16 Beggars

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Koby Mandell
17 Mar 2006

Three years ago, on Koby’s 16th birthday our family went to the Kotel, the retaining wall that remains from the destruction of the temple in the second century. God promised the Jewish people that he will never allow the wall to be destroyed. It is the prayer of Jews every day that the temple will be rebuilt, the sanctuary of God on this earth. What is the wall, but a record of how much we have lost, and our fervent dream to restore our loss?

People come from all over the world to pray at the wall. But for some it is a disappointment. The first time I saw it, I didn’t appreciate it. It isn’t very big, and its architecture isn’t stunning. Instead, it is subtle, muted with rocks the soft cream colors of the beach or the desert. The wall is humble — as if it doesn’t want to announce its significance too forcefully. Its large rutted stones have bushes protruding from between the cracks. Birds circle above. But in its brokenness, the Kotel contains beauty.

We weren’t at the wall that day only to pray. We were there to give money to beggars. Since Koby’s death, we mark his birthday each year by giving to others. On Koby’s birthday 5 weeks after his murder, when he would have turned 14, we gave money to 14 beggars in downtown Jerusalem. Since then we have marked each birthday by giving.

It helps others, and it helps us. It gives us something significant to do with a day that would be pure dread otherwise. We have transformed a day of pain into a day of love. We still return home, sad, crushed, missing Koby with all of our hearts. But we know if he is watching above, he is proud of us, proud of us living and laughing instead of just crying.

The year before, we’d taken 15 high school kids who wouldn’t normally go out to a restaurant for a steak lunch. This year, our idea was to give money to 16 beggars at the Western Wall.

Our family walked down the stone steps of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, down the stairs where, after we gave her some change, an old
Sephardic woman beggar gave us red strings to tie on our wrists to keep away the evil eye. We passed through the security check in front of the
Western Wall where soldiers put our bags through a metal detector. We walked out to the wide plaza in front of the Wall. It was a warm day in May, midweek, early morning. Our family separated, the boys and my husband, Seth, went to the men’s side and my daughter and I walked to the women’s. We were thrilled to have money to give to the women waiting there. Once we took out the money the beggars flocked to us, like birds. They gave us blessings and began to tell us their stories. One, an older woman wearing a dark kerchief collected money for brides, for wedding dresses; another younger woman with a round face gathered money for orphans. Others were collecting for themselves. They brought over other women to make sure that each woman got her share. Then they shouted “mazel tov, mazel tov” – and I said: “No it’s not mazel tov.” I told them the story of Koby — how he’d been missing and how he’d been stoned to death by terrorists, and they stopped talking, and one began to hug me, and one woman began to cry with me.


Slowly the rest of the women joined us and we stood there, hugging, crying, my daughter looking on at us. I realized that at that moment, all the klippot, all the coverings of ordinary life that usually divide us–had been lifted. I was one with the beggars, women I would have avoided in my past life.

What I experienced in this joining together was kindness and a kind of healing. I wasn’t carrying my pain alone, and others were crying with me, sharing Koby’s story.

I realized there was healing in exposing the hidden side of ourselves, the part that is in shadow.

It was when I told the women my story that I could cry. It was in sharing my story, and leaving my isolation, that I could experience the relief of tears. Later during the summer, boys from Camp Koby, the camp we run for 500 children whose relatives were murdered by terrorists, were interviewed by Israeli TV. The interviewer asked one of the boys: “What’s the difference between this camp and another camp?” The boy had been injured in a bombing; he’d been scarred all over his stomach. He said-“In regular life, kids want to see my scars and then they shudder and turn away. But in this camp, everybody shares his or her scars. Everybody wants to show each other where they were hurt.”

Perhaps healing is about revealing, sharing what’s hidden. What is a good psychologist but someone who helps you reveal your scars and share where you are hurting?

Perhaps history is also a kind of revealing, and even though our history is painful, one day we’ll see that history is God’s way of revealing himself in the world. Perhaps it is God’s way of turning our hearts toward him even when it seems that the pain is more than we can bear.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.