Despair

There are images that haunt you. I know this one will.

First, there is the image of Rina Ariel and her younger daughter at the funeral of Hallel Yaffa. At first, because of the color of her shirt and her proximity to the “front” of the image, your eyes are drawn to Rina Ariel, to the pain in her eyes. This is a mother at the very worst moment of her life and we are the unwilling audience to a moment no mother should ever know. I’ve cried buckets of tears for Hallel and Rina.ScreenHunter_301 Jul. 06 19.37

As a mother, I can only imagine Rina’s agony, her pain. I can’t even really do that. My eyes fill with tears if I even try to, and when I listen to her speak, I am awed by her faith, her strength. I find comfort when I would wish to give it; I find understanding and strength when I have none.

And then, then my eyes slid to the left and I saw little else. What grabbed me is the younger daughter’s face.

And then, I focused in on her daughter’s face. Rina has beautiful daughters…truly…Hallel was grace, a dancer with a beautiful face. And this younger one, poised on the edge of a maturity she shouldn’t have. There is something about her eyes, the posture, her hand, the look.

This is the face of despair. There is no other word for it.

It is the face of a child who has lost her older sister, probably a friend, a confidante.

Perhaps I am reading into this, but it looks like she has lost even more. Her faith in mankind, her ability to trust. Her world has been shaken and at this moment, she believes it is beyond repair. Perhaps it is, though with the parents she has, I believe they will help her come back. For now, I look at her eyes and the despair I see in her soul fills mine.

ScreenHunter_303 Jul. 06 20.34Years ago, my youngest daughter, Aliza, learned about another brutal attack – the murder of the Fogel family. There too, the terrorists came into the family’s home. They murdered both parents and three of the children, including an infant only four months old. Aliza went through months in which she was terrified – to be alone, to sleep in the dark, to be in her own room if the doors and windows weren’t locked, to be in the house if that door wasn’t locked as well.

It took so long until we reached the highest point of her fears. She would come to me suddenly with a new demand, lock the windows, close the shades, use the lock and the bar. And it was several months before she slowly backed away from the mountain of terrors that threatened to consume her.

Aliza had never met the Fogels, though Tamar, their oldest child, was the same age and like Aliza, would go out to meet her friends. That’s what saved Tamar from becoming a victim when her family was attacked.

I look at this child and I know that even at its worst, Aliza never had such a look of despair. I want to tell this little girl that life is such a gift; that she will somehow survive this moment. I remember telling Aliza not to be afraid, that we would protect her and she responded, “Udi and Ruti couldn’t protect their children.”

At that moment, I knew there was nothing to say and so I surrendered to everything she asked. If it helps you, I told her, lock the doors; sleep with the lights on. Come to my bed. I’ll stay till you fall asleep. Anything. Everything, because there was no answer to her response. No way I could convince her that she was safe.

What can you promise a child who has lost so much? A sister, the safety of home, the foundations of the very life she had such a short time ago are gone. How can you argue when she doesn’t feel safe, when she doesn’t trust that more horrors aren’t waiting just beyond her sight? A terrorist came once, how do you know they won’t come again? The security forces couldn’t get there in time to save Hallel, who says they’ll get there faster next time? No answers to a fear that cripples a child and plunges her into such despair.

If there is a face that could break me, a look that could bring me to my knees in pain, it is the look in this child’s eyes. It is something so beyond sorrow, even perhaps, beyond despair. I want to tell her that we are an eternal people and we cannot be afraid to live. That no matter how many times they come, we will always survive. We will, she could tell me in a broken voice, but Hallel didn’t.

I know that you are in such pain right now, little one; I can’t imagine how much you hurt. But the world has its beauty, even if it doesn’t seem like it anymore. We can’t bring Hallel back but she isn’t really gone. You’ll carry her with you all your life. You’ll have so many people watching out for you. It will be okay. I know it doesn’t seem like it. How could it? I know you don’t trust any of us. We failed you. We failed your family. We failed Hallel.

We tried. The security forces did see when that terrorist jumped the fence and they came running as fast as they could. Next time, God willing, they’ll be faster; next time, they won’t get near you. You may never know the reason, beyond blind hatred, for this terrible time in your life and I have no answers to give, only love, only hope. We survived over 2,000 years on hope alone, on a dream that brought us home.

All I can do is pray – for Hallel, for your parents, and for you. May God watch over your family and may it know no more sorrow. I know the community in which you live is a loving one, supportive, kind, filled with faith and strength. I know that there are moments when you feel that your world has been destroyed. I can’t lie and tell you that things will be as they were but you’ll find a new reality and somehow come to peace with it. You have the love and prayers of the Jewish people, there is little stronger in this world than that.

May you know strength and love all the days of your lives, precious child, and may Hallel be your special angel in heaven, watching over you and your family.

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Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.