Living in Israel: The highs and lows of life in the Jewish state - opinion

Rage, Resilience and finally, Redemption. These are the “3 R’s” that characterize life in this Israel of ours.

 PROTESTING THE possible release of terrorist Walid Daka, who tortured and murdered IDF soldier Moshe Tamam nearly 40 years ago, outside Maasiyahu prison, May 31. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
PROTESTING THE possible release of terrorist Walid Daka, who tortured and murdered IDF soldier Moshe Tamam nearly 40 years ago, outside Maasiyahu prison, May 31.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

One of the main events at our Shabbat table is the High-Low game, moderated by my wife. Susie goes around the table asking everyone present to share what was the high point of their week just past, and what was the low point. This game is particularly useful in Israel, where events occur at such a dizzying rate that we can barely remember what happened to us yesterday, let alone seven days ago!

I want to focus today on four interconnected high-low events that occurred over the last couple of weeks, each of which had a profound impact on me. Let me start first with the lows.

Some years ago, Susie and I were on our way to an appointment near Netanya when we took a wrong turn. Suddenly – as if by chance – we passed a house with a rather expansive front yard. As we looked closer, we saw a large memorial set up there to honor a fallen soldier. As has become our custom, we immediately stopped by to visit. It was a tribute to Moshe Tamam.

Moshe Tamam: The IDF soldier killed by the PFLP

Moshe, a strapping, beautiful 19-year-old boy serving in the IDF’s Engineering Corps, had been on his way home from Tiberias in 1984 when he was abducted by a PFLP terrorist cell from Baka al-Garbhiya. They had plans to smuggle him to Syria, but when the terrorists feared that they would be detected, they decided instead to murder him. They dumped Moshe’s body in a field in the Shomron, but not before brutally torturing and mutilating him.

We decided to stop in and meet Moshe’s family, but no one answered the door. As we then continued on our way, we noticed signs put up on all the surrounding streets. Stopping to see what they said, we were taken aback: They were notices of memorial services for Moshe; that very day was his yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his murder. His name, from then on, was embedded in our hearts.

 THE WRITER with Ari P at swearing-in ceremony. (credit: PNINA PERETZ)
THE WRITER with Ari P at swearing-in ceremony. (credit: PNINA PERETZ)

Fast-forward to two weeks ago, when a protest was held by members of the Tamam family outside of Ramla prison. Israel’s parole board had decided to grant an early release to Walid Daka, one of Moshe’s murderers, who is “suffering” from cancer. Daka had been caught in 1986 and sentenced to life in prison, a sentence inexplicably commuted in 2012 by then-president Shimon Peres to 37 years (later extended an additional two years for smuggling a cellphone into prison).

The family, led by Moshe’s niece, Dr. Ortal Tamam, not only argued that Daka deserved not an ounce of mercy, but that the family had not been informed of the parole board hearing, a direct violation of the law that requires notification of loved ones when a murderer’s case is being considered. The protest helped, and Daka’s case is now being reviewed. 

We can only hope that he will rot in jail until he dies; that is the minimum that should be done for the crimes of this monster.

Chana Nachenberg: The last victim of the Sbarro terror attack

AND SPEAKING of innocents slain by monsters: Susie and I paid a shiva call this past week to the family of the late Chana Nachenberg. Born in New York and then living in Ma’aleh Adumim, Chana had gone for lunch in August of 2001 to downtown Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizzeria with her almost-three-year-old daughter, Sarah.

While Sarah miraculously was left unharmed, Chana was critically wounded in the infamous bombing, a terror attack that killed 15 – including seven children – and wounded 100 others. Chana had remained in a vegetative state since the moment of that terror attack, lovingly cared for by her family and the Reuth Rehabilitation Hospital in Tel Aviv, and had never regained consciousness before she finally succumbed last week. 

This attack, along with the Park Hotel Seder night massacre in Netanya in 2002 that killed 30 and wounded 140, was arguably the most shocking and despicable of all the countless violent crimes of the Palestinians during the Second Intifada.

