(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Pearl Novik doesn't know how she will survive the next few days.
On Sunday night, she attended her first Remembrance Day ceremony to honor the memory of her son Asher, a reservist, who was killed in combat last summer in Lebanon. And the following night, the eve of Independence Day, the 67-year-old will mark the fourth anniversary of her husband Issy's death.
"I honestly don't know how I will do it," says the British-born Novik, choking back tears. "It's just too much; I hope this will not be my breaking point."
Asher Novik, 36, of Moshav Kanaf in the Golan Heights, was killed in the southern Lebanon village of Debel on August 9, during one of the worst days of fighting and in an incident that is considered by some to be one of the worst mistakes of the Second Lebanon War. Nine soldiers from a reservist paratrooper demolition regiment were killed and another 31 injured after taking shelter in a booby-trapped house.
According to some reports, the regiment had not been properly equipped and had even expressed concerns about entering the building. The reservist's movement, which protested the government and IDF's handling of the war in the months that followed, referenced Debel as an example of the mistakes made.
"I understand that they did not want to go into that building, that they questioned their orders but their commander forced them to," says Novik in a quiet voice.
"I still don't know why he was sent there [to Lebanon] with 35 kilograms strapped to his back at 36-years-old. I still don't even know why we [Israel] even went into the war - for the sake of three kidnapped soldiers? And where are we today? We are still negotiating, so what did Ashie get killed for?"
As well as raising many questions about the war and the way it was run, Asher's death captivated the nation in other ways too. Asher's childhood sweetheart and wife, Osnat, and his two children Yuval, 10 and Itai, six, were featured on the TV show Fact, and one of the poems Asher had written for his wife was set to music and released as a song in time for Remembrance Day.
"I didn't even know that he wrote songs," exclaims Novik, who says her son and his wife met when they were 11 and had been planning to celebrate 25 years together this year. "This is a tremendous revelation for me."
But it is little consolation for the mother and grandmother, who is still trying to piece her life back together after being dealt such a tremendous blow. Even as the media pay tribute to Asher and Osnat's love story, there has been little mention in the press of the pain suffered by Pearl Novik - who buried her oldest child, Lior, 12 years ago when she died of a bone marrow disease - or by Asher's siblings, Tanya, who lives in Australia, and Barak, who lives with his mother in Ness Ziona.
"There is so much focus on the wife and children that the person who has given most of their lives to raising their son is very often sidelined," says Esti Shapira, a social worker with the Defense Ministry's Department for Bereaved Families, who has been providing Novik with grief counseling over the past eight months.
"It is hard for them to watch their daughters-in-law and grandchildren suffering and even harder for them to maintain a strong relationship with their son's family."
Despite having no close family to support her in Israel, Pearl Novik has managed to build up a strong network of good friends, but she admits that in the months since her son was killed, holiday time has been especially hard.
"The High Holidays in September were really difficult; it was all still very fresh," recalls Novik, who shuffled between Israel, England and South Africa until she finally moved here for good in 1977. "My daughter-in-law escaped to Eilat and she did the same during Pessah. I can't blame her for wanting to get away but the last time we were together as a family was last Pessah - we were a real family unit back then. Since then, however, this family unit has been totally destroyed."
Asked if she is angry at the establishment for the way the war was handled, Novik responds: "I am more than angry; [this experience] has succeeded in taking away all my beliefs about Israel. I used to believe here was the best place in the world, but now that belief has been shattered. Of course, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. But now I just don't know."
Wiping her eyes, Novik continues: "My daughter was ill and would not have wanted to live like that; my husband had already suffered three heart attacks, I could accept his death; but Ashie's death, I could not accept. He had achieved so much in his life but when I think about what he will miss out on - raising his children, living the rest of his life - it is just unbearable."