An unplanned visit in Israel

Even when circumstances prove unpredictable and atrocious, our faith will lend us strength and allow us to continue.

By DOVID HOFSTEDTER
February 21, 2018 22:13
3 minute read.
An unplanned visit in Israel

Relatives and friends mourn as they stand around the body of Itamar Ben Gal, an Israeli killed in a stabbing attack on February 5, during his funeral in the Jewish settlement of Har Bracha in the West Bank, February 6, 2018. . (photo credit: REUTERS/JIM HOLLANDER/POOL)

When I planned my trip to Israel, I made a list of places I wanted to go, people I wanted to see and all the joys that Israel always holds for me. I could not have foreseen having to pay a shiva call, to the family of Itamar Ben-Gal.

Itamar was everything that my Jewish educational organization, Dirshu, values. At age 29, he was a devoted family man, with a beloved wife and four young children. He was someone who deeply loved his country. He was a teacher, who spread his love of learning and Torah to his students and had aspirations to become a principal.

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Sadly, Itamar was brutally murdered on February 5 by an Arab. His potential was cut off, his bright life extinguished.

Despite not having known Itamar, I was racked with an inexpressible grief when I heard of his death and learned of that man that he was. I therefore paid a shiva call to his family in Har Bracha.

When someone so gifted, so young and so loved is taken from you, it is easy to become angry and bitter. But I did not see any of that from the Ben-Gal family. I was in awe of their strength and their continuing faith in God. I saw a family – no, a whole community – that had come together not just to mourn a death, but to celebrate a life.

Itamar’s family spoke of his drive and kindness and compassion. I was especially moved by how highly Itamar’s father-in-law spoke of him. He spoke of how Itamar had been studying Mishna Berurah and was always actively engaged in learning, then teaching what he had learned to others. Itamar’s life had revolved around his family, his faith and education.

And his family is drawing strength from that now. They are carrying his torch and continuing on as loving and proud Jews. When I spoke with them, they were calm and, despite the intense grief they were feeling, accepting of their new reality. They told me that their lives are in God’s hands. They said that God and Torah were helping them cope with this great tragedy.

It is difficult to give comfort to those mourning such a loss. As the sole haredi (ultra-Orthodox) person there when I visited, I could have drawn upon words of Torah, but it was clear to me that they already had a great deal of Torah to rely on. I wanted to give this brave family something else. So I told them a story.

I told Itamar’s wife, Miriam, a story of strength in unbearable times and how I had seen proof that faith and grit can preserve someone. I spoke of my aunt, a Holocaust survivor.

Following the Holocaust, she was faced with the seemingly impossible task of beginning her life anew after losing so many loved ones. She moved to Israel, fulfilling a dream of hers, but at a still young age lost her son and soon after her husband. Nevertheless, she persevered. She stayed strong and continued to hope.

I saw much of my aunt in Miriam, which is what prompted me to tell her this story. I saw that same strength, that same faith and that same determination. I wanted to impart to Miriam that her emuna, her faith, would carry her through; I have seen it before and I know she will be all right. She may never fully recover from losing such a wonderful husband as Itamar, but I was able to see that her love of her children, her community and God was unaltered.

Even when circumstances prove unpredictable and atrocious, our faith will lend us strength and allow us to continue. In this time of mourning, I offer my sincere condolences to the family of Itamar Ben-Gal, and my honest belief that their emuna will carry them through. May God comfort them among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.


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