If both of your parents die (God forbid!), you become an orphan. If your spouse dies (God forbid!!), you become a widow. If your child dies (God forbid!!!), what do you become?
There is no word for the state in which a parent suddenly finds him or herself to be childless. Not one single word. That’s because a child is not supposed to die before a parent. Plain and simple. It’s just not the natural order of things.
Unfortunately parents fear, agonize over, or mourn the loss of a child on a daily basis. The causes could be an illness, accident, kidnapping, disappearance, separation, or even murder. Either way, the stress and the angst must be immeasurable. In my own family, my great-aunt and uncle lost two children – one to a drunk driver and the other as a result of a freak accident – over forty years ago. To this day, I believe that they – and the other parents I know who have lost children – have not fully healed or moved past their loss. After all, how could they? They were left in a nameless state, a type of limbo, that cannot be reconciled. You can see a certain emptiness in their eyes.
* * *
It was late morning on Friday, June 13th in Israel (I had just arrived the day before) when I learned of the abduction of the three boys. According to news reports, the teens – Naftali Frenkel, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 16 – were waiting at a hitchhiking junction near Gush Etzion – a settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem – around 10:15 pm the evening before. They were trying to catch a ride on their way from school to their families’ homes for Shabbat. Hamas terrorists picked them up and, as we learned eighteen days later, shot and killed them shortly after the kidnapping. The murderers celebrated their achievement; the killing of three more Jews.
* * *
Through the centuries of Jewish history (and history in general), many children have died. Many parents became childless. So why were so many so deeply affected by this particular tragic loss? After all, the cold-blooded murders of these three Israeli teens – and the grief-stricken faces of their families – are all-too-familiar reminders of what Israeli families endure on a daily basis at the hands of those who prefer death to peace. So why did these particular acts of violence get so much attention from Jews and others around the globe? While I can’t speak for others, there are reasons why I was impacted.
For me, the situation was about timing. I landed in Israel on the day the boys disappeared and I had just returned to the States when their bodies were found. For me, the kidnapping became all too real as our tour bus – on the last day of our community’s mission to Israel – actually drove slowly past the actual place of the abduction. For me, it hit close to home. When my kids were teenagers, they too studied in Israel. Could this situation have happened to them and, as a result, to me? For me, my concern for family is heightened. My sisters live in Israel. Will their children and grandchildren ever be truly safe? For me, it was about the power and speed of social media. #BringBackOurBoys was plastered all over Facebook and Twitter. For eighteen days the boys’ faces were ever-present. Emails and prayer groups offered heartfelt prayers for a safe return from all around the world. For me, it is about the desperate wish for peace and freedom. Unfortunately I have come to accept the notion that I won’t live long enough to see peace in Israel or a world in which Jews will no longer be persecuted for being Jewish.
I offer my deepest condolences to the Frenkel, Shaar, and Yifrach families who lost their innocent children. A light has been extinguished for them and for us which will never be rekindled. On this Fourth of July Weekend, when Americans celebrate their nation’s independence and various freedoms, I will say a prayer and light a candle of hope.