‘They won’t understand how the world can continue’

Rabbi Seth Mandell, whose son was murdered by terrorists, talks about grief, the mourning process and why revenge is not the way.

fogel itamar attack body bags 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
fogel itamar attack body bags 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“When they wake up tomorrow, they’ll want to be dead.”
Rabbi Seth Mandell, whose son Koby was stoned to death in a terrorist attack in 2001 while hiking in the wadi behind his home in Tekoa with friend Yosef Ish Ran, knows what it’s like to be the family that’s the subject of tragic headlines.
Fogel family identified as victims of Itamar terror attack'Daughter yelled in horror, something terrible happened'“They won’t understand how the world can continue on and how they can continue to be breathing after such a horrendous thing happen,” Mandell said in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“Yet their hearts will continue to beat, their lungs will be able to bring breath into their bodies, but they won’t know what to do, they’ll be completely without resources.”
As the country tries to grapple with senseless violence that killed five members of one family, including an infant, the emotions Mandell experienced in the aftermath of his family’s own tragedy could provide some wisdom and guidance to those struggling with the aftermath.
“The family in the inner circle was not angry, we were too much in pain,” he remembered. “The people who were angry were those who were outside the immediate circle. There are many ways to deal with grief, and much of it depends how close you are to the circle.”
But Mandell warned against retaliatory violence and attacks.
“Throwing stones at Arab houses makes us as bad as the Arabs, and is not an intelligent response,” he said. “There’s plenty of stuff that can be done that is non-violent and makes a point.
“People need to be smart,” he added. “Are they trying to help the family, or are they trying the help themselves, or are they using this as a political football?” In the case of his son’s death, there were no demonstrations, but 10,000 people came to the funeral and thousands visited the family during shiva, the seven-day mourning period, Mandell said.
“That’s a demonstration of love for the family that we will never forget, that this is a tragedy that affected them, too,” he said.
Some 20,000 people attended the Fogel funerals in Givat Shaul on Sunday.
Mandell and his wife, Sherri, started the Koby Mandell Foundation for the families of victims of terror, to provide them with the emotional support to continue living.
They have seen first-hand how terrorism can tear apart a life and a family, and today provide support groups and summer camp opportunities for about 300 families.
Sherri Mandell is also the author of a book about the first year after Koby’s murder, called The Blessings of a Broken Heart.
The first year is just about surviving, said Mandell. He noted that in a traumatic situation, the brain is bathed in chemicals like adrenaline in such an intense manner that it actually changes the chemistry of the brain. Experts maintain that it takes around two years for brain to come back to its “normal” pre-trauma state.
In the days after the tragedy, Mandell said, “they’ll be completely embraced. But after a month or two, people will not forget, but they’ll begin to go on with their own lives.”
This period down the road is the most challenging, as it will take time for the children to fully comprehend the loss.
“The only people they’ll be able to relate to are other people who have gone through these types of tragedies,” he said. “They won’t feel comfortable in their own skin because they’re different from anyone else.”
In the meantime, the process of recovering from the tragedy will be messy and difficult, he said. There’s a tension between trying to find something positive to come out of the tragedy while giving space and time for the reaction to surface.
“What we can do as a society let them know we care and not forget about it,” he said. “But everyone has to heal.
“If you don’t heal your life will be destroyed, and we don’t want these children’s lives to be destroyed like their parents and siblings. We want them to continue with their lives.
This little girl will have to get married, and the other kids are entitled to have a life despite what happened to them.
“They will need to feel that we care and they have a purpose in life,” said Mandell. “That can only be done if you meet the tragedy and not run away from it. That means you have to deal with it so doesn’t destroy your life, and ultimately makes it meaningful… finding something in this horror which will be meaningful and they can take with them.
“If you can’t do that, you will be crushed,” he said.