Jewish Sisterhood

Elad and Michal Salomon, Halamish, Neve Tzuf

It Came So Close: The Halamish Massacre

After a terror attack, the connections come out. Israel is a small country. You almost always have some sort of connection to the victims.

With the Salomon family of Halamish, a friend I think of as a brother informed me that the young soldier who neutralized the terrorist through the kitchen window, a hero by all accounts, was his wife’s cousin, as is the young hero’s mother.

That was a nice connection, so to speak. One to make me feel pride by association. A comfort in the midst of grave horror.

But then a friend messaged me on Facebook. She wrote:

“Varda. Friday night, after we finished our Shabbat meal, some kids came to pick up our 12-year-old son Micha on their way to the youth gathering. One of those kids was Nitzan Davidi*, the niece of Michal Salomon. The Davidi* family lives not far from us.

“Later we heard there had been a pigua, a terror attack, but there were no details yet. Not until after Shabbat, when my husband came home from the synagogue and announced, “The Davidis have a new widow and her children in their home.”

“Nitzan’s mother is the sister of Michal Salomon.

“I was sick to my stomach, hunched over with terrible stomach cramps all that night. I know it’s not about me but—it came so close. Nitzan in our home while her uncle was being slaughtered.

“I went for a walk with my husband Saturday night, the night after the slaughter, to get some fresh air. We passed the Davidi home. People were milling about. Like a house of mourning. Then I saw the double stroller. I don’t know why that stood out for me, the stroller, but I was thinking: ‘Why a double stroller? Who, in the Davidi family, needs one of THOSE.’

“Later that night I read that the Salomons had one-year-old twins. One-year-old twins! What kind of monster kills a father! Sick. Just SICK.

“The whole thing was just so very close to home. I was consumed with the thought that Nitzan was in our home at the time of the slaughter, completely unaware. Just a normal kid on a Friday night, picking up her friends for a get together.

“I kept imagining Nitzan coming home happy and tired, going to sleep, and then waking up to the phone call and the keening.”

We both contemplated that for a minute. A young girl being woken from her Shabbat sleep with the worst possible news. Her home transformed to one of deep mourning.

My friend’s experience seemed to touch me by association. The murders in Halamish, the plight of the young widow and her children were more real than ever. I began to imagine the kids hearing their father, grandfather, and aunt being slaughtered, the screams. How would they ever be normal?

It was setting in, the horror, in a new way. There was a new association now. I felt like I knew the family. I could picture the Davidi family. The house. The stroller.

On Tuesday my friend had more to tell me. She eased into it with small talk about diet, mine and hers, working her way around to the terror attack.

“Nitzan’s father, the brother in-law of Michal Salomon? We were chatting and got to talking about the massacre, of course. It’s hard to think about anything else. Yaron* said that terrorists dope themselves up with drugs before they do their thing. They have to be high to do it.”

I shrugged, “Everyone knows that.”

“Well, I didn’t,” she said.

“Anyway, Yaron described the attack to me! He said that Elad [Salomon, Michal’s husband] had the terrorist in a bear hug as the terrorist was stabbing him. Thirty times the terrorist stabbed him in the back. Then he went to work on his face.

“I managed to ask Yaron about Nitzan. ‘When did she know?’

“‘Oh, she was already in bed and sound asleep when we got the call,’ he said.”

There was a pause while my friend let that sink in for me. Observant Jews don’t use the phone on Shabbat. There is only one reason a phone rings like that. It was Michal calling, telling them what had happened.

It’s good that Nitzan was able to sleep through that night, I thought. One more night of childhood innocence before learning of the evil that had hit her aunt and uncle, HY”D, may Hashem avenge the blood of the Salomons.

I know that all Jews are related to each other multiple times. We’re a small nation that was forced to marry cousins in the Diaspora. So I knew in theory that I was related to Michal Salomon, to her husband Elad, his father and sister, and to NItzan and Yaron, too.

Now I felt it, as well.

These are the details you don’t see in the news. These are the quiet, intimate, awful details that are whispered, that almost aren’t whispered, so painful are they to speak of.

Most of us have been thinking about the brave soldier, thinking of Michal Salomon, her courage and strength in taking her children upstairs to the bedroom, locking the door, calling the police.

But now I am thinking of something else: there’s a different picture in my mind, the one that explains all that blood on the floor that we saw in the photos. I’m thinking of Elad, holding the terrorist in a bear hug with all his might, trying to keep him from hurting anyone else, taking all that pain, being stabbed thirty times in the back, and then finally, as his strength ebbs away, being stabbed repeatedly in the face, his final memory one of a knife coming much too close, so close, so many times.

And we don’t even know how it went with Elad’s father and sister.

It’s personal, you see. This massacre of a Jewish family. It hurts.

This is my family, even if I never knew them. This terrorist that came to hurt this beautiful family? He acted out of pure evil. His soul is black as tar. A monster, not a human being.

And now there is a new widow who must try to heal children who heard their father, grandfather, and aunt being slaughtered. Michal must try to make their nightmares go away while mourning the love of her life. But the nightmares will never disappear.

That is who they will always be, the Salomon children, from here on in. They and their mother: they will always be those nightmares. The massacre of Halamish.

And it all feels much too close.

