Monday, May 15, 2006

Remember

In his Nobel Prize speech, Elie Wiesel speaks of the paradox between the need to remember versus the necessity to forget. This came to mind when I heard of the death of Daniel Wultz, the 16 year old American tourist who died of wounds he sustained during the Pesach suicide bombing.
I felt pain for his parents and family, for the immeasurable agony they are suffering, and thought of his friends and classmates. Those innocent teenagers, who never thought they would ever undergo an event like this. They are feeling loss, pain, numbness, anger and so many unvoiceable emotions which they are just beginning to process.

I know. I was one of those teens when my classmate and friend, Yael Botwin, was murdered almost 9 years ago in a triple suicide bombing on Ben Yehuda.

September 1st, 1997, I began 9th grade at a high school in the center of Jerusalem, a 2 minute walk away from Ben Yehuda. On September 4th, I was one of the last people to speak to Yael before she was murdered. I had planned to go to a Ben Yehuda cafe with friends when class let out at 2:30, but they had to go home. So I decided to go by myself, and read a book over a cup of hot chocolate, until I discovered that I had forgotten my book. I always had a book with me, it was extremely rare for me to leave the house without one. So I cut short the conversation I was having with Yael, and began to race for the bus stop. As I ran up the hill, there were three enormous bands, which shattered the car windows around me and reverberated throughout my being. I, in my innocence, thought it was a sonic boom. The time was 3:05. I had told my mother that I would be on a 4:00 bus. I got to the bus stop and the screaming and crying began. My bus had been passing Ben Yehuda as the bombs went off, and thus wasn't held up by police. I sat there numbly, as one of the passengers explained in broken English what was going on. I tried to call home one someone's cell phone, but the lines were jammed.

When I got off the bus half an hour later, my mother was waiting for me. A friend of hers had seen me as she got off a few bus stops earlier, and called my mother, who had been sure I was dead or wounded. We called my father (who was in the States on business) and grandparents to let them know I was ok. At 9PM, a classmate called, crying hysterically. It was then I learned that Yael had been murdered. My mind frantically raced, trying to recall which one she was, out of the 6o girls I had met in my first 4 days of high school.

The next day, my school was prepared with a commemorative banner with her name and picture, a psychologist and transportation to the funeral. When I walked in and say Yael's picture, I realized it was my new friend, the slight, brown-haired and soft-spoken girl with the gentle smile, whom I had broken off a conversation with just the day before. I sat crying in my classroom, being comforted by two classmates. One of them asked, "Is this your first one(suicide bombing)?" In response to my silent nod, she sadly smile and said, "Don't worry, you'll get used to it." That, out of the mouth of a 14 year old. I remember frantically thinking that I couldn't and would not ever get used to it.

I fell into a lethargic depression, telling my parents that it was my fault she had been killed. If I had spoken to her for even one more moment, not broken off our conversation, she would still be alive. It was my fault. My parents sent me to counselling, unable to convince me that I had nothing to do with it, that I couldn't have known, and that it was not my fault.

A few days after the funeral, a few of us went to Ben Yehuda to the site where she had died and lit a Yizkor candle, left letters and cried. All this in my first week of high school, less than a month after I had made aliyah.

A month later, I began an ulpan for teenagers. On my first day, I got lost and asked a woman passing by for help. It turned out to be Yael's mother, walking her little sister to school, which was right next to the ulpan. I couldn't get the words out, couldn't say that I had known her daughter, as I still was firmly convinced of my guilt.

This September will mark 9 years. In those 9 years, I've graduated from high school and university, studied at yeshiva, done sheirut leumi and gotten married to a wonderful man. I still think of Yael, as I began lighting a second candle on Friday nights in addition to the one I already lit, for Yael and my NCSY youth group counsellor Rafi Estrin, who died a week after Yael from Cystic Fibrosis. I light for my friends who will never have the chance to light. Over the years, I've added more names to my second candle, and it has taken on even more meaning once I married, and that candle came to represent my partner as well.

I pray for Daniel's friends and classmates, for his family. This sort of death tears you apart and never leaves you. You learn to push it into a corner in your mind, but it crops up when you least expect it, tearing at your heart, and catching in your throat. It will forever change the 16 year olds who were part of Daniel's life, perhaps even more so than my short relationship with Yael changed me.

For at 14, I had lost the innocence of immortality. I have never forgotten how precious life is, and how quickly it can be taken away.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for remembering Rafi. He is my son. We too miss him, and are working for the day when we will all be reunited once again through Moshiach! In the meantime, please keep lighting your candle and performing acts of goodness and kindness (as well as Torah and Mitzvos); and, hopefully, the process of Moshiach's revelation will go that much faster.

Rafi's dad

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

classmate inc

3:42 AM  

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