone. It turned out that he too hadn’t returned home.

In her diary, Gilad’s mother relates those first moments of fear. At 3:00 a.m., her husband, Ofir, had called the Binyamin Regional Security Council and reported that his son was missing. The dispatcher called the Civil Security Center in Efrat to put out a bulletin. A short time later, Ofir called the Security Council again. “I want to know if the police and army are also involved,” he asked. “I’m afraid it’s a kidnapping.” The dispatcher alerted the police and IDF, who scoffed at the idea. “If a couple of yeshivah students aren’t home, it’s probably because they went to sleep over by a friend. They’ll be back in the morning,” was the response.

Kidnapped

What the parents, the police and the IDF did not know was that at approximately 10:20 that evening, Gilad and two friends had been waiting at the junction across the street from their yeshivah when a vehicle with Israeli license plates stopped to offer them a ride. Inside the car were two Arab terrorists from Hebron wearing kippot. The ruse worked. The three boys accepted the lift and got into the car. What happened next was actually recorded live, thanks to Gilad.

At the local police station, an unusual phone call came in at 10:25. A boy was whispering into the phone: “They kidnapped me, they kidnapped me.” Then there are Arab-accented Hebrew words heard in the background: “Put your head down. Head down. Down!” Another voice shouts: “Take it [the phone] away from him.” Next there is a shout, followed by a gunshot, then another, then a burst of gunshots followed by a cry of pain. These were the last recorded moments of the three boys’ lives.

He was so brave, even though he was only a teenager. He knew what to do.

Yet even under such distressing conditions Gilad had the courage to make that phone call. “He was so brave, even though he was only a teenager. He knew what to do,” his father later said.

Listening to the recording is chilling. The boy is whispering softly, but his words are clearly audible. Unfortunately, at that point a fateful error was made. After eight unsuccessful attempts to call back the phone number that had been used to make the report, the police concluded that it was either a false alarm or a hoax. They also never checked to see whose phone number it was. Thus the security forces lost almost five precious hours before mobilizing.

After the kidnappers shot the three boys they drove to the Palestinian city of Dura, near Chevron, and transferred the bodies to another vehicle. They then set fire to the car that had been used for the kidnapping. The bodies were taken to a plot of land belonging to the family of one of the kidnappers and buried. The boys’ clothing, as well as the tools that had been used for digging, were hidden, and the murderers fled.

That same night, some local Palestinians called the fire brigade after someone reported a car on fire. The conflagration was soon put out. When the Palestinian police arrived at the scene they found the charred remains of an automobile with Israeli registration. Inside they found the belongings of several people who were obviously Jews, including a tefillin bag. The Palestinian police didn’t understand why an Israeli vehicle was burning in the middle of Palestinian territory, or why its owners had disappeared. They reported it to the IDF.

At the IDF, there was a sense of panic. There was only one explanation: the car must have been used to kidnap Israelis. The blackened Hyundai, which was determined to have been stolen, was transferred to Israel, where the investigators found bullets and bullet holes in the vehicle.

Some of the items found by the Palestinian policemen in and around the car that night were brought to the Palestinian police station in Chevron. After glancing at them and deciding that they were of no value to the investigation, they were placed in a storage box in the basement. When two officers arrived at the crime scene the next day, after the sun was up, they noticed the pages of a notebook scattered around the area. They collected the pages, put them in a bag and brought it back to the police station as well.

It was only now, hours after the abduction, that the IDF and Israeli police finally “woke up” and realized that Gilad’s father had been right: it was a kidnapping. Operation Shuvu Achim was announced and an intense manhunt for the missing teens began. In her diary, Bat-Galim Shaer recounts the two and a half weeks of searching that ensued, the moment the bodies were discovered buried in a field, and the funeral that was attended by thousands. “What I remember, and what I want to remember from those 18 days, is the sense of unity that encompassed the entire Jewish people. We received a huge hug from all sectors of the population. Everyone enlisted in the search operation; everyone showed great concern. The whole country grieved with us when the bodies were found; we rediscovered that we are all connected, despite our differences. We received phone calls and messages from all over the country, from schools and from parents. We received so much support, and I want this atmosphere of cohesion to continue.”

Aftermath

The book is divided into two parts. The first describes the first two and half weeks of uncertainty, when everyone’s heart alternated between hope and despair with every new shred of information. The second part describes the family’s life after they were notified of their son’s fate.

