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My Neighbors Were Murdered . . .

My Neighbors Were Murdered . . .

The Fogels of Itamar

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We were nearing the end of our Shabbat meal this past Friday night. Filled with the warmth of the pleasant family atmosphere, our younger children are preparing for bed. Binah, who recently became bat mitzvah, asks for permission to go to her friend’s house for a Shabbat gathering.

“Yes, sweetheart, you can go,” I say. “Just make sure you’re back by 10:15.”

My murdered neighbors.
My murdered neighbors.

Unusually for me, I am too tired to wait for Binah and her older brother, who went to a friend’s house for the entire Shabbat meal, to return home. After clearing the table, I retire to my room and sink into a deep sleep.

At 2 AM, my husband jumps out of bed. My oldest daughter is calling him. Soldiers are at the door. “Is everything O.K.?” I call out sleepily. At 2 AM, my husband jumps out of bed. My oldest daughter is calling him. Soldiers are at the door.

“Is everything O.K.?” I call out sleepily.

My husband checks on all the children; they’re all safely at home. He reports back to the soldiers.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“Some kind of security incident,” he replies. “They’re checking up on all the families to make sure that everything is okay. I think we’d better say Psalms.”

I get up and join my husband in prayer, concentrating on the positive verses and mentally blocking out all the verses that seem to insinuate evil tidings. “Think good and it will be good,” I tell myself.

From time to time I look out of my bedroom window. To the side, I can see military vehicles driving up in the direction of the newly built houses at the other side of the village—an unusual sight on Shabbat for the religious community of Itamar. This is obviously a case when profaning the sanctity of Shabbat is permitted: lives are clearly in danger . . .

From time to time I look out of my bedroom window. I can see military vehicles driving up in the direction of the newly built houses at the other side of the village—an unusual sight on Shabbat Military flares are exploding in the dark night sky above, illuminating the hills around us, a sure sign that the army is searching for somebody or something ominous out there. I continue saying Psalms, trying to fathom from the familiar, calming words whether all is good, or not; but I am no prophetess.

I see a group of soldiers walk across the synagogue courtyard just beneath my window, wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests, guns at their sides.

The flow of vehicles continues. Military jeeps and ambulances are now rolling out of the village. I notice civilians walking quickly to the village offices, which are also in view from my window. During times of danger the offices serve as headquarters for the emergency task force which collects and relays information to us citizens.

Seeing the civilians walking freely outside, I realize that the incident has come to its end. Maybe now we can learn what happened. I am still optimistic.

My husband spots a friend and walks down to greet him. Through the window I watch them embrace in a bear hug. I try to discern from their motions whether all is well. An hour has passed since we awoke.

Exhausted, I crawl back into bed, waiting for my husband’s return with news.

Itamar, Israel
Itamar, Israel

At long last he comes in but stands there in silence. Something is clearly not right.

“Is anyone injured?”

“Yes,” he replies quietly, and adds no more. I recognize that if he could, he would ensure me that nobody had been killed. I am dumbfounded.

“Terrorists infiltrated the village and broke into one of the houses,” he tells me slowly, and is silent once more. Unfortunately, in the twelve years that we have lived here, Itamar has known too many similar incidents.

“Was anyone saved?” I ask him haltingly, well-versed in the ramifications of such an occurrence, but wishing only to hear good to the same extent that he wishes to refrain from telling me of the evil.

“Three of the six children were saved.” I instantly derive that the parents, too, were not spared.

Not wishing to leave me groping for questions any longer, he adds, “There were five killed altogether, the Fogels . . .”

A chill grips my heart.

It’s Shabbat, I tell myself. Try not to cry on Shabbat.

I try to defeat the tears that threaten to overwhelm me with the power of my mind, by regulating my breathing to the rhythm of a chassidic meditation. I toss and turn in bed. Sleep evades me for the next few hours. Towards dawn I finally fall into a short, fitful sleep, dreaming strange dreams.

I wake up at 7 o’clock to the sound of my children’s voices, hoping ever so briefly that last night was nothing more than a horrific nightmare. Alas.

My husband is already in synagogue, praying in the early service, as he does every day. I must get up to tell the children before they run down, too, and hear the shocking news from other sources.

