It was a gala with gifts, music and dancing as well as sighs and tears. Each year in Jerusalem, Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement known worldwide for its outreach, hosts a days-long Hanukkah party for a special group of Israelis. On the evening we visited, it was learning the way in which these guests were special that brought on our tears; the venue was filled with widows and orphans, many of whom if not most were recent victims of terror.
Thanks to my wife, Marcia’s involvement with Yad Rachamim, a charitable organization in Israel, she and I, along with friends Elisheva and Yulia, were blessed to attend one evening of the event while expecting no more than to be guests at a quiet dinner.
On December 27th at the Jerusalem Ramada Hotel, we joined approximately 300 Israeli widows and orphans as Chabad treated them to activities, entertainment, a banquet and, perhaps most importantly, what Israelis call ozen keshevet, a sympathetic ear. (We learned that Chabad, among the many blessings they deliver at Hanukkah, also provides to their party guests support and counseling for emotional trauma.)
Instead of going to dinner immediately after we arrived, we were greeted with smiles and led into a large conference room where the evening began with music. Orphans lit Hanukkah candles. After more music and dancing came a special show for the children.
During the elaborate banquet that followed—no one left hungry—our host was continually on the run and unable to spend time with his family. “It’s important,” he explained simply, poking at his untouched food. But I didn’t truly understand the event’s importance until afterward when, as we began home, Marcia and Yulia happened to speak with a young Israeli mother, Hadas Mizrahi, whose name is too well-known known in Israel.
Although we had noticed Hadas dancing earlier during the party, none of us had recognized her as the recently widowed mother of five whose husband, Baruch, was killed in a terrorist attack near Hebron, Israel in April of 2014.
[Baruch] was killed when the family’s car was struck by several bullets. His wife [, Hadas, who was pregnant at the time, was wounded in the attack and later] evacuated to Sha’arei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem…One of their sons, a 9-year-old who was in a second vehicle, was wounded by shrapnel. He was operated on overnight…The family was traveling from their home in Modi’in to Hebron to participate in the Passover seder meal with family.” (Times of Israel)
“Instead of growing old together and watching the seasons pass,” Hadas said at her husband’s funeral, “I lost the love of my life.”
One of her sons read the Kaddish prayer. Afterward, Hadas asked her husband posthumously, “Who will teach [our children] dedication and perseverance? Who will provide them with the personal example, which, even in your last moments, you gave them?”
Those questions remain unanswered. Although Chabad, despite their splendid efforts, shall certainly not suffice, they, and many other charitable organizations in Israel will continue to comfort and abet the thousands here who carry on bravely after losing loved ones.
In the meantime, Hadas explained to Marcia and Yulia as the celebration ended, on occasions such as that evening’s she holds fast to a vow made while lying wounded after the attack…
If I am ever able to walk again,” she had promised herself, “I will dance at every opportunity.”