The investigation led to the identification of the persons behind the plot, followed by a wave of arrests of members of Hamas. That in turn led to the military operation in Gaza. The Shaer family found itself closely associated with an historical event that not only affected their own fate but that of a whole country. Still, their takeaway was a personal one: the incredible achdut of the Jewish people at a time when they had experienced a profound loss.

I cannot go back to the old life we used to have.

In her diary, Bat-Galim describes her private pain and bereavement. “I cannot go back to the old life we used to have,” she says. “We try to establish a new routine around the great void that has been created by Gilad’s absence. Baruch Hashem, we have five daughters, and together we are trying to rebuild our lives and move on. The space he left behind causes a real physical pain, a sharp pain that I can feel. He is always on my mind. Fridays, when he would help me prepare for Shabbat, are particularly difficult. Family events, which he cannot share with us, are terribly painful.

“Gilad was our only son, and as such he had his special roles, such as helping us build our sukkah. Whenever my computer malfunctions, I still instinctively call out for him to come and help me, but he is no longer here. I know we have to move on and not surrender in defeat. I’m not trying to be a heroine; I just want to somehow ease the pain. I am accompanied by loss at every turn. But I have come to realize that one can still have a complete life alongside the grief.”

The Shaer family has launched various mitzvah campaigns in commemoration of their son’s life, such as commissioning the writing of a sefer Torah and the performance of acts of kindness to perpetuate the unity they wish to recreate. One of the most original and apt projects is called Gilad’s Kitchen, in which people bake or prepare food dishes and distribute them to neighbors, acquaintances and even strangers in order to increase ahavas Yisrael, reminiscent of mishloach manot on Purim. The idea occurred to the family when they recalled how much Gilad loved to putter around in the kitchen. “He was always spending his spare time baking cakes, preparing milkshakes and other tasty treats,” says his mother. One of his favorite pastimes was making etrog jelly. “After Sukkot,” she writes, “he used to collect the etrogim from all the neighbors to make a delicious jam. Now I miss it.” After reading about this in her book, one of the neighbors stopped by after this past Sukkot with a jar of etrog jelly. “I know it won’t be as good as Gilad’s, but I hope it can bring you some happiness,” she told Bat-Galim when she dropped it off.

It was during those first difficult days of trying to mend the fragments of her life that her son’s singed and waterlogged diary was discovered in the basement of the Palestinian police station. When a police officer finally got around to properly examining the items that had been taken from the car, he noticed that it was a personal diary. Figuring that it should be returned to the writer’s parents, he sent the notebook to the police chief to determine what to do. When the police chief saw the sentence “I love my mother,” he realized that it had to be returned immediately, and thus began its journey back to Talmon.

When Gilad’s parents began reading passages from the diary it elicited goose bumps. By then their son had already become somewhat of an abstraction, yet here he was, sharing his thoughts in a very concrete way: “My name is Gilad,” one of the sections begins, “and I’ve decided that I will always live in accordance with the meaning of my name. [Gilad means ‘eternal joy.’] I always wanted to be in the happiest and funniest place. Today, I’m the one who makes people happy.”

He also writes extensively about the importance of joy, both internal and external. “I was stunned that a 16-year-old could understand the concept that joy is a matter of choice, and is not dependent on what happens to you in life,” his mother says proudly. “He truly lived up to his name, in a way that someone much older might not have been able to do. It’s amazing to me that such a young person had discovered such insights. I was moved by the things he wrote.”

In his diary, Gilad wrote about his love of Torah, spirituality and holiness.

In his diary, Gilad wrote about his love of Torah, spirituality and holiness. In another section he described his exhilaration after working through a difficult piece of Talmud and coming up with a new insight. “I am so proud of what I did. I want to experience this feeling again, many more times in my life,” he penned. In another passage he presented his serious thoughts on how spirituality and materialism both have their place in Judaism.

When her son’s diary was first returned, his parents found it difficult to decipher many of the sections. The pages were often unreadable and were not in the correct order, although thankfully, most had dates written on them. Fortunately for the Shaers, Israeli Police Superintendent Sharon Braun was determined to reconstruct the document, and promised to have the police lab work on it. In fact, she herself had extensive experience reconstructing shredded and destroyed documents, including pages from the diary of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon that were recovered after the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003.

For the next several months Mrs. Shaer would travel to Jerusalem and sit in the laboratory while Superintendent Braun used special light filters and digital technologies to make out the words. “We refused to give up on a single letter,” says Bat-Galim, “although there are still many missing words despite our efforts. There were some sections we couldn’t reconstruct at all, but whatever we were able to recover was a gift. Reconnecting to my son in this way helped me overcome my overwhelming sense of loss in those first months and years. Yes, it opened wounds and caused even more pain, but I ended up feeling closer to him.”

