We have been here before

We have been here before

We have been here before.  We have celebrated good times, three weddings and much more, where the vibrant dancing and joyful singing could be heard throughout the land.

We have been here before.  We have mourned during terrible times, funerals of loved ones, and the Yom Kippur War, where tears poured from our eyes and could be felt throughout the land.

And we are here now, when yet again the nation suffers the terrible loss of many, old and young, but mostly young. Our shocks quiver the very earth on which we stand, throughout the land.

Just yesterday we visited Israel’s newest tragic remembrance spot, a destination marked by rows and rows of photos of scores of laughing, happy young adults. Was it strange that each place, hallowed by cheerful decor, toys and flowers and flags of Israel, decorated by those who knew and loved the person whose picture adorned each position, was  surrounded by candles encased in glass, inscribed with the Hebrew phrase lizkor, to remember? Yahrzeit candles.  These are the tortured tributes to 360 people massacred by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023.  This barren desert ground was defiled, sullied, forever stained, by the assassins of Hamas, who showed no mercy as they pillaged and raped victims whose only crime was to be celebrating life itself as they danced and sang throughout the night.  Their happy faces are no more. This ground is now the site of a vast pilgrimage.  There are groups of visitors, including police and soldiers and people like us, who fall into no easy category but who weep for those taken.  It is a vast and somber place without amenities.  The broken ground is a challenge for a car, worse for feet.  No one has thought it fitting to bring in a hamburger or falafel stand.  It’s not that kind of a place.  The yahrzeit candles say it best:  It is a place to come and remember.  It is the reincarnation of Never Again.

We have seen the hundreds of cars that brought the victims, then revelers, to the giant party, known as a rave. We can imagine the joyful promise of the long ride down — the now empty promises of the empty cars, rotting in the desert heat, their drivers and passengers no longer celebrants at all. Some escaped. Some are hostages. The remainder, most of them, are those we see in their memorial pictures, happy faces erased forever.

If there is a lesson here, I surely don’t know it except to say never trust your enemy.

Israel, the familiar, the well loved, is one of our spaces, one of the places we call home.

Like many we have several such places.  They are called Newark, Parksville, West Orange, and especially Jerusalem.  At this moment, I look out at the rain and hear the ferocious wind, the ruach and the geshem, for which we have successfully prayed, soaking the rugged stones and blowing the last of the dried leaves, in this time and season in this holy place.  Soon the rain will cease and the wind will transition into a gentle breeze, blowing the fragrance of spring into the beautiful city. All should be well. All will not be well. Our visit was the ultimate reminder. The lost lives will not return home, ever.  They will not come home.

And lest we forget, there are other murdered victims and hostages from the peaceful Israeli communities ransacked and pillaged by the marauders  of Hamas. Where are Kfir, an infant, and Ariel, 4, and their parents Shiri and Yarden?  They  were kidnapped on October 7 and have not been seen or heard from since. Have they had their vaccinations, these red-haired little Israeli boys?  Do they have playtime or story time? Do they laugh or smile? We cannot know.

And then there’s Hersh.  He was grievously injured before being taken captive. Did he get adequate, or any, medical care? He cannot know that his mother has become an international spokesperson for the hostages, appearing on TV and at rallies constantly, articulately, brilliantly, and lovingly.  Please, may her heart not be broken!  Please.

It is believed that there are still more than 100 hostages living in captivity.  This number is a guess. No one knows for sure. They have endured lives of desperation, hidden in tunnels, built by money given to Hamas to care for the citizens of Gaza, stolen from the desperate citizens by those who claim to be their keepers, their protectors, their guardians, but who are instead their brutal jailers.

We watch TV and read comments in newspapers.  The world is attacking us for a war that our people did not start. The horror of the hostages is thrust upon us to gain their freedom. How could we possibly abandon them?

The Gazans are paying the price of the war and the hostages.  Hamas has made symbolic hostages of all of them, in overt conspiracy with the International Red Cross and UNWRA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

How supremely ironic that Hamas betrays them and places them in danger, using them as shields for their own evil purposes while convincing them and the entire world, always willing to rouse and raise their innate hatred of Israel, that Israel has fomented the violence and caused the deaths of so many innocents among their people. Deceit is a powerful weapon, especially when it is believed.

Where are those decent citizens of the world who seek truth and justice?  When Jews are deemed responsible, the search is meaningless. The hatred defines and creates the answers.  Probing is not necessary.  In the face of innate brutality, start and stop with the Jews, history’s perennial scapegoats. Placing hundreds of miles of tunnels under hospitals and schools becomes a chargeless crime.  Using criminally obtained money awarded to benefit Gazans, instead going to fulfill the needs of the perpetrators, and becoming the resource for Hamas leaders and their mayhem.

And dare we whisper about the rape victims who became pregnant?  No one yet knows how many births will result from the terrible violations of human sanctity and what will become of the innocent babies. The horrors multiply.

Life in Israel changed abruptly on October 7, when Hamas attacked the peaceful citizens of Southern Israel in a sudden and brutal rage that took more than 1,200 lives, lives of the old and young, men and women, on a day that was to be devoted to Shabbat and the joyful holy chag known as Simchat Torah. Civilians were subject to horrendous torture, rape, kidnapping, and murder.  We have all heard the shocking story over and over again. The tragic young smiling faces will smile no more.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of five.    She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel.  She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at rosanne.skopp@gmail.com

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