Shared private grief – Leave the butterfly alone

Sorrow is contagious.

April 27, 2017 21:44
2 minute read.
Holacaust rememberance wall

Holacaust rememberance wall. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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“Leave the butterfly alone,” my older brother said when he was just a child.

“It only has a few days to live.” How could he have known that he was talking about himself? Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars – the sorrow is contagious.

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The public becomes personal. Everyone is overcome by his private grief, and who doesn’t have a heartache of his own? My brother didn’t fall in battle. He didn’t get the chance; he died too young, killed in a shooting accident before his 11th birthday.

I have no doubt that had he lived, he would have joined one of the elite army units. He was a born leader who galloped fearlessly on his horse across the Jezreel Valley and fought hard on the soccer field. He died before ever knowing a woman. There was a pretty girl in the Valley, from Beit She’arim or Ramat Yishai, who had a crush on him, and it was probably mutual. He’d ride his horse from Nahalal to visit her, making sure there was a step or stone around so he could get back up on the horse. After all, he was just a kid. Did he kiss her when no one was looking? I don’t know.

One day, many years after he died, I walked into our living room and found my parents there with a beautiful woman with lovely eyes. When I came in, she froze, staring at me in shock. “Do you know who this is?” my father asked me. “She’s Gur’s girlfriend from the Valley.”

“For a second I thought it was him,” she apologized. “You look so much like him.”

Where is that woman now? I don’t even know her name. I want her to tell me about him. I wasn’t even a year old when he suddenly disappeared from my life.


As I said, sorrow is contagious.

I remember our much-loved middle school principal. Long after I had finished school, she came to pay her respects when we were sitting shiva for my mother. As I walked her to her car, she said tearfully, “My father passed away quite a few years ago. I miss him so much.”

Those whose loved ones were not murdered by the Nazis and were not among the brave soldiers who fell in Israel’s defense, who died quietly from illness or accident, “who by fire, who by water,” whose coffins were not draped in the national flag (which does not lessen the pain in the slightest but gives it meaning and substance), “who fell as gently as a tree falls” – they suffer no less pain at their loss. And how can pain be measured anyway? Please forgive the somber tone. It’s not me, it’s the days of remembrance and sorrow. Very soon the soldiers will start marching in formation at the start of the Independence Day celebrations, one unit will pass the flag to another for safekeeping for the coming year, and fireworks will light up the sky. Go get the barbecue ready.

Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai,

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