When I received information about the shooting at the Gush Etzion junction last week, my first thought was, 'where is my daughter?' Ophira was in Jerusalem and frequently comes home to Hebron, 'tramping' or hitching in Americanese, from the Gush Etzion intersection. I tried calling her cell phone, but she didn't answer. I tried a few other numbers; they too didn't help. But few minutes later she called me back, asking what I wanted. "Where are you?" I asked, and she informed me that she was still in Jerusalem. After work she had spent some time with her best friend, Ortal, who lives in the southern Hebron Hills community, Carmel.
What did I want? I told her that I'd received a beeper message about a terror shooting at Gush Etzion and wanted to know where she was. That was the end of the conversation. From my end. But she started making phone calls too, trying to find out who might have been there when the shooting started. A little while later she called me back.
"Do you have any names?" I had heard names of a group of people, but wasn't yet sure who were the wounded and who were the killed. So I didn't respond. "Why?" "Because Ortal told me that her sister was injured. Do you know any more?" When she told me her sister's name, I knew that she was one of those hurt, and had a suspicion that she had been killed. But I wasn't 100% sure, so I didn't say anything.
Ophira found her way to the Egged 160 bus and started home.
By the time she arrived, I knew, and she knew, that Ortal's older sister, 23 year old Kinneret Mandel, was dead, the victim of terrorist bullets. Standing next to Kinneret at the intersection was her newly-married cousin, Matat Adler-Rosenfeld. Matat was married to my son-in-law's cousin. She was also a victim, killed less than three months after her wedding.
Matat had been in the army and served in Netzarim when my son was there also. She was a 'tattzpanit' – a lookout, and knew the roads and paths in and out of Netzarim and Gush Katif like the back of her hand. When she concluded her service she assisted in getting hundreds of people into Gush Katif and Netzarim, protesting the planned expulsion. She was even arrested and jailed for her efforts.
When my son called to ask if I had details of the attack I told him, 'yes, one of the critically wounded is a friend of yours, who you studied with. He has a bullet in the stomach. And one of those killed, I think you knew her too – Matat." "What," he exclaimed, "Matat was killed, she's dead?"
My daughter Ophira got off the bus in Kiryat Arba. I drove up to get her. She got into the car and started crying. I think she cried all night. When we got home, she went into her room and wailed. It was a dreadful sound. A little while later I drove her out to Carmel, where Kinneret and Matat both lived. Kinneret had just finished her degree after four years of study. She lived at home with her family. Matat lived in a caravan home, right next to her cousin, Kinneret's sister, Ortal. Kinneret's husband is an officer in the IDF. I asked Ophira, "why did she live here, her parents don't live here and most of the time her husband's in the army?"
"Because she wanted to live close to Hebron, close to Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs."
I went with Ophira to Kinneret's home. The living room was full of people. Kinneret's mother Rivka hugged Ophira and they cried together. A few minutes later her friend Ortal came into the room, and the scene was repeated. Ortal, Kinneret's sister, is eight months pregnant. Her husband too is a soldier.
I stood there, looking at the people, Kinneret's father and brother, still in shock, not really believing what had happened. Her father, sitting on the couch, talking to no one in particular, said, "you never really think it can happen to you."
A little while later Ortal asked me to upload some pictures of her murdered sister from her camera into the computer, and burn them onto a disc, to send out to the news media. I didn't remember ever having met Kinneret, but asked my daughter, "do you remember, when I photographed Ortal before her wedding…" and Ophira jumped, "Kinneret was there too."
And now, sitting here in the office, looking at those pictures – outside Ma'arat HaMachpela, Ortal, in a wedding dress, together with her sister, both looking so radiant, and knowing that Kinneret will never have her own wedding day, what can I say, it's so sad.
Kinneret Mandel and Matat Adler-Rosenfeld were buried side by side in Jerusalem's Har HaMenuchot cemetery. Thousands attended, despite the fact that the Succot holiday was to begin only a few hours later. Usually, according to Jewish law and tradition, the deceased person's immediate family sit 'shiva' after the funeral, that is, they stay at home for a week, sit on the floor, and mourn their loved one. It could be considered to be a period of adjustment, trying to get used to the fact that someone important in your life is missing.
However, Jewish holidays supersede mourning traditions, and 'shiva' is cancelled should it collide with a festival. Being that the Succot holiday began only hours after the girls' funeral, the families were able to sit 'shiva' for only a short time, a couple of hours at most. This too, is a tragedy.
The Succot holiday is usually extremely festive. Here in Hebron, thousands upon thousands of visitors flock to Ma'arat HaMachpela and tour the Jewish neighborhoods in the city. Jews in Israel and around the world spend the week living in 'Succot' that is, simple booth-like structures, four walls of thin wood or some kind of other material, with a roof of branches. This holiday is known as 'zman simchatanu' or, in English, 'our time of joy.' However, our sages teach us that should it rain during Succot, we are in trouble. The example they give is of a servant who comes to pour a drink for his master, but instead of accepting the cup, the master throws water in the servant's face. In other words, suring Succot, we desire to perform the mitzvah (precept) of sitting in the Succah, but instead, G-d pours water on our heads. This is considered to be a very ominous occurrence.
Today, the second day of the seven day Succot holiday, it rained in Israel, from all the way up north, through to the south. Here in Hebron it poured too. As the sages taught, having the glass of water thrown into our faces.
Maybe G-d is trying to tell us something. Almost 10,000 Jews, refugees from Gush Katif and the northern Shomron, are still homeless, almost forgotten, abandoned by their country, their leaders, their people. And the enemy, he who has killed, continues to kill, due to 'easing of restrictions,' allowing them to 'live better lives.'
So what is it? Is He giving us a warning, telling us, 'your prayers on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the New Year and the Day of Atonement, they weren't enough. Words, supplication, they are fine, but deeds speak louder than words.'
Or perhaps, G-d is sending down some of His tears, tears for Kinneret, tears for Matat, tears for their families, tears for their unborn children, tears for people abandoned by their own brethren.
Or perhaps, both, tears of anger and tears of mourning?