“The Shabbat gathering I went to last night was at the Fogels!” Binah tells me through her tears, as I sit with her on her bed. “We all left there together and Tamar [Fogel] was with us!”

“That’s why she was saved,” I reply, gently caressing her.

Throughout Shabbat everything centers on the terrorist attack that left Tamar and two of her younger brothers so dreadfully orphaned at such an early age.

“Mrs. Fogel was helping to organize the celebrations for the Talmud Torah [boys’ school]’s twentieth anniversary,” my fourteen-year-old son tells us with tears in his eyes. This year, until baby Hadas was born, Ruth Fogel had been working as the secretary for the school while the regular secretary was on maternity leave.

The funeral. (Meir Alfasi)
The funeral. (Meir Alfasi)

“Last year she was form tutor for the other ninth-grade class,” my now tenth-grade daughter tells us. “She taught us, too . . .”—and, I remember now, Mrs. Fogel would often give my daughter a lift to school.

After the morning prayers each of the children goes off to a specially arranged meeting with their familiar educational figures from the village and professionals in trauma treatment. There they hear the whole story in a way that is supposedly suited to their age (is there really a way to tell young children that their schoolmates and their parents have been brutally murdered in cold blood?!)

Although I hardly knew the family myself, that doesn’t help ease the shock, horror and pain that I share with my children, with my community, with my people. And, I remind myself, G‑d says He shares our pain with us, too: “In all their troubles, He is troubled” (Isaiah 63:9; Talmud, Taanit 16a).

The names of the victims have not yet been released to the general public. After Shabbat is over, I call my seventeen-year-old son in yeshiva high school in JerusalemMercaz Harav. Was it only three years ago that we were at our wits’ end with worry over what was going on there? He was only in ninth grade at the time and, by Divine Providence, was out of the yeshiva when the gunman shot at the boys learning there in the library, injuring one of my son’s roommates and killing one of his classmates along with seven other pupils . . .

I can’t make a call out of my cell phone—the cell network is busy, probably overloaded with callers who have just heard the horrific tidings after Shabbat. I call again from our land line and my son answers immediately.

“Have you heard the news?” I ask him gently.

“Sure. My friends told me something was going on in Itamar and I was just checking it up on the Internet. I was worried about you.” I didn’t ask him why he didn’t call us to find out.

My heart is torn to pieces. Why do my children have to know such suffering at such a tender age?

Unlike my heart, my faith is whole, as is the faith of our community and all those who build their homes in every part of the Land of Israel. We are aware that by living where we live we are protecting Jerusalem from more such vicious attacks; and Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Netanya, Ashdod . . . No matter how much we suffer, our faith grows ever stronger. We channel our pain into positive actions, standing solidly by our resolve never to succumb to the use of violence against the brutality that smacks us in the face again and again. For every Jew murdered, more orchards, more fields, more greenhouses will be planted; another house, another neighborhood, another village will be built, with the compassion and benevolence that we learn from the Torah and will continue to teach to our children.

We share the legacy of faith that the Fogels, Ehud and Ruth and their three innocent children, have left us. They set up their lives together in Netzarim, in Gush Katif, only to be cast out of their home, their lives uprooted, for our enemies to trample upon its ruins in a fantasy of peace that has never been realized. Undaunted, they relocated to the town of Ariel, and then finally to Itamar—just two short years ago. Rabbi Ehud found his place as one of the rabbis in the school here and Ruth continued to build their beautiful family in their new home. Together, they planted an olive orchard and taught their children to love the people of Israel, to love the Torah and to love the Land of Israel. Together they were snatched away from us by the brutal hands of bloodthirsty terrorists.

May the Fogels’ souls be bound in the bundle of life.

It is no longer Shabbat, we are allowed to cry.