*Names changed

Steinhart Family, The Thank You Note

The Thank You Note: Because Real Men Understand Jewish Sisterhood

You’re about to read the most amazing thank you note ever. But first some background:

For the past half a year, I’ve been involved in the most amazing theater project. A brand new theater company, the Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem, put on Count the Stars, an original musical by and for women. The musical is based on the journey of Abraham and Sarah, the Jewish patriarch and matriarch. We women of Jerusalem and Greater Jerusalem, rehearsed twice a week, week in and week out, for six months at the OU Israel Center.

During this time, the cast, comprised of women and girls of all ages, forged a powerful bond. Most of us had performed in a variety of shows through the years, but never did we experience such unity as we did this time around. There was just something special here. Something remarkable.

Some Count the Stars backstage fun

Some Count the Stars backstage fun

One cast member thought it was about the lack of ego among the performers. I thought it was about the dynamism of one of the founders of the performance company, Sharon Katz. Or perhaps it was about the fact that we were doing something totally new in theater, something new and Jewish, and doing it in the heart of the holy city of Jerusalem.

Whatever it was, that special something, and whatever the reason for it, it continues. We had our four performances at the Gerard Behar Theater. We had our cast party at the OU Center. And still, we’re just not ready or willing to say goodbye. That’s why we have a Chanukah party scheduled. We don’t want to see the holy atmosphere, the Jewish sisterhood we found here in Jerusalem, to dissipate.

This is something that must be nurtured, treasured, and indulged.

step-into-the-light

Now I’d like to say that even though I have a full time job, I felt pretty free to pick up and leave for rehearsals at the end of a work day. My kids are older. They can fend for themselves. I don’t know if I could have managed if they were younger. It was a big sacrifice for the women in our cast who are still raising young children. Or rather, it was a big sacrifice for their husbands.

Just how big a sacrifice became clear at our cast party, when our director, Shifra Penkower, read us a letter from the husband of one of our cast members. It seems that Betsalel Steinhart, a licensed tour guide and Jewish educator, sent this letter to the production crew with the specific intent that it be read aloud to the cast. He meant to surprise his wife Shoshana, a petite dancer who in real life, is an occupational therapist at Alyn Hospital Pediatric & Adolescent Rehabilitation Center.

Steinhart Family, The Thank You Note

The Steinhart Family

He certainly succeeded. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as the letter was read. She was moved to the core. She was actually shaking with emotion.

chanson-damour

Here is the letter:

Tuesday December 6th.                                                                                                    BS’D.

To the wonderful women of Count the Stars, from the long lost men in your lives…

I think I am speaking on behalf of all the Count the Stars men when I write these words. True, I have never met them, your husbands, boyfriends, fathers and sons, and can only see my wife, Shoshana, as she went through the last six months, but I am hazarding a guess that this applies to us all.

I am sitting in my quiet house, as a few miles from here the last performance is winding down.  My kids are sleeping or reading, and my wife, as usual, is not here.

I have two words for you all, the two words that have defined our nation since our matriarch Leah in this week’s Parsha named her fourth son Yehuda-Judah, meaning I will thank G-d, and eventually became the name of our people, Yehudim.

Thank you.

Thank you to Hashem for giving you the strength and ability to do what you did.

Thank you for your dedicated, hard work.  Especially to the team of Shifra, Sharon, Bati, Judy, Ellen & Avital, but to you all.

Thank you for putting on such a beautiful show that inspired so many.

Thank you for raising the lives of the women in our lives who mean so much to us, despite the price we have paid (Laundry-help!-What are delicates??? What should I make for dinner??? Is there a limit to how many times I can order pizza??? Which kid wears what size and which clothes?? Where is the cleaning fluid?? Ahhhhhh!!!)

Thank you for fanning that spark of creativity that burns within the women in our lives, that sent them to the tryouts for Count the Stars so long ago, and enabling that spark to become a burning flame of intense exuberance.

Thank you for the satisfied exhaustion that was on the faces of our women, when returning home late after yet another crazy practice, with the tiredness that only comes from doing something so fulfilling.

Thank you for giving them the opportunity to glow, to shine, to sing, to act, to dance, to radiate joy and happiness, to release all their tensions on stage as they gave their all, and to become the parts that they played with all that entails.

Thank you for giving expression to the confident, radiant smile that my wife only wears when she is in dance mode. One is only really in full flower when one is expressing their creative essence, and you gave them this chance to do so.

Thank you for caring about each other.

Thank you for building a kehilla, which by nature of its existence and the shared values that its members embody, brings forth a greater meaning and a more permanent sense of connectivity: you will never forget this, in essence.

Thank you for giving the religious women, who yearn for the opportunity to do the dances and sing the songs that maybe they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in front of men, that opportunity to do so.

Thank you for returning our women to us, each invigorated and inspired in her own way.

Thank you.

Our one complaint? We just wish we could have been there to see you…and in that, I definitely speak on behalf of all the men.

May Hashem grant you all the strength to continue and to perform again and again,

We love you all, and welcome you back with open arms,

Betsalel Steinharthagar-at-the-well

It was such a beautiful letter that I felt the need to share it with the world, here in this space. It is not too many men that
could or would write such a letter.

Which proves the point I’m trying to make.

We did something special here with this show. Something that is difficult to put into words. Something that I feel could only have happened in the Holy City between Jewish sisters.

And we should definitely keep it going somehow, do more shows, create more magic, make the bible come to life on the stage, make it enjoyable, and do it all with a whole heart, in happiness and love and sisterhood.

We made something real here.

And it took a real man to see that.

Bless you, Betsalel Steinhart, for seeing us.