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Shalhevet's Funeral
by Judy Lash Balint
LA Jewish Journal
April 6, 2001

Have you ever been to the funeral of a 10 month old? It has to be one of the most unnatural of human experiences.

Maybe you've attended the funeral of a baby who died tragically from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or some other dreadful disease --but the burial of an infant who was deliberately murdered by terrorists is all the more tragic for the baseless hate it represents.

Today, in the ancient cemetery of Hebron, Shalhevet Techiya Pass was laid to rest next to Torah luminaries such as the Sde Hemed and Reishit Hochma, and beside other Jews who were victims of earlier Arab hatred. Perhaps there are tombstones of other young children in the hillside burial place of the 1929 Hebron massacre victims, but there are no younger terror targets than Shalhevet buried there.

Bullet-proof buses brought mourners from Jerusalem along the tunnel road into Gush Etzion, past Efrat and through the deceptively peaceful rural Judean hills dotted with Arab villages and on into Hebron. Men with black hats; knitted kippot; large, white Reb Nachman-style kippot and a few with T shirts tied around their heads, crowded onto the buses making room for young women holding babies of Shalhevet's age. A few women wearing pants joined the subdued crowd.

Along the way, groups of sullen Arab men could be seen hanging around otherwise deserted storefronts, as well as IDF soldiers checking cars and taxis trying to leave Arab villages under closure.

Several thousand gathered in front of the imposing Maarat Hamachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs)-the most ancient Jewish site in the world. The structure was built during the Second Temple period and stands on the field that Abraham purchased some 3700 years ago.

In the forecourt, under the hot midday sun, sit Shalhevet's grieving family. Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, they brace themselves for the difficult hours to come. Almost a week has passed since the murder of their baby, but with the advice of their rabbi, they had postponed the burial with the demand that the IDF retake the Abu Sneinah hills that harbored the terrorist who took Shalhevet's life. The burial today is an acknowledgement that at least the issue has received prominent national attention, and will allow the Pass family to complete the full shiva period before the commencement of Passover.

The media feeding frenzy is in full operation as the proceedings begin. Cameramen crowd around Shalhevet's father, Yitzchak Pass, who is pushed in a wheelchair to the stage where the microphone will broadcast the words of eulogy and Psalms to the crowd. The young man, whose picture with bright smiling face graced the pages of every Israeli newspaper last week as he held his contented child, is now ashen faced. Released from the hospital just before Shabbat, the shot wounds to his legs sustained as he tried to protect Shalhevet still prevent him from walking. Yitzchak wears a yellow baseball style cap emblazoned with the simple slogan: We are Here.

As the Psalms begin, many mourners are quietly sobbing. Yitzchak clutches the tissues in his hand, and grabs the arm of his father in law for support. Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba, gives the first eulogy, a fiery speech calling for the government to avenge the murder of Shalhevet. The baby's teenage aunt in a wavering, child-like voice recalls Shalhevet's sweet smile. Before moving off to accompany the body to the cemetery, another relative cries out the powerful "Hashem, Hashem, Keyl Rahum V'Chanun" prayer. The verses from Exodus are from the time when Moses went to receive the second set of tablets. God shows Moses how to prevent the type of national catastrophe that had nearly provoked Him to wipe out the nation. Moses is taught the text of the prayer that would always invoke God's mercy and which is generally recited on Yom Kippur, and in times of crisis. Our current situation where innocent babies and high school children are murdered in the Jewish state clearly qualifies.

The tiny body, draped in a dark blue velvet cover adorned with a gold Star of David, is borne through the streets of Hebron where Shalhevet spent the brief days of her life. Men and women in separate columns follow, chanting the Sephardic tune to Eishet Chayil (A Woman of Worth). Many of the mourners wear pictures of Shalhevet around their necks.

All the stores are shuttered and the streets empty of their Arab residents-a strict curfew has been imposed to ensure safety. Dozens of IDF soldiers line the route and are three deep at Gross Square in front of the closed road leading to Abu Sneinah.

A short stop at the Avraham Avinu neighborhood where Shalhevet was murdered, and then on up King David Street under the watchful eyes of the IDF and border police, past the Jewish residential buildings of Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano and Beit Schneerson.

In the crowd of quiet marchers the only public figures visible are former MKs Geula Cohen and Elyakim Haetzni, MK Yuri Shtern and former Prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevich . No Cabinet ministers or representatives of the Sharon government are present.

Several high profile media people are there however, most noticeably, the portly Jerrold Kessel of CNN, with a misshapen black and white hat pulled down over his eyes.

The procession wends its way under the harsh sun, up the short, steep hill of Tarpat Street and into the cemetery gates. Nuriya Pass, Shalhevet's mother, holds the body of her infant daughter. Lovingly and for the last time, she hands their child to her husband Yitzchak, who struggles to rise from his wheelchair to receive her.

At the graveside, there are more eulogies given by Hebron pioneer, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, the modest hero whose actions in Leningrad in 1970 forced open the gates of freedom for millions of Jews from the FSU.

As teenagers hug each other to try to contain their grief, and men close their eyes deep in prayer, the mournful prayer for mercy is sobbed out again before Yitzchak barely manages to intone the mourner's kaddish for his only child.

Another brutal act of hatred enters the annals of Jewish consciousness as the unnatural act of burying a murdered baby is completed.