Adding excruciating insult to the unbearable injury, the planner of the Sbarro attack, Ahlam al-Tamimi, was set free, along with 1,000 other murderers, in the Schalit fiasco. Tamimi, who chose the target and guided the bomber there, was arrested weeks after the bombing and sentenced by Israel to 16 life sentences – with a judge’s order that she never be released; but the Netanyahu government cowardly crumbled to public pressure, and Tamimi was released from an Israeli prison in 2011, after serving just nine years.

A concerted effort, led by the parents of 16-year-old victim Malki Roth, has been made to convince the American government to extradite Tamimi from Jordan, where she unabashedly conducts a popular television and radio show urging more Palestinians to carry out acts of mass murder, particularly against children.

The Jordanians – recipients of billions of dollars in US aid – have arrogantly turned up their noses at the American request and refused the extradition order to deliver Tamimi. This just adds to our frustration at the “free pass” all too often extended to the killers and their enablers.

BUT DO not despair, folks, there are highs – very high highs! – in this world of ours, too. 

Wheelchair basketball success

Last week, we attended the championship game of the Israel Wheelchair Basketball League. We were there to cheer on our favorite player, Shai Haim. Shai became a member of our family the day our son Ari died. Both were members of the elite Palchan HaNachal anti-terror unit and were on a vital mission to capture Hamas headquarters in Nablus in September of 2002.

Ari went on guard near the close of that operation, and Shai went with him. When an exchange of fire broke out, Shai was shot first. Ari, rushing to his friend’s side to help him, took a bullet to the lung and was killed. Shai was helicoptered to hospital and his life was saved, but he remains paralyzed from the waist down.

But that has never slowed Shai down. He married and has a wonderful family (with a son named for his comrade in arms). He travels the world and even built his own home. He decided to play in the wheelchair league, where he gained amazing upper-body strength, became team captain, and took his players to the title game. As we watched and marveled at the determination of these intrepid young men and women, we were spellbound by their insistence on carrying on their lives despite whatever fate had brought to them. 

“Our bodies may be wounded,” says Shai, “but our spirits are indestructible.” In a spirited contest, Shai’s team lost the final to Tel Aviv, 42-39, but Shai was given a trophy and named one of the league’s five most valuable players.

IDF Nachal Brigade troops sworn in

FINALLY, SPEAKING of indestructibility, there is the Israeli army. A few days ago, we attended the hashba’a, the swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall for the IDF Nachal Brigade’s new inductees. These ceremonies are always among the most inspiring and exhilarating events that Israel has to offer, and if you have never seen one, you are missing a “lifetime moment.” 

But this particular hashba’a was something – for our family – very, very special. One of the new recruits was Ari P (the army prefers some anonymity). Ari was born four hours before our own Ari fell in battle, and we learned of his birth during our shiva, when Ari’s parents came to see us.

They asked us to retreat to a private spot, and then told us they had a request: May they name this child after our son? We became, of course, even more emotional than we already were (we doubted that could be possible!) and, of course, we agreed, saying it was our honor. The shiva ended, I took a quick shower, and then rushed off to the brit, where I was given the honor of being the sandak, firmly holding Ari as he officially joined the ranks of Am Yisrael. 

We celebrated his birthday – which coincides with our Ari’s yahrtzeit – each and every year as he grew taller and stronger. After spending post-high school years learning Torah, he told us proudly that he had chosen to enter the same IDF unit as our son, which pretty much broke the emotional meter in our home.

As the first of (currently) 19 children named for our boy, Ari has a special place in our hearts and in our home. At the hashba’a, we trembled with the deepest of feelings as Ari’s commanding officer presented him and his fellow soldiers with their gun and with a Tanach, repeating the charge that Moses gave to Joshua upon his appointment as the first ramatkal (chief of staff) of the Israeli army: “Be strong and of good courage, for you shall lead the Children of Israel in the land sworn to them.”

No amount of words or clichés could adequately convey the mix of emotions we have for Ari P and for all of our holy soldiers; they are the pride of this nation and the most beloved of all God’s children. No one – not the greatest scholar or the most generous philanthropist – outranks them on the scale of contribution to the safety, security and success of this great country.

Well, dear friends, I have taken you on just one short high-low roller-coaster ride, and you have, no doubt, already connected to what I call the “3 R’s” that characterize life in this Israel of ours: Rage, Resilience and finally, Redemption. 

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.