Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day 2: Rambam Hospital, Greenberg Unveiling and Gomez Funeral

Rambam Hospital, Greenberg Unveiling and Gomez Funeral

Monday August 14, 2006

On Monday morning we went directly to Rambam Hospital again led by the kind and giving Dr. Jesse Lachter, who stayed with us for much of the day. At Rambam we came across Yechiel, a miluimnik (reservist) from the Golan Heights who was surrounded by a large and diverse family. Yechiel is 36 years old and could have chosen not to be involved on the front lines, yet he insisted on joining in.

In a soft whisper, Yechiel said that when he was wounded all he could think of was his little daughter. The thought of her growing up without a father gave him the strength to live. His eyes were sunken and sad. Yechiel’s emotional wounds will take longer to heal than his physical injuries.

In a nearby bed was Alon, whom we had seen two weeks earlier when he was wounded at Bint Jbail the day eight soldiers were killed. When we first saw Alon, he could not speak, but now he was able to connect and almost like a flower slowly opening up again and taking in the sun, Alon was gradually coming back to himself.

We visited the waiting room of the ER looking for the pilot who had been critically injured (the Israeli army does not allow pilots’ names to be made public). We had met his parents weeks before and they shared that for the first time he opened his eyes and recognized them. We were overwhelmed with joy when we heard that despite his critical injuries he had now been moved out of Rambam to a rehab facility. The doctors at Rambam have become experts at returning people from the jaws of death to life. There were still several dozen soldiers at Rambam, but the atmosphere was much more calm. Things were starting to get back to normal.

While at Rambam we met Uri Baruch whose daughter Sarit was murdered by terrorist Ibrahim Abayed. I’d met Uri when he visited Riverdale. Uri is devoting his life to help victims of terror with emotional and psychological rehabilitation. As we embraced in the hospital, Uri whispered that Abayed is now living openly in Rome, boasting of the way he killed Sarit.

From Haifa we made our way to Raanana for the unveiling for Mindy Greenberg, the wife of DJ Greenberg. It was heartbreaking to see Blu, Mindy’s mother-in-law, once again in mourning. Several years ago, Rabbi Yitz and Blu Greenberg had lost their son JJ, one of the great spirits of our time, and now they were mourning the loss of a daughter-in-law. As painful as the war is, life in Israel goes on and there are other tragedies like the untimely death of a vibrant woman like Mindy.

That night we returned to Nahalim for the funeral of Daniel Gomez. I have been to many funerals in Israel but none like this one. Daniel’s young wife Sarit rose and cried over and over, “I love you, Daniel. I’ll take care of our child down here, and please, you take care of him from heaven. I can feel the child churning in my womb but I can’t calm it.”

Rabbi Raffi Peretz, the Rosh Yeshiva of Atzmona where Daniel studied turned to Sarit and quoted the verse: “Ki Sarita im Elokim va-tukhal – you have fought against an adversary but have overcome.” It was surreal to see pilots, who are Israel’s symbol of its invincible army, break down in tears. One fainted as he stood in the heat of the night. Seeing them so vulnerable reflected a new reality in Israel; its army, its navy, its air force, all suffered losses. IDF’s aura of invincibility is no longer there. Perhaps this is a positive, as those who think they’re impenetrable, are the most vulnerable, and those who underestimate the enemy, as Israel did, are destined to suffer failures.

Daniel’s close friend Moshe told stories of how Daniel had landed against orders in Jenin, several years ago, to take out the wounded. He just couldn’t leave a soldier in the field. Now it was Daniel whose body had been recovered at great risk. It was Moshe who piloted the helicopter that flew Daniel’s remains out. Sobbing, Moshe related that as he flew with Daniel’s body, he instinctively wanted to radio him, to tell him what was occurring, but knew there would be no answer.

Daniel’s father Patrick offered what seemed to be apologies for not having said, “I love you” enough and not having hugged him enough. He spoke about how their love transcended words, transcended embrace. “Daniel just knew how deep our endless love for him was,” Patrick said. It seemed to me that Patrick’s words offered a hint that we should not hold back from expressing love while we can.

Coming back to the Shonfeld home was like an out of body experience. The Shonfelds are in the throes of preparing for the wedding of their daughter, Hadar to Ofer later this week. We in America have little idea of the emotional upheaval Israelis go through or of the issues confronting them in what should be a simple family simcha. When we prepare for weddings there’s an appropriate build up of excitement and happy anticipation. Here, Hadar is concerned that her brother Matan will not make it to her wedding as he is still deep in Lebanon. Hadar tells the family that if Matan doesn’t come she only wants the chupa, no party. Matan’s wife is sitting nearby with her cell phone anxiously awaiting a message from Matan that he’s OK. Ofer, the chatan, was also under pressure, having just returned from serving in the army down south. Even Yossi, Hadar’s father, who is always calm in the most difficult situations, is tense. Yossi feels deeply for Daniel, who although much younger, he had befriended. As I stood near Yossi at the funeral, I could see that he was not just present, he was, in fact, mourning himself.

This is reality in Israel today - the extreme highs and lows, the swing from moments of deep anguish to joy, from funerals to weddings and trying to switch gears and continue on. This shift is especially palpable these days, as Israel, deep in war just hours ago, was now in a ceasefire, which so far is holding. The quiet night was a stark contrast to the booms of Israeli artillery and the whooshes and hits of Hezbollah katyushas heard just days ago.

Day 1: Arrival and Visiting the Family of Daniel Gomez
Day 2: Rambam Hospital, Greenberg Unveiling and Gomez Funeral
Day 3: Kiryat Shmona and Tsfat
Day 4: Maalot and Goldwasser Family in Nahariya
Day 5: A Wedding in Jerusalem
Days 6-8: Shabbat and Departure

Diary of Rabbi Avi Weiss' Trip to Israel During the War

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