The face behind the name

With Lily, the girls at Shalva learned how to speak with bank tellers and store owners, how to ask for directions and understand what they were being told.

I fear that if I don't remind myself now, before the shloshim (30-day mourning period) for those murdered in the bulldozer attack is over, then I will forget along with so many others that the dead had names. They were loved, they weren't numbers and everyone had a face. The vile attack that took place two weeks ago in Jerusalem was particularly poignant for those of us at Shalva, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel, because one of the murdered women had been a volunteer in our girls' graduate program, Shikma, for the past 10 years. Elizabeth "Lily" Goren was a psychologist and former vice principal and worked full-time as a teacher at the Jewish Institute for the Blind. There are many people in our holy city who are involved with one charity organization or another, and in this respect, Lily was no different. What elevates her to the level of "holiness" is that for the past 10 years Lily didn't miss one week of her self-initiated Shalva commitment. It was Lily who suggested a supplemental program to the already solid curriculum that was designed for young women who had aged out of the regular afternoon activity program. It was Lily who pressed for this continuing education which she hoped would, over time, bridge the gap between childhood and the weightier realities of burgeoning womanhood. Lily saw the need and proposed to our education director a weekly therapy/rap session to address the challenges that the girls faced in a world outside of Shalva's protective framework. Under Lily's gentle tutelage, these young women - aged 21 to 36 - bravely raised sometimes uncomfortable issues and asked questions. Lily lovingly addressed their concerns and introduced topics which might have been easily overlooked by less passionate professionals: trust, sexuality, finance, fear. Nothing was off limits. She took the girls on field trips to local supermarkets to practice shopping and teach them about making informed choices; they role-played and, in doing so, stopped dreading medical appointments; with Lily, the girls learned how to speak with bank tellers and store owners, how to ask for directions and understand what they were being told. The mentally challenged women of Shalva must often be coaxed to reveal their fears. Not so with Lily. As we say in Hebrew, "hahefech" ("just the opposite"). Instead, one could sense the mounting excitement in these young women as they counted the days until Lily's next scheduled visit. And when the much-awaited day finally arrived, Lily would pour herself into the lives of these deserving young women. A full-time special needs teacher and a single mother, Lily certainly would have been within her rights to say "I need a break" now and then. But not Lily. She even hosted a Tu Bishvat seder in her home for these lovely Shikma girls, replete with dried fruits, candies, games and song. The end-of-the-year party was scheduled for June 25 in a local dairy restaurant that employs several mentally challenged Shalva graduates. Lily - pressured by a myriad of obligations - asked that the festivities be delayed by one week. The volunteers and staff reluctantly agreed. But they made one good-natured demand: that Lily tell them what type of gift would hold the most meaning for her in appreciation of her 10 years of loving and committed service. After much hesitation, she agreed to accept a simple silver and gold bracelet. The next afternoon three of the girls and an accompanying counselor purchased a piece that they were certain Lily would love and wear. The following Wednesday morning, Elizabeth "Lily" Goren was brutally murdered - trapped and plowed down in her car by a bulldozer. For the young women who depended upon her wisdom, guidance, love and abundant hugs, silence hangs heavy in the air. As I write this dedication, we still have few answers to offer these girls, and many are still waiting to talk about things with Lily. Last week we finally celebrated with the girls at the year-end party. It was a lively affair because, after all is said and done, Shalva is about growth, hope, love and dignity. With or without tragedy, the world of "special needs" demands abundant reserves of joy. Lily's bracelet is still wrapped in the paper that the girls chose. It is my understanding that they will present it to her daughter at the end of the 30-day mourning period. She was real, not a statistic. We mustn't let anyone in the media - at the behest of our enemies - reduce us to numbers. May her memory be blessed. The writer is an employee of SHALVA: The Association for Mentally & Physically Challenged Children in Israel.