Saturday, December 9, 2000

Goodbye to Mother

Goodbye to Mother
December 9, 2000

It goes without saying that during a time of crisis, such as we are facing now, the events take their toll on everyone:  men, women and children. The stress affects everyone differently.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the children are holding up better than might be expected. Knowing that your house is being shot at with the intent to kill you, your family or friends is far from comforting. Some children have trouble concentrating, some don’t eat with the same appetite they previously had, some don’t want to play outside by themselves, and some have trouble falling asleep at night. The latter problem plagues my nine and a half year old girl, Ruttie.  She is old enough to understand what is going on, and young enough to let her thoughts wonder, and is, as are others her age, afraid.

Yesterday morning, Ruttie was a little late getting out of the house. I drove her to school at about 8:30, just a few minutes after hearing that a terrorist shooting attack occurred just south of Kiryat Arba. All we knew was that some people had been hurt.

A few minutes after Ruttie sat down at her desk in her classroom, a substitute teacher came in and started talking to the fourth grade girls. She told them that a little while ago Arab terrorists had shot at a car, and that the girl’s teacher had been seriously injured.  A few minutes later the school principal joined the girls and told them that their teacher, Mrs. Rina Didovsky, would not be returning to their classroom because she had died of her wounds. The girls began crying and wailing. For good reason.

Rina Didovsky taught in the Kiryat Arba school for almost 2 decades. The 39-year-old mother of six dedicated her life to her young students, usually in third and fourth grade. In many Israeli schools, teachers spend two years with their classes and the children and their teacher get to know each other very well. This was Rina’s second year with this class. The girls loved their teacher.

I asked Ruttie to tell me about her teacher. She told me that Rina never yelled at the children, was always very understanding, and always smiled. If they hadn’t finished their homework she would give them a chance to complete it. If a girl had a headache in class, Rina would immediately fix her a cup of tea. And Ruttie added, “She always did things that were fun.”

Yossi Dayan, past principal of the school where Rina Didovsky taught, told me that Rina was a wonderful teacher, the kind of teacher every principal and every child dreams of. She had endless patience and dedication above and beyond the requirements of her job. She saw teaching, not as an ordinary career, but as an ideal.  Rina worked as a classroom teacher for years, enlightening the lives of hundreds and thousands of children.

But the schoolroom was not Rina’s only role in life. She was a model mother and wife. Together with her husband Haim, they raised a family of six children. The oldest girl, Reut, 19 years old, is presently in the midst of a year of volunteer work following graduation from high school. The youngest child, Tzion, is one year old. Tzion was named for Rina’s father who passed away just before Rina gave birth. Rina’s parents both survived the Holocaust.

Yesterday hundreds of friends and family gathered next to the Beit Haggai  community synagogue, where the funeral began. Speaking in a breaking voice Reut eulogized her beloved mother, saying, “you always thought of everything, from a warm sweater to a sandwich for our ten o’clock break.”

"Last night I talked to you about future plans, but now, everything has changed - everything, except for a few things that you have left us for eternity, that we will always carry with us - the values on which you raised us: Education, which you were on your way to do this morning; the obligation of Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael, everywhere, and here you were killed; your whole life went according to your ideals - and also your death... You also instilled in us Torah, fear of G-d, good deeds...  It will be very difficult for us without you, yet still and all - we will continue along the way you charted for us...  Now that you are up there with the Holy One Blessed be He, we ask for a lot of strength here below, for Abba [Dad], Yisrael, Aviad, Shlomit, Naamah, Tzion, and myself, and to look after all of Israel, who all want nothing more than to come home safely to their families"

Rina’s husband Haim directs a news agency called HaKol MeHaShetach, which broadcasts news events to journalists throughout Israel. When Haim receives information about a breaking story he notifies correspondents via personal pagers or ‘beepers’ as they are known in Israel. Yesterday morning at 8:20, Haim, unsuspectingly sent out a message saying, “In the area of Bani Naim, near Kiryat Arba, shooting at an Israeli car. Probably 2 people injured, being treated  near Kiryat Arba. The condition of one probably medium to critical.”  

A few hours later, Haim led his family from their Beit Haggai home to the funeral procession for his murdered wife, weeping, telling his six children, “Come, say shalom to Emma - Come, say goodbye to mother.”

Friday, December 1, 2000


Dec. 1, 2000

Yesterday I had the dubious pleasure of being interviewed by a joker from a major US television network. The previous day an English-speaking Hebron resident called me, saying that the journalist had requested an interview concerning the subject of the “Arab curfew in Hebron.” She called me and requested that I do the interview, as she preferred not to have to speak about ‘why the Arabs are under curfew.’

