Knesset tribute to widows and orphans of war
Knesset tribute to widows and orphans of warMeir Pavlovsky

A moving event saluting the widows, widowers and orphans of the Swords and Iron War was held in the Knesset yesterday, a joint initiative of Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Sonn Har Melech and the OneFamily Fund for victims of terror.

Har Melech, Smotrich, Marc & Chantal Belzberg
Har Melech, Smotrich, Marc & Chantal BelzbergMeir Pavlowsky

For Sonn Har Melech, this partnership is meaningful on a personal level. OneFamily has stood at MK Har Melech’s side, as it does for all terror victims and wounded soldiers in Israel, since the tragic day in 2003 when her husband Shuli Hy”d was murdered while the young couple, expecting their second child, was driving on the Jordan Valley Alon road.

Just a few hours before the event began, the IDF announced that it had killed the head of the terrorist squad that murdered Shuli in a pinpointed raid in Rafah. Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, said that he had a Cabinet meeting, but that when he heard the news on his special telephone in the middle of the night, decided that no matter what, he would be there. The minister could barely speak as tears choked his voice.

Min. Smotrich at Knesset event for bereaved
Min. Smotrich at Knesset event for bereavedMeir Pavlowsky

“This is the Hand of Hashem’s Providence, last night a circle was closed. The terrorist commander responsible for my dear friend Shuli’s death and the deaths of many other Jews, was eliminated. Thank you, Shuli, Hy”d, for what you meant to all of our lives, at the yeshiva, in Homesh, for your larger-than-life spirit.”

Pausing to control his emotions, he turned to MK Sonn Har Melech, saying: “Thank you, Limor, for what you have done for all of us throughout the years, for the family you have raised, for standing strong.”

To Chantal and Marc Belzberg, founders of OneFamily, he said: “Thank you, OneFamily Organization, for all that you do for the bereaved, for allowing me to be part of this great endeavor and for this special day.” He comforted the many widows and orphans present, saying “All of you suddenly became part of one large family, the family of the bereaved in Israel, the family of our lives. The immeasurable price you have paid and continue to pay shows us the magnitude and priceless value of the return of the People of Israel to its land.”

MK Har Melech at Knesset tribute to bereaved
MK Har Melech at Knesset tribute to bereavedMeir Pavlowsky

MK Har Melech put aside her prepared speech, sharing her feelings at the news: “The terrorist who murdered my husband Shuli was one of those freed in the Shalit deal, and yesterday, our brave IDF heroes avenged his death. There are no coincidences in this world.”

“It brings me back to that Friday, Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5763, Shuli and I driving together. And suddenly – terrorists! I regained consciousness after a series of emergency operations – and I remembered nothing. My baby had survived an emergency delivery and I awoke to the horrific and painful news that Shuli is dead. And just at that moment, King David spoke to me through his psalms, saying: ‘To tell of Your kindness in the morning – and to have faith in You throughout the night.” It’s easy to be thankful when the light is shining and clear, but at night, when it the dark is impenetrable, when my body and soul ache so indescribably? That is when belief and faith step in.”

“Over the past decades, I have found comfort – and OneFamily was a large part of that process – and I have tried to bring comfort to tens of widows and orphans in return, always sharing the lesson that they taught me: the road is long and painful, but you will not be travelling alone. Someone accompanies you, cares for you, watches over your children and is always at your side on this long and tortuous journey.”

Ministers, Members of the Knesset and other public figures came to honor the newly bereaved widows and orphans. Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir asked those present to “pray for us, pray that your dear ones in heaven do everything we can for our success to be realized, for this land to be more secure, and filled with the pride of independence.”

Chantal Belzberg, founder and CEO of OneFamily, emphasized: “From this year on, the Jewish People will remember this past Simchat Torah forever as a day of mourning mixed with great courage. We are in the midst of a fateful and blood-soaked war to save all of our people. Your family members are heroes of the Jewish people, those who saved our national pride and honor. And for that, we will always owe you thanks.”

The head of the Terror Victims Association, Abie Moses, warned that “post trauma is “like a volcano. It may look like a beautiful mountain, but underneath the surface, lava is boiling and steaming. It can explode at any moment, today, tomorrow, in ten or thirty years. Go for help even if you see no symptoms at the moment.”

Popular religious media personality, Dana Varon, chaired the event and gently invited six of the newly widowed young wives and mothers to sit in a semicircle on the stage and talk about their husbands and about how their lives have changed. They were -

Lior Shani, whose husband Adi fell in the Gaza Strip,

Revital Shamir, whose husband Moti was killed fighting in Kibbutz Reim on October 7th,

Michal Rein, whose husband Arye fell in Gaza,

Muna Abdallah, whose husband Alim was killed by terrorists at the Gaza border,

Yael Neeman, whose husband Eytan, a reservist physician, was killed in Sderot on October 7th,

Reshit Tzur, whose husband Yonatan (Barnash) head of the Nachal Commando Unit fell on the road to Kerem Shalom on October 7th and

Talia Vitsan, whose husband Amichai fell in the line of duty as part of the Kerem Shalom emergency response team on October 7th.

Sword of Iron widows panel with Dona Varon
Sword of Iron widows panel with Dona VaronMeir Pavlowsky

Yael said: “The pain is physical, I feel that my heart is bursting into pieces”, while Michal added “our hearts are not like other people’s. Our family has a mother, three daughters and father who lives inside our hearts.” Talia, mother of five, added “we are trying to learn to live a new kind of life together.”

And although there were activities for the many children taking place outside the auditorium, Revital’s little boy opened the door, saw his mother and clambered up on the stage to sit on her lap. She gave birth to a fourth child after her husband fell and her mother rocked the baby’s carriage while Revital spoke, saying: “The children are the biggest challenge. An adult has a certain protective shield and self-awareness about how to function and how to deal with emotions. For the children, I am now their whole world.”

Reshit remarked that somehow she feels that those around her draw strength from her and that makes her try harder to be strong. She believes that “If I am functioning, the children will be fine and my surroundings will be fine.” Muna talked about the Druze beliefs that give her courage. “I have to pick myself up for my children. They have no one else now.” Revital added that “there are circles of mourning, friends, relatives who all have holes in their hearts now.”

Four of the orphaned youngsters present agreed, with wisdom beyond their years, to speak as well: two daughters, Stav and Yuval, of Police Officer Aharon Arthur Markovitsi, who fell saving young people at the Nova dance party, and Avinoam and Evyatar, two sons of Dr. Eytan Ne’eman who fell in Sderot.

Orphaned youngsters at Knesset event panel
Orphaned youngsters at Knesset event panelMeir Pavlowsky

Stav said: “Those around us don’t always understand, because they have not experienced what we did, but it is important to share with them and not bottle things up.” Yuval said she tries to find things she like to do and that make her feel good, while Avinaom added: “Everyone reacts differently to bereavement, and that’s why every way of coping is fine.”

Evyatar advised other orphans to remember that their pain is due to something significant and worthwhile, it isn’t meaningless pain.”

Writer Moria Haviv discussed the children’s book “Klav-lev” she wrote on coping with grief and loss, singer Eliav Zohar, who wrote several songs that have become iconic during the war, and standup comedian Gai Hochman, who travels to every part of Gaza to entertain soldiers, added variety to the event.