By Esther Jungreis
I am writing this column en route from Tel Aviv to New York. So many
thoughts are crowding through my mind that it's difficult to know where to
begin. Only days ago, we started out on a heritage tour to the Czech
Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary which would culminate in Eretz Yisroel.
Wherever we stopped in the cities and villages we made a "Kel Maley", (memorial
prayer) for those holy souls who once lived there, studied G-d's Sacred
Word, and led their people with dedication, love, and commitment to Torah
and mitzvos. These visits to grave sites were powerful and
inspiring, but also sad.
Europe is saturated with painful memories, and we were looking forward to
our arrival in Eretz Yisroel where the sorrowful visions evoked by memorial
prayers would no longer haunt us. But lo and behold, once again it was the
sight of memorial candles that greeted us as we entered Yerushalayim.
Countless little candles were flickering in front of the boarded-up S'barro
pizza shop. Passers-by kept stopping to kindle yet another light. In
Europe, we had to deal with memories, but here the victims were standing
right in front of us. Suddenly, our itinerary changed. This could not be
just an ordinary trip. We would have to visit the hospitals and extend
refuah shleima (complete recovery) wishes to the wounded. We would have to
go nichum aveilim, express comfort and consolation to the mourners. No,
this was not going to be an ordinary trip.
The nurses at Bikur Cholim Hospital told me that unfortunately, they were
all too accustomed to trauma. Since the hospital is located in the heart of
the city, it is usually the first to be called when catastrophe strikes.
But the staff that I spoke to seemed to feel that this last tragedy was the
"Why?" I asked. "Why was this worse than all the other catastrophes that
have befallen our people here in the last months?" Perhaps, they said, it
was because there comes a point when you can no longer take it, when you
feel that you are drowning in anguish, and you simply have no more strength
left. Or perhaps it was because in this horrific attack, almost an entire
family -- mother, father, and three of their children were massacred, or
perhaps it was because once again, there were children involved. Or perhaps
it was the popularity of the place - S'barro on Ben Yehuda is a place that
every Jerusalemite and tourist recognizes, and because of that, the
shocking awareness that it could have been you sitting there is
overwhelming. Or perhaps it was the realization that there is no end in
sight -- This is a different type of war from those that Israel has fought
in the past. There are no front lines; there are no battlefields; it's not
soldier against soldier, but it's demented fanatics against civilian men
and women, children and babes. The battlefield is a mall, the street on
which you live, the pizza shop where you take your children for lunch, the
shopping center where you buy them shoes, the bus that you take to work.
The enemy may be the man or the woman standing next to you, but what is so
terribly frightening is that most often, you don't know him until it's too
I visited Chaya Shijveschuurder, age eight, in her room at the Bikur Cholim
Hospital. She was severely injured and burnt when the bomb exploded. Her
mother and father, her siblings - two year old Chemda, four year old
Avraham, and fourteen year old Ra'aya were killed in the blast. She and
another sister survived, with injuries.
Chaya first discovered that her parents had been killed when her older
brothers, who had not participated in the Jerusalem outing came to the
recovery room following her surgery. Despite her pain, she noticed that
their shirts were ripped and immediately deduced that she was now an
orphan. On the day that I visited her, she was interviewed on Israel Radio.
She spoke most movingly, saying that she believed in HaShem, that she
recognized that everything was from Him -- even her tragedy, and that she
believed in t'chias ha matim (resurrection of the dead). She was convinced
that one day soon, she would see her mother and father again.
I told Chaya that through her statement, she had sanctified the Name of G-d
-- that our sages have taught us that, in the period preceding the coming
of Messiah, our travail is going to intensify, that we will lack direction
and leadership. There will be no prophesy in our midst, but children will
speak and remind us of our prophetic calling. "You, Chaya", I told her, "by
speaking of your faith in HaShem, have fulfilled that mission. Your parents
in the heavens above are surely very proud of you." I also told her that
the parsha always sheds illumination on the events of the week..
So we turned to the Chumash and opened to parshas Ekev, in which it is
written, "And ye shall know in your heart that, as a father chastises his
son, so too does your Heavenly Father chastise you."
This passage teaches us that it will not suffice for us to understand this
intellectually (v'yadata), but we must feel this in our hearts (eem
livavecha) as well. Our suffering does not occur randomly. There is a
heavenly guiding hand that directs our lives, and there is a purpose to
everything, even if it escapes us. As King David in Psalm 23 declared,
"Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." That which is unfolding before
our very eyes is from the Heavens above and is preparation for the coming
It is not only Chaya who distinguished herself, but her entire family, who
had made aliyah from Holland. When the bomb exploded at Sbarro's, Chaya's
brother cried out in fear, "Abba, what do we do now?"
"Say the Shema with all your heart", was Mordechai Schijveschuurder's
answer, and, and so it was with Shema Yisroel on their lips that this noble
family returned their neshamas, their souls, to HaShem. Chaya's mother,
Tzira, was a therapist for Shema Kolenu, a school committed to working with
the deaf. She was loved and respected by everyone, and I told Chaya that I
was certain that as soon as her mother's neshama arrived in the heavens
above, she would proclaim those awesome words:"Shema Kolenu" -- "Hear the
supplicating voices of Your people, oh G-d."
At the hospital I met Chaya's grandmother as well, Although she was sitting
shiva, she had been given permission to visit Chaya. She and her husband
were both Holocaust survivors. The grandmother came from Bratislava,
formerly known as Pressburg. How ironic, I thought to myself, that our
Hineni group had just visited there and sang the "Kel Maley" for our Jewish
martyrs. And now, once again, here in Eretz Yisroel, we are reciting the
memorial prayer for the children and grandchildren of a woman who lived
through the hell of Bratislava and the hell of Bergen Belsen.
"We survived Hitler," she told me. "My own, and my husband's entire family
came back. Baruch HaShem we returned to the land of our dreams, to the land
which symbolized our freedom, and now to have the bloody hands of the
murderers reach us here is beyond anything that we can understand."
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis is the founder and director of Hineni ( trans:
Here I am! ), an international
movement dedicated to rekindling the spark of Judaism, and awakening the
Jewish consciousness in each of us.
For more information about Hineni activities and programs, visit