Having been prepared in advance I was ready for the joker’s question, and immediately responded that the issue is not the Arab curfew, rather it is the fact that we are being shot at every day and every night for the past two months. He asked me another question or two about the shooting and then returned to the curfew, which was obviously the focus of his interview. My responses again centered around the fact that we are being attacked with the intent to kill us and drive us out of Hebron. There is no reason why Hebron’s Arabs should be allowed to live normally during the day and then try to murder us at night. They must realize that there is a price to the continued attempts to kill us. A curfew does not jeopardize anyone’s life. Bullets do.
This week began the Moslem month of Ramaddan, the month during which the Koran was 'revealed' to Muhammad. Religious Moslems supposedly fast every day for a month, from sunrise to sunset. From sunset to sunrise everything forbidden during the day is permissible.  During past Ramaaddans we were assaulted with firecrackers and the noise brought on by shooting at the clouds, an integral element of all Arab banquet celebrations. This Ramaddan not too much has changed, except that rather than aim at the clouds, our neighbors are bouncing their bullets off our windows.

On Sunday a few of us took a trip down south  to Gazza.  In the afternoon we visited one of the most isolated communities in Israel, called Morag.  Morag, founded as an agricultural community, is situated between two cities, one called Rafiach and the other called ChanUnis.  A few years ago these two cities decided to connect up and started building a road that was to cut Morag in half, dividing their agricultural hothouses from the residential neighborhood. The only part of the road uncompleted was the section which would have chopped the community into two halves, in the middle. And of course, the road would have been under the control of the Palestinian authority.
Completion of the road was supposed to have been part of another  "agreement" between Arafat and Israel.  Fortunately, that part of the "agreement" was never finalized, and the two halves of the road remain unjoined. 

Access to Morag is only with an armed IDF escort, both to and from the community. During the day residents and visitors may wait up to 15 minutes for an army escort. At night that time can be doubled or tripled. Some of the families live in newly built homes. Others live in the same kind of caravan-mobile homes found at the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. We visited with two families who showed us around and welcomed us into their homes. Their frustration is no less than ours. Perhaps even greater.  Their community is very isolated and their main source of employment, agricultural hothouses, has been virtually brought to a halt. There isn’t any outside labor, whether Arab or Thai, or Israeli. Israeli truck drivers are afraid of Arab sniping and refuse to collect produce for distribution in Israel or for international export. Yet, despite the hardships, the families are staying, making the best of a difficult situation.

The next morning I heard on the radio that a land mine blew up on the road we drove on just outside of Morag, several hours after our visit. No one was hurt.

Earlier in the day we visited Kfar Darom, north of Morag. A Kfar Darom bus transporting men, women and children to Neve Dekalim, a few minutes away, was blown up by Arab terrorists a week earlier, leaving two dead and many wounded. Among those injured were three children from one family. One of the children lost both legs, another lost one leg and the oldest daughter, now almost 13, lost a foot. We paid a condolence call at the home of Avigial Biton, whose husband Gabbi was one of the two people killed.

Their living room was filled with visitors like ourselves, who had come to offer sympathy and comfort. The oldest of six children is an eleven and a half year old little boy, who sat on the floor together with his mother, brothers, sisters, and grandparents, mourning his father. Among the children was an infant, only a few months old.

However, we did not find a house full of despair.  Gabbi’s parents spoke of the necessity of the Israeli government to hit back hard at the Arab terrorists perpetrating such attacks. Gabbi’s wife, Avigial conversed with visitors at length. In spite of her terrible loss, she radiated hope, understanding that if she and her neighbors were not living today in Kfar Darom, that land would now belong to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. She realizes the difficult task ahead of her, but refuses to bow to the desires of the terrorists who killed her husband. She will not give up.

I have a number of friends at Kfar Darom, and visited with some of them following our visit to the Biton family. I cannot pretend to say that life is easy for them. Unfortunately Gabbi Biton and Miri Amitai were not the first Kfar Darom residents to be killed by Arab terror. But what has remained consistent over the years is the strength, faith and determination of these embattled people. Despite the heavy losses, this community is already preparing land adjacent to the existing neighborhoods for new homes and new families. They have been approached by others, who, seeing their courage, are requesting to join them. Preparing for the future, they are in the midst of building a new synagogue, the spiritual center of the community.

The people living in Kfar Darom are undoubtedly THE symbol of valor in Israel today.