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Headstones of heartache . . . and . . .

It is almost as if had the one pair of murdered little beautiful brothers from last week’s terror attack, Asher Menachem and Yaakov Israel Paley, lived, they would have grown up into this week’s other pair of beautiful brothers, Yagel Yaakov and Hillel Menachem Yaniv. Instead, their two tiny tombstones have now been added to. Two more fresh monuments of pain erected. Two more silent headstones to look at, to lean on, weep and remember.

Again, I find myself staring into the sweet goodness of another two pairs of blue eyes, now gone. I see the pictures of the two pairs of brothers, side by side, and I swear they could be related.

Now they are. Spiritually. Emotionally.

Two pairs of brothers cut down so cruelly, weeks apart, by terrorists. They will forever be linked by these tragedies, and eerily enough by the common name Yaakov in our hearts.

A country, Israel, so torn right now. So many voters, due to a vote prevailing in a different direction than they desired, now feeling alienated, even going so far as professing a desire to cut loose, to emigrate elsewhere. Considering that I myself currently live abroad, it’s not my place to judge. At the same time, I cannot help but remember living in Israel and feeling deeply let down by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, yet at the time it never occurred to me to leave Israel as a result. In time, when I did leave, it was for entirely different reasons.

There is a sense of the cleavages within Israeli society G-d forbid threatening to grow into chasms. God forbid an abyss too great to recover from.

The tension is alarming. Even from afar, I can sense it.

The intense and sometimes seemingly hostile rallies that have swelled and swept the country have been astonishing enough.

But then, that news is interrupted. An interlude. But oh, interludes of horror.

Interludes of fatal terror attacks, burials, shattered families, innocent young boys’ lives slaughtered, and the combination feels lethal.

It can feel like normalcy is slipping away.

Before our nation are two images. Of two pairs of brothers. As if they scream from the grave: “Brothers!!” “That’s what you are!” “That’s who we are!” “Remember!” “Never forget!” “We are brothers.”

Then, the devastating news of another terrorist victim. But this time, as the bitter chorus of a segment of Israelis desiring to leave Israel is reaching fever pitch, we learn of another wonderful young man, Elan Ganeles, of blessed memory, an American, a former lone-soldier, who had elected to serve in Israel. He too is now dead, another Jew murdered in cold blood for being Jewish.

Another young life, replaced by a headstone.

The more I learn about each of these young men, Hillel, Yagel and Elan, the more inspired I am. Salt of the earth, as they say. Golden boys of Am Yisrael. The kind of people a parent would dream to raise.

But then, with this backdrop, to read about the fringe youth who in their burning pain at the wanton murder of their beloved friends, and likely feeling a threat to their own safety, in a horrifying spirit of mob justice, attacked the town of Huwara, the place the terrorist was from, leaving behind them a trail of wreckage in Huwara.

Watching this type of internal violence unfold is not only painful but an anathema to what the Jewish tradition and Israel stands for.

I pen my column on the 7th of Adar, both the birthdate and the yahrzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher. Moses’ near flawless and empathic leadership is ever illuminating, his legacy to us manifold. Aside for having served as the conduit who transmitted the Torah wisdom, the bedrock of our tradition, his legacies are numerous.

At the genesis of his leadership, Moses was the prince of Egypt who could have remained in the king’s palace, but instead sought out his brothers and see their suffering, and feel for them.

Between that inception of Moses’ leadership and the conclusion of his life, after 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses describes himself with the maternal image of carrying the Jewish people, His final dream is singular: to enter the promised land! Alas, his yearning for the promised land is painfully unanswered.

Once his entry was denied by none other than G-d himself Moses then implores G-d at least to gaze upon it! Such was the profound ache and longing of Moses for the land of Israel.

And here we are today. Blessed enough to live in a time of history and destiny that has brought us to Moses’ promised land, denied to him but not to us. Yet, it seems so many are struggling with what it means to live in Israel, and how we can each feel we belong there.

Today, on the 7th of Adar, amidst of weeks of so much tension and terror, it might have been a day on which so many of us would have gone in droves, in a pilgrimage, to visit at Moses’ gravestone. Maybe to lean on it for support and to pray for a sense of direction.

This will never happen, though, for Moses’ place of burial remains a mystery to this day.

There is no marker, no headstone to commemorate the man who more than anything yearned to enter the promised land, the land of Israel.

Instead, on the anniversary of his death, three more headstones of heartache now stand.

Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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