Every death, of course, is a source of pain. Even when a stranger dies, everyone knows that his family is in pain, and everyone shares their distress. Hearing the news of the death of an acquaintance makes the pain even more acute. But on this night, even though the person who passed away was a complete stranger, all of Yerushalayim was gripped by the pain as the loudspeakers announced, “The levayah of Chaya Zissel will take place at Shamgar at 11:00.”
Shamgar is a funeral home in Yerushalayim near Kiryat Belz, adjacent to the Rav Shefa mall. For years, there has been talk of relocating it, since its location has become a coveted prize for many real estate tycoons. For the time being, though, the Shamgar funeral home has remained in its location, as if to serve as a reminder, amidst the vast array of luxury apartment buildings that have sprung up in recent years, that man cannot take any of his riches with him when he dies.
Chaya Zissel was a typical infant in Yerushalayim. In the morning, she went with her parents to the Kosel to daven. They davened for her, for themselves, for all of us, and for a successful new zeman. In the afternoon, she was still simply Chaya Zissel. And in the evening, because of a murderous terrorist who had set his vicious sights on Jewish lives – even those of innocent babies who had barely tasted life – she became Chaya Zissel aleha hashalom. Or, better yet, Hashem yikom damah. As soon as news of the terror attack began to circulate, the entire city waited with bated breath for news of her fate. When it was learned that she had succumbed to the Malach Hamovess, a collective cry escaped from the mouths of Jews everywhere, especially in Yerushalayim.
And the levayah was held at 11:00 in Shamgar.
– – – – –
Like thousands of other people, I made my way to Shamgar that night. What was there to say to a young father, a refined avreich, who had suddenly lost his child? How could anyone comfort her bereaved mother?
Many of the people at the funeral were Americans. The parents themselves are American, as is the grandfather. The latter stood at the podium, his eyes filled with unimaginable sorrow. The president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, arrived with his entourage of security guards. His bodyguards were tense, perhaps even frightened. After all, they were just a few individuals in the heart of a large crowd, and from their perspective, every chareidi represents the potential for violence. That is what they have been taught, ever since the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. Rivlin stood off to the side and ordered the security agents to calm down. Himself a native of Yerushalayim, he knows the Yerushalmi soul. If only he could, he would also have screamed and cried out on this night.
The government’s incompetence, its sheer helplessness, seems to have been put on full display. So many people have cried out so many times, warning about just such a possibility, yet the government has remained indifferent.
Just to give you a single example: In April 2014, the media reported that a group of Arabs threw stones at a bus in French Hill, right near the site of the terror attack that claimed young Chaya Zissel’s life. The news reports related that a chareidi girl had been lightly wounded and several passengers were treated for shock. Dovid Azoulay, a Knesset member from the Shas party, demanded to be informed by the Minister of Police as to whether the perpetrators of the incident had been captured. The response was, “The passengers who were questioned reported that they were not able to see the suspects who threw the stones. An additional unit conducted a sweep of the area, but no suspects were located. The file was therefore closed.” What did the police think? Did they expect the stone throwers to wait at the scene to be arrested? Is this how the police handle such an incident?
Azoulay then asked a different question: “How many incidents of vehicles being stoned have taken place in Yerushalayim over the past three years?” The answer was shocking: In 2012, the police opened 1,017 files on such incidents, and in 2013 there were 1,140 cases. As of April 2014, 357 cases had been opened. In other words, such incidents were being reported at an average rate of three per day!
Most of the files, of course, have been closed. What is there to do to prevent an Arab from perpetrating such an act?
– – – – –
Rav Asher Weiss was one of the maspidim. He is a masterful orator, but what is there to say to such bereaved parents? His hesped was followed by one delivered by Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi. Little Chaya Zissel lay on a stretcher before them, barely taking up a quarter of its surface. Her father stared at her, trembling but maintaining his composure.
Rav Shlomo Amar, who had been elected to the post of chief rabbi of Yerushalayim just hours earlier, also arrived. Later on, the mayor of Yerushalayim would come, but it made no difference to the participants at this levayah. All of them were filled with pain over Chaya Zissel’s death. They looked at her father and her grandfather, they listened to the wails from the women’s section, and they simply did not know what to do.
Soon it was the father’s turn to speak and he struggled to overcome his pain. Only once, when he mentioned his wife, did his voice break as he burst into tears. “How will Mommy go on?” he cried.
He described their visit to the Kosel, all their prayers and hopes. They were filled with gratitude for this child, born to them after such a long wait. But Hashem had given her to them and Hashem had taken her away. I looked around me at all the other people in the Shamgar funeral home. Tears streamed from everyone’s eyes. How could anyone fail to be moved?
Standing in Shamgar and listening to the weeping young father, I remembered a different incident: My nephew and his wife once lost an infant. He had been pulling on a plastic tablecloth and had become entangled in it, suffocating to death. It was a bitter tragedy, accompanied by terrible feelings of guilt. The child was buried in the children’s section of Har Hazeisim. The levayah took place in the middle of the night; I myself placed the small body in the grave. The graves in that section are not even marked. There are no tombstones and the parents cannot possibly know exactly where their child is buried. This was the p’sak that was given in order to spare the parents from repeatedly experiencing the pain of bereavement.
During the shivah, when I was on my way to pay a shivah call, I passed through Be’er Yaakov and davened Maariv in the yeshiva there, where Rav Moshe Dovid Lefkowitz serves as the mashgiach. After davening, I approached him and asked him for advice: What could I say to such a young couple who had just lost a three-month-old child? He looked at me and replied, “Tell them what I said to Rav Avrohom Genechovsky when he lost a small child of his own.”
I was surprised. “I didn’t know that Rav Avrohom Genechovsky lost a child,” I exclaimed.
“He did,” the mashgiach confirmed. “The child passed away from the machlah. And I told him what my own father had said when I lost a son.”
Once again, I was astonished. “I didn’t know about that either.”
The mashgiach, too, was surprised. “You didn’t know? My son drowned at the beach in Tel Aviv. It was a terrible story. All of Bnei Brak was at the levayah.”
“And what did your father say?” I pressed.
“He told me what the Chazon Ish said to him when his daughter passed away.”
Once again, I was shocked. The mashgiach’s father was Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l. I had never known that he had lost a child, either.
“You didn’t know?” the mashgiach exclaimed. “I had a little sister. Once, my father made a pot of soup on a primus, and when he picked up the pot, my sister came up behind him quietly and tugged on his trousers from behind. He was so startled that the boiling soup spilled on her and she passed away. It was a terrible tragedy. My father was broken by it.”
“And what did the Chazon Ish tell him?” I asked. By this point, I was barely able to hear about this string of tragedies.
Rav Moshe Dovid replied, “The Chazon Ish commanded my father not to become absorbed by the tragedy. He told him that he must return immediately to the yeshiva and resume delivering his shiurim. My father even asked the Chazon Ish if he should seek some form of kapparah, since perhaps he should consider himself an accidental murderer. The Chazon Ish looked at him and simply waved his hand dismissively. It was as if he was saying, ‘Don’t speak nonsense.’ Then he added, ‘Go back to being immersed in learning.’”
And so, dear Braun family, Hashem gave you a precious gift and Hashem took it back all too soon. You have taught us all a lesson in refinement, in faith, and in accepting the Divine judgment. May Hashem bless you with times of joy in the future.