One of the most unnatural events in this world is the death of one's child. You are born, you age, you die. King Solomon himself declares in the Book of Ecclesiastes; "Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heaven: A time to be born and a time to die". We marvel at the beauty of springtime even knowing that the trees will be bare come winter. We mourn upon the death of one's parent even as we know that death is part of nature. It is natural to bury one's parents after they die. It is unnatural to have to bury one of your children.
I have been asked countless times over the past four years why I decided to move to the community I reside in. I live on a "Yishuv" in Israel. The very first time I visited my Yishuv was when I was vacationing with my wife and children. It was during the heat of the summer. We stayed over in the Yishuv for a few days. We had visited many places in Israel, but this was our very first experience with a Yishuv. Something clicked. My wife and I both commented to each other at the time that if we were ever to decide to live in Israel, this would be the place we would choose to make our home. There were a number of reasons for this, but the overall feeling was that this would be a really great place to raise our children. There was something about the attitude of the people, something about the atmosphere of the Yishuv, that you could just sense how precious and important the children were.
A few years later we did in fact move here and have not been disappointed from our original impression. In fact, this feeling has only strengthened over time. After living here for even a brief time, it begins to sink in that every single child living on the Yishuv is considered exactly like one of your very own. People treat and care for their neighbor's children in the same exact way they treat and care for their own. This is not an exageration. And so therefore it's no wonder that at any given time on any given day, your child can be found in any number of homes around the Yishuv while at the same time any given number of neighborhood children can be found in yours. That is life on a Yishuv. The Yishuv is one of the most "children-friendly" places you could ever imagine living in. During the week, you are constantly picking up in your car neighborhood kids on the street who need a lift somewhere. I get a real kick on Friday night, mostly before dinner is over, when the parade of children into our home begins with the first knock of the evening at the door and the chorus of response from the house "ken!" (yes) and the first friend of many more to follow enters. You lose something in the transalation. Eventually a group of kids will congregate outside our home, making enough noise to disturb someone's peace.That's how it is here.
At this time every year, a few weeks before Chanukah, the streets of the Yishuv are filled with the sounds of our children busy preparing for the annual youth groups presentation. For weeks, almost every night, children are preparing dances and acrobatics and all kinds of presentations that will culminate at the grand outdoor presentation after the conclusion of Shabbat. The preparations themselves are really something that enlighten your heart to watch and listen to.
But this year, the sounds of preparation have been silenced.
Life on our Yishuv also means "tremping", hitchhiking back and forth to school or to work or to wherever. Everyone does it, adults, kids. It's just a part of life here. A few days ago, a couple of kids, 12-13 year olds, were on their way home from school. They were only a few minutes away from home when their car crashed on the slippery road, killing three of the kids and the driver and seriously injuring a fourth.
In a single moment, four of our children, two of them brothers, were killed.
It would be so easy to just say that the entire community is in mourning. Not one, but four of our children have died. The wound is still so fresh. One of the parents had rushed to the accident scene to help, not realizing that his very own child was there laying dead on the highway. How can you possibly describe the sadness? Parents in mourning. Grand-parents, siblings, friends. Our children! The tears flow wherever you go. In the homes of the mourners. On the streets. In the schools. In the aisles of the local food store. Everywhere. You see groups of children, of all ages, walking from house of mourning to house of mourning. The flow of people into our neighbor's home is non-stop. We are not all sitting shiva, but we are all in mourning over the loss of our children.
I also have a 12 year old son. These were his best friends. They were in our house, he was in theirs. They went to school together, played basketball together, went to karate together, played Risk together, and were preparing for the big outdoor presentation together. But the presentation has been postponed. So has my 4 year old's birthay party. How can you have a party, how can there be a presentation when we are all in mourning and some of the performers have died? We are relative newcomers here. How many friends already does my son have here?
My 10 year old son saw a bus this morning on our way to school. We had travelled by bus to the cemetery for the four funerals. That was a long day. My son upon seeing the bus wanted to know whose funeral it was today. My 8 year old daughter asks whether or not they know for sure that our neighbor's child is really dead. My four year old daughter spoke about the death of her brother's friend to her pre-school teacher.
The social workers here, the psychologists, the school, all have there hands full. As if they weren't busy enough until now. And they will be plenty busy for quite some time. Wherever you turn on the Yishuv, there is another sign posted directing you to another home of mourning.
I ask myself how it is that rain, something we pray for so much, could also somehow, someway, sometimes be a part of something so tragic. It's as we say, that we want rain, but that it should come in the right way, in the way that it will be a source of blessing. For me personally, what comes to mind is the statement in the Ethics of our Fathers; "You are forced to Live". I, like the rest of my family and community right now, feel such a heavy load upon us. It's in the air. You can cut it with a knife. We are all forcing ourselves to live on, to somehow lend some comfort to the parents and families of those who are in mourning over this tragic, tragic loss.
Only with G-d's help do we have the necessary strength to succeed.