by Judy Lash Balint www.jewsweek.com
June 20, 2002
Last week I spent a day paying condolence calls. One visit was to the family of the young woman murdered in her ninth month of pregnancy the previous Friday night in Karmei Tzur. The other, to the parents of a 21 year old soldier killed in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield.
I was planning to write about them today, but events overtook my intentions. Today, another 25 Jerusalem families are going through the same hell as the people I visited; trying to come to terms with the brutal slaying of their loved ones. Struggling to imagine a life with a child, sister, brother, parent or spouse cruelly and suddenly wrenched away. Maintaining their humanity despite the inhumane tragedy foisted on them.
That's the way Jews deal with death. A swift burial to preserve the dignity of the body, and to allow the soul to ascend. Followed by the seven day, thirty day and one year ritual mourning period to process the loss.
At the Kandel home in Kfar Pines last week, the parents and brothers of Yael, were still in the shell-shocked first stage of mourning. Word of the murder of Yael and her husband reached her father during Shabbat, but he chose not to tell his wife, in order to allow her to enjoy one last tranquil Shabbat. The Kandels were eagerly awaiting the birth of Yael's first child, due within weeks. Instead, they buried the 21 year old, together with her husband and unborn child
Family and friends filled the simple Kandel home on the religious moshav where Yael was born. Kfar Pines lies just east of Hadera in one of Israel's most fertile regions. Several small, religious moshavim dot the area. The bungalows of the original settlers are interspersed with more spacious and luxurious single family houses. Trees and bright flowers divide the 85 families who make their homes here, and the atmosphere is reminiscent of Israel of the 1960s and 70s.
Yehuda Kandel is a renowned beekeeper, famous throughout the country for his organic honey. If there's a typical, religious kibbutznik/moshavnik type, Yehuda fits the stereotype. With his greying mustache, weathered hands and plaid shirt torn as a sign of mourning, Kandel sits quietly on a low chair surrounded by his peers. His eyes are the embodiment of deep pain. His four sons are scattered around the room, some holding small children on their laps, others talking quietly with friends. All the men in the room wear the knitted kipa of the national religious movement.
Yael's mother is a slight, delicate woman with short hair and an open expression. It's obvious she's more accustomed to being the caregiver than the recipient of concern. Unlike her husband, she seems not to have internalized yet the full impact of the tragedy. She fusses around her daughters-in-law and their kids, and makes sure that everyone in the room has cold drinks.
David, Andi and Dena Arnovitz have traveled from Jerusalem. Yael, a teacher, was Dena's math tutor for two years. The Arnovitz's struggled to find a way to break the terrible news to Dena, a bright and sensitive 10 year old. The shiva call is not only to bring comfort to the bereaved family, but a way to help Dena deal with the tragedy. Dena has brought a letter and drawings for the Kandels. Yael's mother draws Dina next to her and listens carefully to the young girl's quiet voice as she explains how much she learned from Yael.
Esther Rosenbaum, long time family friend and neighbor of the Kandels, is anguished and angry. As she recalls memories of Yael's acts of kindness throughout her youth, Esther cries out that it's not only Yael and her husband and baby who are gone, but all their other potential children and grandchildren they would have brought into the world.
A similar sentiment is in the air, but left unspoken, at the home of Penina and Simcha Mellick in Jerusalem's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood. Like the Kandels, the Mellicks have lost a child in Israel's war against terror. And like the Kandels, the Mellicks are the very embodiment of religious Zionism. Simcha was born in Scotland, Penina in America. They made aliya as young adults and helped build Kiryat Arba, where they lived for twenty years, and where their fallen son, Gedalya, was born. The Mellicks spent time in Kfar Haroeh, a religious moshav just a few kilometers away from the Kandels in Kfar Pines, and also lived in the Golan for a few years before settling in Jerusalem with their four children. Simcha Mellick works in the treasury of the Jewish Agency, where he is responsible for activities in several countries of the former Soviet Union. Simcha and Penina spent a year in Kiev as Jewish Agency emissaries to the Jewish community there. Simcha continues to travel to Ukraine every few months.
Gedalya was the Mellick's youngest son, a blond, blue-eyed renaissance man. Adept at everything he put his hands and mind to, Gedalya was a poet, musician, outdoors man and computer expert. At 20 years old, Gedalya became a commander in Gedud 51 of Golani. His refined, modest character gained him the respect of his men, who joined the hundreds of friends who paid their respects to his family during the shiva.
Gedalya's last deeds during the battles in Ramallah and Jenin revealed the extraordinary character and talents of this young Israeli. It was Gedaliah who thought to remove the hard drives of the computers in Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound, revealing to the world the extent of the PA leader's direct involvement in terror.
Penina describes the events of Gedaliah's final days. "In Jenin, Gedaliah was carrying a milk-based chocolate cake, which he was saving to share with his officers. Gedaliah's unit was in the height of battle, and fresh food supplies were not moving up. Hungry and exhausted from the drawn-out fighting, first in Ramallah and then in Jenin, the men were looking forward to this cake, as their stomachs were still upset from eating little besides dry Passover matzo. Gedaliah cheered his soldier friends by showing them the chocolate cake he was saving for them. Having eaten canned meat, to lighten the weight of their "pouches," the soldiers were waiting out the prescribed three hours, according to the laws of kashrut, before eating anything made with milk.
Gedaliah and the other soldiers entered a house and found an Arab family with several very small children. The young family were hysterical, sure that they would now be shot. The soldiers who spoke Arabic asked the family to get up and leave, and simply walk down to the mosque and the school house, where food and water awaited them. The family remained frozen in place, from fear. Every minute wasted could have serious military repercussions. It was Gedaliah who saved the day. That precious chocolate cake in his pouch – his heart and human understanding – led the way. He pulled out the cake and handed it to the mother of the family. After a hushed moment of shock and disbelief, she took the cake, distributed pieces to her children, and then got up and left the building.
The officers remained hungry without anything more to eat for some time, as supplies were held up under the heavy terrorist fire. Gedaliah was killed in the ensuing battles a short while later." Gedaliah Mellick fell two months before his 22nd birthday, on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, 5762.
Today, the Mellicks struggle to find appropriate ways to perpetuate Gedaliah's memory. As people heavily involved with charitable work, they plan on setting up a fund in Gedaliah's name that will make a difference in the lives of the disabled in Israel.
Pnina and Simcha enumerate the names of other soldiers from the 51st Golani brigade who fell in Operation Defensive Shield. Almost all were killed trying to save others. They were the cream of Israel's youth.
The Kandels and the Mellicks are the backbone of Israeli society. Their lives intertwined in building the country and the future of the Jewish nation. People whose convictions and ideals direct their lives, people who were so successful at transmitting their values to their children.