Mourning Under Glass: Reflections on a Son’s Murder
By Naftali Moses
Reviewed by Yitzchok Adlerstein
You will not enjoy reading Mourning Under Glass. And that is exactly why you should read it. It is not meant to be enjoyed, but to drag you to a place where you really do not want to go. You will feel pain, be moved to tears and be forced to think the “What if it would have happened to me?” questions that we all suppress, lest we descend into madness. You should read it because you will learn things about people dealing with sudden tragedy and its aftermath that you will not learn elsewhere. If you read on, you will have little choice. Guilt will compel you to read the book so long as a Jewish heart beats within you.
Mourning Under Glass: Reflections On A Son’s Murder chronicles the snuffing out of the life of a precious neshamah in an Arab terror attack and a full year of his father’s coping with the aftermath. Sixteen-year-old Avraham David Moses was one of the eight kedoshim to perish in the Mercaz HaRav terror attack massacre in Adar of 2008. Naftali Moses, Avraham David’s father, takes us on a rare journey into the unthinkable: the baring of a soul still raw and wounded.
People often have a morbid fascination with tragedy that they are not party to, where they can stand back and gawk from a safe distance. Moses does not allow you to do that. If you, a stranger, want to know more, you will have to feel the pain with him.
The book is not long. If words cannot really do justice to the horror, why prolong the agony? Between its covers, however, it surgically focuses on many important topics, many of them centering around the insensitivity of those who used the tragedy to their own advantage, ignoring the feelings of the mourners, the facts and sometimes decency itself.
A social commentator on Israel’s Channel One would search for “meaning” in the massacre—and discover it in the link between Mercaz HaRav, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l, and the accursed settlers his ideology inspired.
A political correspondent invented a rumor of a planned revenge attack upon the Arabs to diminish the sympathy that Israelis were feeling for the Mercaz HaRav community. When Avraham David’s mother quietly refused to condemn the Israeli government for gathering pictures of the massacre to show the world what Arab terror is about, Haaretz turned an interview about the emotions of loss into a headline declaring her willingness to turn her son’s murder into “political use.”
Moses takes us on a rare journey into the unthinkable: the baring of a soul still raw and wounded.
The media’s exploitation of the murders was manifest, deliberate and perhaps not unexpected. The reader will be more surprised by the depth of pain that Moses and the other victims’ families felt when others, sometimes unwittingly, appropriated the victims for their own purposes.
Moses explores the issue of memory, how different individuals and groups will accentuate different parts of a whole so that the products do not even resemble each other. He raises the tough issue of the clash between private memory and public memory, without offering an easy solution.
We fidget when he chronicles how the public relations and fundraising agendas of organizations sometimes marginalized the victims’ families. He shows how easily outside interests, and sometimes even groups that were close to the victims, seized moments of meaning from the families and turned consolation into a prolongation of agony.
One chapter can be important as a stand-alone. “A Concise Field Guide to Condolence Callers” will make many wince, when they see their own mistakes mirrored and amplified through the incisive comments of a mourner who pulls no punches. (As the chapter title suggests, the book is not without humor, albeit sometimes bitter, cynical and dark.) Reading it carefully will jump-start a process of improving the skills necessary to properly fulfill the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, comforting the mourner.
There is room for one hero in this book, and he is not difficult to identify. Rabbi Yerachmiel Weiss, the rosh yeshivah of Mercaz HaRav’s high school, stands out for his sensitivity and his ability to communicate emunah to a watching nation, gently triumphing over the skepticism of a veteran secularist interviewer.
The mood is somber throughout. However, this does not mean that its message is a negative one. In one of the closing pages, the author offers an epitaph to the year of mourning that makes us conscious of the great gifts of our Torah, in good times and in times of great tragedy:
“And I,” as the Psalmist wrote, “I groaned, each night my bed swam in tears. I melted it” (Tehillim 6:7). How much water rained from my red eyes, thinking about my son, feeling the terrible pain of loss. Remembering how much blood, in place of water, soaked the earth that evil night.
But this night [at a gathering close to the yahrtzeit], I want to also recall the mercy that God, and my friends and neighbors, have rained down upon us all. . . I need the Holy One to help heal the hole torn in my heart . . . Let heaven and earth once again meet; let the earth once more be kissed by God’s presence. Let once more the bounty of His promise spring forth from our too-dry land. Let the cracked surface of my soul feel the warm, healing rain of God’s love.
It is a particularly poignant and triumphant tziduk hadin, proclamation of Hashem’s righteousness, even when we cannot understand it. It bears testimony to the emunah and faith of the Jewish neshamah. Earlier in the book, Moses allows that, “There is something special about our tribe. We are a family bound together by ties that span time and place. We are a family . . . Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the majority of letters I received were from Orthodox Jewish youth, studying in Orthodox Jewish schools . . . Daily study, daily prayer, keeping kosher, keeping the Sabbath—how could these not affect one’s connection to Am Yisrael?”
May the author’s next works share with us the sprouting of peace and happiness within his soul.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is also a member of the Jewish Action editorial board, and a founding editor of Cross-Currents.com.