By Barbara Trainin Blank
New Year’s Eve has never been a particular favorite: the noise, the traffic, the excessive drinking. More particularly, there was the year I was an overseas student and my entire section of the city went dark. Another time my college boyfriend broke up with me, and that same night my grandmother passed away.
But perhaps no New Year’s Eve was more memorable than the one of 2000. Or more traumatic.
Technically, it wasn’t New Year’s Eve. The call came in the morning, about 8 o’clock. It was from my father. His voice sounded hollow, hesitant. Since he more often expected to be called than calling, I was apprehensive…
For good reason. Binny (my first cousin once removed), and his wife, Talya, 34 and 31, respectively, were dead. They had died in their car, while driving home from Israel to the Territories.
That would have been tragic enough. Sadly, there are way too many road accidents in Israel. Drivers there are crazy! But this was no accident. Shooters had caused my cousin to lose control of the car and overturn. They had been alerted by a lookout that a car with Israeli license plates was approaching.
Binny died instantly. Talya was taken to the hospital and died soon after.
I was too overcome with weeping to consider what many asked me later: had Binny been targeted? He was the son of an assassinated right-wing Knesset (Parliament) member and himself a radical.
His mother thought otherwise. But he had been targeted. His wife had been targeted. Not for their specific identities or even their politics but for their nationality and religion.
I was sad and angry.
They weren’t the only victims, as even those who die peacefully in their beds ever are. Their son was safe; they had dropped him off in school on the way home. But their five daughters were in the car. All were injured, one seriously. She was hospitalized for a long time.
I grieved for Binny and Talya and for their children. The trauma, yes, and the terror, of losing both parents, suddenly and violently, are not something most of us can understand. Especially before 9/11, when terrorism had yet to hit home to Americans.
How could children that age comprehend, or accept, that the only way their parents were coming back home was in a coffin? How long would their journey to healing be, and how successful? Would they ever be OK?
My heart went out to my cousin-by-marriage, Libby, who had lost a husband and now a child. A daughter-in-law she was fond of like a daughter. It was a second call I had to make to Libby in which the “right thing to say” didn’t exist. But a child’s death was even worse than a husband’s. Is there anything worse? Especially when the death is sudden and violent. My heart wrenched as I picked up the phone.
There was nothing I could do with my grief except empathize with the suffering of others. When someone in the town we used to live in lost a son to a bombing incident at an Israeli university, I was one person who could understand. It resonated deeply when she described a support group she attended for bereaved parents. The participants went around the room, indicating how they had lost their children. Nearly every case fell into two categories—cancer or car accidents. Then her turn came, and she he told the group her son had been blown up by a bomb. Everyone just stared. Finally one person broke the silence with, “That’s the worst.“
There often isn’t a whole body to bury. Friends and family members are left not only with a sense of overwhelming grief but of vulnerability. That is, after all, the goal of terrorists. To make people think it could be anyone of them. I was struck with a sense that something is very wrong with the world. Some friends and family members tend toward bitterness and anger. Some might even contemplate revenge. Certainly, they can become obsessed with redress, bringing the perpetrators to justice. I’m a mild-mannered person who did not share my cousins’ politics, but certainly, none of those reactions was alien to me. They were my cousins, after all. They were human beings. Living life.
I am very tired of the killing. My family had paid the price of hatred and random violence. I could not understand people’s obsession with guns or the seeming tolerance of mass shootings. (Libby’s cousin on the other side had also been killed by terrorists, particularly brutally, while defending, unarmed, a holy site.) I’m frustrated by the inability of the two sides in the Middle East conflict to reach any kind of lasting, meaningful agreement. (On the other hand, the region is rife with armed conflict among people of the same religion.) I read a book in which a rabbi who had been stoned while walking through the marketplace of the Old city of Jerusalem set out to find and understand his would-be killer. I had no such reaction — it saddened but did not enrage me that one of my cousins’ killers was freed in a prisoner exchange. I simply wished he’d forswear violence, but doubted it.
When a loved one dies, you may feel like screaming: Don’t you realize how special this person was? In the case of terrorism, that desire to cry out intensifies: Don’t you realize how full of potential this person was? Don’t you realize what it’s like for six children to be orphaned? Why can’t everyone just stop killing? Sometimes there is nothing left but to pray: May there come a day that people of different nationalities, races, religions, sects, genders, and sexual identities learn to live together. Spare the bullets and the bombs.