On Friday I started getting updates on my phone about a car ramming terror attack. Turning on the news, we heard that a car had rammed into a group of soldiers leaving two dead and others injured.
It took a little while before this was declared a terror attack. The terrorist who was injured in the crash (but remained alive) declared that the wheels of the car jammed and he couldn’t stop the car from ramming into the soldiers. Of course, this statement did not explain why he made a circle with the car, speeding up to smash into them the second time around.
The names of the dead are not released until the IDF notifies the family. That is not the kind of news anyone should receive via the media. A special team goes to the home and notifies the closest family members, in person.
That knock on the door is the one thing that terrifies otherwise fearless Israelis.
When I heard that one of the murdered soldiers lived in a town close to Haifa, my first thought was: “Oh. That’s close to us. We probably know someone who knows his family.”
His name had not yet been released.
When the names were released, Lenny told me who it was. We didn’t know Netanel Kahalani but we know his father. We buy our leafy-greens from Danny Kahalani in Haifa’s farmers market almost every week. We’ve also met Danny’s brother Yoel and one of Danny’s sons, a younger boy who looks just like the photo released of Netanel.
Good, decent, hard-working people. Simple, pleasant people – their son ripped away from them by the cruel callousness of a murderer who could look at a group of people, slam his foot on the gas pedal and ram into them.
In the media, it was announced that the funeral would take place on Saturday night at 11:00 pm. Jewish tradition forbids letting the dead remain unburied overnight and one night had already passed because burials do not take place on Shabbat.
Should we go? We’re not really friends of the family but these are people we see every week and more importantly, we all belong to the family of Israel. Considering that 11:00 pm is an inconvenient time and probably, as a result, fewer people would attend, we decided to go.
When we arrived at the Elyakim cemetery, we discovered that there had been a mistake in the media and the funeral would take place at midnight. We watched as the IDF team prepared everything that was needed for the funeral (bereaved families have all the arrangements taken care of for them).
Elyakim is a small community. Surprisingly their cemetery had no military section. Netanael’s grave would be the first.
How horrible it is that it was a surprise…
How horrible that they had to create a new section for military graves.
From the end of Shabbat, the IDF team had been there, in the dark, in the cold. They made sure a grave was dug and ready for burial. A section of land was cleared specifically for that purpose, smoothed, trees trimmed, movable fences brought to direct attendees so they would be around the grave but give room for the family to breathe. Chairs were brought and set up, lighting, a sound system, bottled water (for anyone who felt faint, distressed or simply thirsty). The military Rabbi was there to conduct the service as was the community Rabbi, the head of the local council, a Member of Knesset and Communications Minister Ayoob Kara. Soldiers were there to do everything needed for a full military funeral – escort the coffin, give the gun salute and to place the official wreaths on the grave.
IDF soldiers are buried in coffins, unlike normal Jewish burials were the body is wrapped in cloth. Bereaved families of soldiers are spared witnessing what condition the body of their loved one is in.
As there was time before the funeral began, Lenny and I went to the Kahalani home. I assume people from other cultures would find it weird to walk into the home of a family they had never met before, particularly under such terrible circumstances. In Israel, it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Elaykim is a community of Yemenites. Danny’s generation is the second generation, the children born to the immigrants smuggled from Yemen in “Operation On Wings of Eagles” (June 1949 and September 1950) that brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the new state of Israel. Netanel’s grandparents’ generation are those who remember having no land of their own, coming to Israel and doing their part to build the State.
We walked into a very traditional home, full of Judaica. Photos on the walls showed different family members getting married in traditional Yemenite dress.
A family with deep roots and traditions, with a gaping hole, ripped in their center.
During the funeral different members of the family spoke, eulogizing Netanel as people in the crowd sobbed softly. The brothers seemed at a loss for words. How do you talk to your brother who suddenly is not there anymore? Danny seemed completely dazed, the more he spoke his shock seemed to wear off and reality began to sink in. His son was dead. Murdered. Not coming back, ever again.
They all spoke of a smiling boy who never turned down anyone who asked for help.
Netanel’s mother Naomi seemed the most capable of talking. I don’t think I will ever forget hearing her simple words, spoken directly to the one son who was not there:
“Thank you for being my son. You are gone but you will always be with me.”