A Force for Life

Bat-Galim named her book Mah Yeiled Yom, taken from the words in Mishlei, “ki lo teida mah yeiled yom—we do not know what the day will bring.” Also, the word “yeiled” is spelled the same way as “yeled,” boy or son, an allusion to Gilad.

“We had a stable and secure life,” she says. “I never imagined that what happened to us would ever happen. Death was not an option or something that had even crossed our minds. And yet it happened; Hashem brought us death.”

Her son had something to say on the subject as well: “There’s something special about me! At last I feel as if I’ve found something strong inside. A life force; that’s what I call it. It’s like a tremendous energy that finds its expression in great joy; it was not for nothing that I was named Gilad. I have an infinitely strong love for my family and friends, those who are close to me, and those who want me to be close to them. It makes me so happy.” His mother sighs. “He had such vitality. Who could imagine that he would be cut down in such a sudden and cruel way?”

Bat-Galim Shaer understands than in some ways she is simply her son’s mother, but in other ways she has become the mother of an entire nation. “A lovely woman contacted me and told me she had attended her granddaughter’s graduation ceremony from a Jewish school in Manhattan. The rabbi had stood up to address the students, and told the following story with great emotion: A few weeks before, he had been shopping in a local supermarket and noticed an elderly man standing in line to pay. When he took out his credit card, a piece of paper with the names of the three murdered boys written on it had fallen out of the man’s wallet. The rabbi wondered: Could it be that right here in the middle of New York was a man who knew the three boys personally? So he decided to ask the older gentleman. ‘I never met them,’ he replied, ‘but I put their names in my wallet next to my credit card to remind myself that these boys paid with their lives because they were Jews.’”

While this story illustrated how profound an impact the tragedy had had on Jews around the world, Gilad’s mother still maintains a line between her public and private lives. “It was fate that my child’s life and death would become a part of our national narrative, but there are some things that we have kept private. We did not publish all of his journal entries. We don’t want a spotlight shining on our family. We were also very careful to keep our daughters out of the public eye. You will not see a picture of the family anywhere. Modesty is important and must be preserved.

We recognize that have been given a unique mission to spread a message of unity.

“At the same time, we recognize that have been given a unique mission to spread a message of unity. Here is a passage written by Gilad that is so relevant: ‘Modesty is an important attribute. A person doesn’t need to share or highlight every aspect of his life. There are some things that belong to him and to him alone, such as his basic qualities and thoughts. When you reveal them they become someone else’s, and are no longer only yours.’”

“The real objective of my book,” Mrs. Shaer concludes, “is to express the concept of achdut, unity, all Jews being responsible for each other. When I was launching the book, I was approached by people from all different backgrounds, including all sorts of professional media people. I thought they would be cynical but they all opened up their hearts and offered me support. The book also includes deep and powerful insights: how to overcome difficulties, forge ahead despite failures, and it has many compelling messages of faith and inspiration.

“I am simply passing along my son’s ideas. If people can connect to his words, that will be my modest contribution to klal Yisrael.”

Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine.

December 5, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Debbie striks, December 11, 2017 12:26 AM

Intense special time in Jewish history

I live in Los Angeles, far in miles from the families of the 3 boys, but I believe those few weeks will be remembered by all those in America, as an intense and special time when all Jews felt the Freankels, Shaers, and Yifrachs were family and when we heard their loss, we cried openly. It was a tragic time but in a way, there was something so special about that unity that we must not forget. Bat Galit, Hashem should give you and your family strength to continue on in the beautiful way that you do.

(3) Shira, December 7, 2017 4:59 AM

So inspiring

Wow! This article brought tears to my eyes. I can't get over what a special neshama Gil-ad was. His insights are amazing and he continues to inspire even in his death. May his mother find comfort

(2) Tanya, December 5, 2017 3:26 PM

Where can we find the book?

Is the book available for sale? Could you share a link where we can find it? Preferably, in English but in Hebrew would be fine as well...

(1) MESA, December 5, 2017 3:24 PM

During that summer of 2014, I spent Tisha B'Av waiting for something special to happen. After all the achdut of that time, I thought we'd be breaking our fasts early that day in Yerushalayim. And I still imagine that Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal would be escorting Melech HaMoshiach- after all, they helped bring him. Bat-Galim, may you and your family continue to spread Gilad's legacy of Torah, Mitzvot, and achdut among all Klal Yisrael.

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