Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu
Rabbi Shmuel EliyahuFlash 90

I will never forget this Kaddish

It was Friday night, and at the Ashkenazi and Sephardi synagogues in the Tel Aviv Dan Panorama hotel, the evening service was about to end. I had been asked to spend Shabbat there, to lead Friday night’s Oneg Shabbat and to facilitate at conversation circles at the “OneFamily” organization 3-day embracing retreat for 300 bereaved parents who lost their loved ones on October 7th or in the ongoing Swords of Iron War. (It is hard for me to use the word “fell” for courageous soldiers who went out to defend our nation and did not return, because none of us can come near to reaching the level they are on.)

Rav Eliyahu and participants
Rav Eliyahu and participantsMeir Pavlovsky

Also present were 30 couples, veterans to bereavement, including Miriam Peretz and grandmothers who raised grandchildren orphaned by the murder of both parents, invited by OneFamily because their years of experience in the never-ending pain of the loss of a child to terror and war might be able to help teach the newly bereaved ways of going onward and how to get through their first Yom HaZikaron. They could tell the new mourners that they have much more power to change things for the better now than they did before: “When you talk, people listen to you. The nation listens to you. Your words go right into everyone’s heart. And we all need humility, power, simplicity and faith, the character traits that gave those soldiers the strength to give their lives for us. These traits bring redemption closer. Sadness and depression, although sometimes it seems impossible to be free of them, do not bring us closer to the victory for which these heroes fought.”

The service ended with Kaddish Yatom, the prayer recited every day for 11 months by someone mourning a close relative after his passing, and 150 bereaved fathers rose and recited Kaddish together. I am used to several mourners – and sometimes none – who say the Kaddish prayer for a parent at the end of a service in every synagogue. Never this, never 150 grief-stricken fathers honoring the memory of their sons in unison, some in their forties standing ramrod tall, some greying and middle aged, others white-haired, elderly and bent over. Sabras, immigrants from America, Ethiopia, Western Europe, Russia, North Africa, Iraq and Iran, observant and secular, leftists and rightists. It was as if a knife had pierced all our hearts, a salty wind had made our eyes tear and our bodies tremble.

Miriam Peretz, Gen. Amidror
Miriam Peretz, Gen. AmidrorMeir Pavlovsky

It is hard to understand this war while we are in the midst of it, I told the parents in a session on the power of faith, but I am certain that their children’s dedication will be remembered for generations to come. They saved the State of Israel during its most difficult hours. If not for them, Hezbollah, Fatah, Israeli Arabs and those in Judea and Samaria would have joined the massacre for which the IDF was caught unprepared. “The enemy was already through the gates when they met up with the fighting spirit of your children,” I said.

Lecture at 3 day retreat
Lecture at 3 day retreatMeir Pavlovsky

The truth is that IDF soldiers are on the front lines against the murderous Islamism that wants to take over the world. Everyone sees how European and American leaders live with the evil of Islamism, encourage and it and do not listen to the clear words describing their plan to devour the entire world inside and out. They have no compunctions against saying that they want their system of morality to rule the world, the morality that set the stage for the murders, rapes, beheadings and cruel tortures of Simchat Torah. Western leaders haven’t a clue about how to fight the Islamist culture destroying them from within.

They make light of Islamist talk. They don’t understand that to Hamas there are no good guys and bad guys, that to them the Kfar Aza leftists are the same Jews as the “settlers” are, that if they ever have enough power, they will kill the progressives and woke exactly as they wish to kill the rest of us.

The only ones standing strong against a takeover of moral darkness are our soldiers, our youth, who sacrificed their lives for the people of Israel.

Our children deserve everything. And the parents who raised them and have a gaping hole in their hearts deserve everything. I soon realized that the OneFamily organization, which has been at the side of terror victims and bereaved families for 23 years, understands that and had created a retreat that allows bereaved parents to begin to heal on many levels.

Conversation circle of bereaved mothers
Conversation circle of bereaved mothersMeir Pavlovsky

It is a much-needed respite for the parents, but it is also the opportunity to meet others who understand them without words, a place where they can lift each other up, express their feelings, doubts and questions in an accepting atmosphere, at alternative therapeutic activities or group conversations where they answer one another’s questions, feel free to tell their stories to an attentive audience, while a professional therapist only joins in when necessary.

Group circle of bereaved parents
Group circle of bereaved parentsMeir Pavlovsky

“I could not stand people writing me whatsapps about 'how they understand how I feel' – even though they mean well- so I wrote my friends a primer of how to talk to me,” said one mother at the group conversation. The mother of the Yaniv brothers murdered at Hawara, said that she writes her close friends messages when she needs their help, like “I can’t get my act together today. Do you think you could make dinner? “ and that this also helps them know how to relate to her. And a bereaved mother of many years, said: “It was wonderful that his friends learned together every month in his memory, but as they got married and built their homes, it became harder for me to see them and know he would never do that. I couldn’t help my feelings, they understood.”

“How do I deal with my younger children,” asked a mother. “Talk to them,” answered the therapist at the group session, “not talking about it is what frightens them.”

“It doesn’t go away, but it is different,” one mother whose son was killed 23 years ago, told the newly bereaved mothers. “Just take one step at a time, be proud of every small thing you find you can bring yourself to do that you have not done yet – no matter what it is, even if it is going to the store.”

“I now know the important things in life,” said a mother whose daughter was murdered at the Nova dance party. “Our daughter didn’t live her life in the observant way in which we raised her, but she had a warm, caring personality, and her love for the family was boundless. I know she was a wonderful person who made everyone around her happy and I feel that I want to send this message to other parents, to tell them to value their children’s good traits.”

One couple told of their 45 year old son still serving in the Sheldag unit specializing in secret missions who rushed to the south on October 7th and was killed at Kibbutz Be’eri , another described how her sons were murdered in a terror attack in Kenya where she was badly wounded, but that the Sheldag secret IDf Unit took over the airport and saved them. “Our son was the commander of that unit,” the first couple cried – and the two mothers embraced as if they were sisters.

Yisrael Parnes performs/Meir Pavlovsky
Yisrael Parnes performs/Meir Pavlovsky

The atmosphere never became heavy because the planners knew how to intersperse sessions with good food and various pampering therapies, walks, lectures and entertainment – singers Shuli Rand and Yisrael Parnes, standup comedian Sara Shamir whose routine resulted in gales of laugher, Reserve General Yaakov Amidror and publicist Amit Segal who involved everyone in analyzing current issues.

Just after Shabbat/ Meir Pavlovsky
Just after Shabbat/ Meir Pavlovsky

It was a spiritual experience for me as well. Think of those150 fathers saying Kaddish. I don’t know what it does in the upper worlds, but I heard it and I know it will never be forgotten.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is Chief Rabbi of Tsfat, one of the leading rabbis of Religious Zionism and a much sought after speaker.