Sunday, July 6, 2014

Thoughts after going to the Fraenkel Shiva

My wife and I went to the Fraenkel shiva tonight. I'll offer a series of semi-random thoughts - some just to give a sense of the scene, others to say what went through my mind.

The scene...
  • As we approached, some kids were directing traffic and told us where to park - on a different street and a bit of a walk away from the Fraenkels. I thought that was considerate - i.e. not to inundate the Fraenkels and their immediate neighbors with traffic.
  • On the way to the Fraenkels, a family was outside offering water to passersby (it's been hot here) - also very considerate and kind.
  • We got to the house itself, which was abuzz with activity, inside and out. There was a small tented area on the sidewalk with maybe a dozen people doing some "night seder" learning. Avi and Rachel (Naftali's father and mother) sat on the back patio, with around forty people gathered around each of them. People were milling around in every other corner. The crowd was mostly dati leumi (national religious), with a smattering of charedi and secular.
  • I walked with heaviness and trepidation through the house on the way to the patio. What flashed though my mind was what a kodesh (sacred) space every home is, how much time together - love, laughs, meals, games, conversations, fights, all the "stuff" that makes up family life - goes into that space. And here I am just strolling through, oblivious to all that has transpired in this space. And this particular space is the one that Naftali used to inhabit. But no more. His voice, his laugh, will no more echo in these walls. Though at the same time, his presence - in the form of all those memories - will always be felt there.
  • Naftali's younger brother, must have been 8 or so, flitted around from one area to another, excited by the crowd, playing a little riff on his harmonica. I was thinking about how grounding it is to have younger children around during times of grieving. Even though they may not "get it" like adults do, that itself is a gift - it's a reminder that life goes on.
The parents...
  • When I first saw Avi Fraenkel, clearly looking tired (from both the pain and the shiva no doubt), my thought was: This is the person who's been in the news across the world, but he's simply a father bereft of his sweet, beloved son. And in that way he's no different from anyone who's had to endure the pain of losing a child. 
  • Rachel's eyes were trained intensely on each of the people in front of her, greeting them, listening to them, and offering words of comfort to them. Which got me thinking that as much as shiva is designed to offer comfort to the mourners, often times it is also a comfort (i.e. a vehicle for grieving and processing) for those outside the immediate family who also feel the loss. For complete strangers like us who went to the Fraenkel, Yifrah or Shaer shivas, there's a mix of wanting to offer them "chizuk" (strength) and comfort, and also dealing with the sense of grief that gripped so much of the nation. 
  • (The question of why there was such a sense of grief over this particular loss and act of terror, as opposed to others, is an interesting one, but not something I feel like exploring right now.)
  • I was thinking that after all the activity of the night is over, Avi and Rachel will go to bed - all will be quiet, and they'll stare out into the darkness of their bedroom, exhausted and grateful for the outpouring of love and support, and at the same time all too conscious of the reason for all that support, of the new reality that is not going away. Their son is gone forever.
Could have been us...
  • Nof Ayalon, where the Fraenkels live, near Modi'in, seems like a place we could live - religiously "chilled out", nice homes and apartments, friendly, clean neighborhood (or at least so it seemed at night).
  • We have a son the same age as Naftali, who took the same national bagrut (matriculation) exam a few Thursdays ago, at a different high school. Just that our son made it home. Naftali (and his friends Eyal and Gilad) never did.
  • When tragedy strikes someone closer to you (culturally, demographically or geographically), you can't help but identify with it more.
  • I've been only sporadically looking at the news this past week, because I don't want to hear political analysis right now. I just don't feel like going there yet, at least not during the shiva week. I'd rather let this week be what it is. There will be plenty of time for analysis later.
  • In fact I saw a friend at the shiva who remarked on what he perceived as the difference between Jewish and Arab cultures - one "grieving" and the other "rioting." And what immediately came to mind for me was the brutal murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which was officially revealed to be an act of revenge-terror carried out by Jewish extremists. But being right there at the shiva, I just couldn't bring myself to have that conversation. And I don't want to go there in this post either, except to say what should go without saying: Deliberately targeting innocent people, noncombatants, in acts of violence, is wrong (possibly the very definition of "evil") - no matter who does it, and no matter what religion or nationality the victims are.
  • In fact I was thinking that a part of me would like to go to the Abu Khdeir family's "shiva" and offer condolences. (Just that the part of me that wants to live advised me otherwise.)
Fleeting "Atheo-related" thought...
  • There were lots of teens at the Fraenkel home. Many of them, as is common in dati leumi circles, are not what you'd call "religiously strict" looking. Just thinking of one guy - tallish, long mess of blonde, wavy hair, jeans, t-shirt and sandals, and a silver-dollar-sized kippah. I was looking at him and thinking - does this guy (or half the people here, for that matter) think or care one iota about things like "proofs" for Torah miSinai? It just struck me that it's probably the last thing on his mind. His parents are probably religious. He's probably "religious lite" - i.e. comfortable with religious culture, proudly and deeply identified as Jewish, but basically just does his thing - hangs out with his friends, listens to music, maybe has a girlfriend, is thinking about school, army, etc. I have to think that he'd say about "proofs" - either asserting them or trying to disprove them: Whatever! Who cares? It's all a bunch of pseudo-intellectual blabber, irrelevant to real life... 
  • It seems to me that all the focus on questions about the "truth" of Judaism is a sort of "fetish" that only a specific segment of the Jewish world even cares about. And I plead guilty. But the reality is that it's entirely possible to live your life - even a very Jewishly-identified life - and never give a thought to these kinds of questions. So even though some of us might think that Jews and Judaism either stand or fall based on the "truth" - the truth is that's not what's happening out there.
On the way home, my wife and I reflected on the sadness of the loss, and consequently on needing to be good to each other, to love and appreciate each of our kids, and to grab hold of each precious day together. And that alone was worth the trip.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. -AbAH

  2. I am glad you went too, to read this.

  3. This is a beautiful piece. Kudos to you for composing it.