Peres hosts terror victims’ bar/bat mitzvot

Schalit question disrupts Beit Hanassi ceremony.

Peres 311 (photo credit: Matanya Tausig/JINI)
Peres 311
(photo credit: Matanya Tausig/JINI)
Arguments at Beit Hanassi are rare.
In fact the last time there was one was nearly four years ago, when president Moshe Katsav held a media conference in which he tried to explain his side of the story in allegations of rape and other forms of sexual exploitation.
Gadi Sukenik, then a Channel 2 news anchor and reporter, got tired of the tirade and started shouting accusations, at which point Katsav lost his cool and began yelling that Channel 2 and the rest of the media were conducting a witch-hunt against him.
On Monday, just as President Shimon Peres was about to begin speaking at a bar/bat mitzva ceremony for 70 youngsters who were direct or indirect victims of terrorism, a man at the back at the room rose from his seat, and in a loud, accusatory tone, asked Peres why he didn’t throw his weight behind the effort to free abducted soldier Gilad Schalit.
Other people tried to quiet the man, saying that this was not the reason they had come to Beit Hanassi, but the man’s anger did not subside until Peres answered him in a calm voice, saying that the government was doing everything it could, that Schalit’s release was being negotiated, that he personally ached for the suffering to which Schalit and his family were being subjected, and that he was in constant contact with the family.
His interlocutor sat down without uttering another word.
The youngsters, together with parents and siblings, in some cases were brought to Beit Hanassi by Avraham Salami, the founder and chairman of Victims of Terrorism, which cares for widows, orphans, bereaved parents and people disabled by acts of terrorism.
Among those who crowded into the reception hall were people who were maimed, blind or unable to walk without crutches.
Not everyone carried visible scars.
The children were less boisterous than is usual.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, 73, who survived Buchenwald as a child, told the youngsters and their families that not only are Jews a special people, but even their celebrations are different. Most people celebrate the completion of something – leaving school, getting discharged from the army, going out on pension, “but we are a people who celebrate not when we shed responsibility, but when we take on responsibility,” he said, referring to the bar/bat mitzva ceremony.
Lau wished them complete mental and physical health and happiness.
“Our happiness cannot be complete because we are haunted by the past,” said Gavriel Shemla, who eight years ago, at the age of five, was severely injured in the Pessah massacre in the Park Hotel in Netanya, where 30 people were killed and 140 were wounded when a terrorist blew himself up in the packed dining hall on Seder night.
Shemla has undergone several rounds of surgery, with more in the offing.
Slightly built and looking younger than his years, Shemla, speaking on behalf of all the youngsters, said that as much as they looked forward to the future, they could not forget what had happened to them and their loved ones. He asked everyone to stand for a minute’s silence for all the men, women and children who have no future because they were murdered by terrorists.
Shemla spoke of responsibility and commitment and concluded his remarks with the wish that Schalit would soon return home safe and well.
It was this that may have sparked the outbreak by the man at the back of the room.
Peres declared that he could not add to anything that Shemla had said, “not only because of what you said, but what you symbolize – the future.”
It was his privilege, the president said, to speak in the name of the nation, “and I tell you that the whole nation feels your pain and your suffering and rejoices in your survival.”
Only people infused with hatred can do such hurtful things to the innocent, Peres said. “We do not believe in hatred or terrorism but in love thy neighbor as thyself and in he who saves a single life is as one who saved the whole world.”
Over the centuries, said Peres, there were nations that sought to destroy the Jewish people, and most of these have disappeared from the map. “We have overcome and we shall overcome,” he said.