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Joseph Cohan London, England. December 10, 2011

May G-d destroy these terrorists, they are the biggest threat to world peace at the moment. Reply

Anonymous psagot May 16, 2011

our children hearing such bad news when what tamar and her brothers are going through sooo much more. lets get out of our selfish feelings Reply

dennis snapper netanya, israel April 4, 2011

My family wishes to express its condolences to all members of your family. Reply

Anonymous Fort.Lauderdale, USA March 27, 2011

We would like to express our sorrow for what happened with your family. Ours hearst, also, are with yours. May HASHEM have mercy on you and give you strengh to accomplish His will in your life and the lives of yours brothers. Know that ours prayers will be always with you. Reply

Anonymous Washington, DC March 24, 2011

You know what I find so interesting in these comments, we can all point fingers at the hellish rascals who took lives with a knife. But, how many lives have we taken in our quests to do and be what we want? How many have we killed every day with our words and actions? Reply

Anonymous March 23, 2011

Were can you write to the kids? Reply

Sara Brussels March 22, 2011

It has nothing to do with religion. These "Palestinians" would be thrilled to kill me or you. Religious or not. They and the rest of the world do not differentiate. The only chance we have to be respected by the world is to respect ourselves in our entirety which includes our identity as Jews and the special mission we have been given by G-d.

Rachel personifies this more than most of us could ever do. To take these unbelievably horrific murders and find strength in continuing in the Fogel's footsteps, living what they were unable to do themselves. To do more and more good to chase away the evil once and for all.

Thank you Rachel for your moving and honest account. Thank you for sharing your strength.

I keep crying over and over again, thinking of how a small 12 year old girl declares that she will be the mother of her 2 surviving siblings shortly after walking into her own home to find her family butchered.

We should all value the time we have and use our lives for good Reply

Anonymous March 19, 2011

Hearts of pain pray with Israel of the tragedy from Fiji . We pray for you and for the peace of Jerusalem. Reply

Anonymous Irvine, Calif USA March 18, 2011

May all the Angels of Heaven uphold you and lift you up in this time of great sorrow.
My heart cries with yours.
Sending my love and prayers from a faraway place. Reply

Laurian Greenstein Mid-Levels, Hong Kong March 18, 2011

So many generations of our people suffering...enough...Hashem, MOSIACH NOW PLEASE..... Reply

Abby Stein Barrington, ri March 17, 2011

I live in the united states and read of the terrible tragedy that has changed your life. I am a Jew and no matter how far away we are from each other my heart and my soul go out to you. I will light the Shabbos candles in hope to bring light and compassion to you. Three brave children. Reply

Sarah J. Walls St Petersburg, Florida USA via chabadsp.com March 17, 2011

I am so sad for this beautiful, lively family that they have been struck down by murderers. May those who live keep their memories alive and be inspired to carry on. Reply

Richard Applebaum Ft. Lauderdale, Florida March 17, 2011

How does one find words to confront such a senseless tragedy? Only actions can suffice. May each life lost be reason to plant yet another orchard, to give us more resolve to go on and to triumph in the face of evil. May we, the Jewish people and all who are with us, be blessed with the will to not only go on but be victorious in spirit and deed. Reply

Anonymous Melbourne, Australia March 17, 2011

I am so sad for this family that it is impossible to find adequate words. All of you very courageous Israelis are in my thoughts and prayers, and may you have very long lives in spite of the barbarians who have sworn to destroy us. Your response is beautiful: grow and build and increase in numbers. Reply

Anonymous Fehovot, Israel March 17, 2011

A beautiful and sensitive account of the terrible massacre in Itamar.
We pray that the nations of the world will come to their senses and accept the fact that the Palestinians do not want peace and will not be satisfied until we disappear from the face of the earth - G-d forbid.
May Hashem send Mohiach NOW. Reply

Lollie Rehovot, Israel March 17, 2011

My heart is heavy, my sorrow is deep.
I have tears in my eyes as I write about the senseless loss of lives. How many more lives will be lost in the name of "religion"?
And yes, it is all in the name of religion. Reply

Elizabeth Royse City, TX March 16, 2011

may the one and only G-d of us all comfort you and your soul in this time. Reply

Anonymous Manchester , VT, USA March 16, 2011

Dear Little Ones,
May the G-d of our Fathers bring you comfort and soothing balm to your hearts at this terrible time... Reply

Anonymous March 16, 2011

From every jewish family in the U.K we wish you along life and so sorry for all your heart ache. Reply

Celia Bradenton, FL/USA March 16, 2011

May their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life, and let us say Ahmen. Reply