דברי הצומות וזעקתם – אסתר ט לא
Monday morning, 10 AM. I barely find the strength to open the OU Israel staff meeting that I had scheduled two weeks earlier. Images of the atrocities from this past Shabbat in Itamar chase me at all times, never letting up.
The members of the staff sit despondent; a heavy atmosphere engulfs the room. Naturally we begin the meeting with Tehillim in memory of the members of the Fogel family who had been murdered, Hashem yikom damam.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I try to proceed with the agenda for the meeting, starting with administrative issues. Suddenly I was interrupted by Netanel Siman Tov, Director of the OU’s Lev Yehudi Yisraeli project. In a strangled voice he asks for my forgiveness. “Avi, before we begin, I would like to relate something important.” In a tear-filled voice he related the following words:
“Shalom, this is Udi Fogel, from Panim el Panim* ”
This is how Udi opened the conversation, how I met him for the first time five years ago. Two days later he was already sitting with me in my living room, which then served as an office for the organization.
With charismatic shyness, fathomless eyes, and a small smile, he explained that specifically now, especially now, Panim el Panim is the task at hand. We were then a small Gar’in Torani** of five families. Udi requested that we enlist with all of our strength, that we recruit everyone to the mission of Panim el Panim, going from house to house for heart-to-heart discussions. This is THE task at hand, he repeated.
“Now” referred to the time period four months after the expulsion from Gush Katif. Four months after Udi and Ruti, Tamar, Roi and Yoav had been exiled from their home in Netzarim. A mere four months later and the young man was already travelling around the whole country in order to convince gar’inim Torani’im to join the movement.
He was sitting there in my living room, and I was so impressed that I could not push him to join the gar’in in Ramat HaSharon. “It’s surreal” he answered, “but now we must rehabilitate our community in Ariel.”
He spoke with evident pain and frankness of the vast disparity between residents of Judea and Samaria and their counterparts in Tel Aviv and Ramat HaSharon. “If we could just meet, converse, get to know one another… we need to unite the nation, specifically now.” I don’t remember his exact words. I clearly remember the look on his face and the spirit underlying his words.
Udi suggested that we approach one of the yishuvim in the Shomron and try to organize a group that would come to Ramat HaSharon, and work with the gar’in Torani on opening dialogues.
Udi and I travelled together and presented at a “Chizuk Discussion at Yeshivat Elon Moreh. As a result of this event, within six months a group came weekly from Elon Moreh to Ramat HaSharon, to work with the gar’in Torani.
Udi would come every once in a while, to make sure that everything was running smoothly, to provide encouragement, to replenish supplies. We would speak on the phone, coordinate transportation, times, lists of addresses. Udi would always ask that we share our successes with the volunteers from Elon Moreh, the lasting relationships that were established. “That’s what gives strength” he contended. With charismatic shyness, fathomless eyes, and a small smile.
One of the times that we met, I accompanied him to his car, a small Fiat Punto, that was bursting with promotional materials for Panim el Panim. After two unsuccessful attempts at closing the trunk, and notwithstanding that fact that he was hurrying to his next meeting, I looked at him with admiration and asked “Tell me, from where do you find the strength, after everything that has happened to you?” He had just recently been thrown out of his house, and he – without bitterness, without anger, without frustration, without blame, in an artless and simple manner, smiled in answer. He then continued on to his next destination.
This week, both at the funeral and at the shiva I found myself experiencing two emotional elements. I felt the coming together of am Yisrael, a greater Panim el Panim if you will: simultaneously, in a hair-raising and paralyzing moment, everyone connected, everyone got to know each other, everyone met.
I also felt an aspect of looking toward the future. The eulogies of the family members, the sense of tradition and devotion that continues on, without grudge, without complaint, without bitterness, without blame. Like the one who says Ana HaShem ki ani avdecha. Like the one innocently asks: “Where to now, just tell me?” What is my next destination?
And I remembered. I remembered the charismatic shyness, I remembered the fathomless eyes, the small smile, the little Fiat, the trunk that did not want to stay closed, the man that did not want to be confined, and most importantly I thought of the next destination.
Rivers of blood, flowing in this Land of Israel, blood thrown on the mizbeach. The blood of na’ar v’ad zaken, taf v’nashim b’yom echad – youth and elderly, women and children on one day.
Rivers of tears, flowing in this Land of Israel, tears that wash away the blood. Tears of grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles, two orphan boys and an orphan girl who had to grow up too quickly.
Rivers of emunah, faith, flowing in this Land of Israel. Emunah that washes away the tears. Emunah of people molded from the stones of the Land, speaking the eternal language, in love with the Land and believers. Most importantly, believers.
Shalom Udi, from Panim el Panim
Note about the authors: Rabbi Avi Berman is OU Israel’s Executive Director and Netanel Siman Tov is Director of the OU’s Lev Yehudi Yisraeli project
*Panim el Panim is a non-profit organization that works on bridging the gap between the religious and secular communities in Israel.
**A group of dedicated, Modern Orthodox, young families who live in largely secular communities with the intent of helping and sharing a positive Jewish religious lifestyle with community members.
To make an online donation, please visit: OU’s Victims of Terrorism Fund, select a gift amount and click the “Donate” button. To make a donation by mail, kindly send a check to the Orthodox Union at 11 Broadway, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10004. The check should be made out to the Orthodox Union with “OU’s Victims of Terrorism Fund” listed on the memo line.
THE LAST TIME, Composed and Sung by Shmuel Schwartz in Memory of the Itamar Massacre
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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