At Rock Bottom, a Believer Grasps for a Lifeline


In May of 2004, 34-year-old Tali Hatuel, a social worker who lived in the Gaza Strip, was gunned down on a Gaza highway by Palestinian terrorists, along with her four daughters, Hila, 11; Hadar, 9; Roni, 7; and Merav, 2. As if the atrocity could be any more atrocious, Tali Hatuel was, at the time of her murder, eight months pregnant with her first son.

After the initial gunfire caused Hatuel's car to veer off the road, the terrorists ran alongside it and shot the passengers – four little girls and a pregnant woman – at point-blank range.

They wanted to make sure they were dead.

By that point, after more than three years of relentless Palestinian violence, terror attacks in Israel had begun to bleed into one another. Recalling particular horrors became difficult. Was it a bus or a restaurant? A mother or a daughter? The ones with the stroller in Petach Tikva or the ones crossing the street in Jerusalem?

For those of us living in Israel, names and photos and stories all ran together, washed over with tears, and the cynicism and insensitivity bred from living under attack for so long.

But the Hatuel tragedy shook everyone. Even more than Tali – whose work, ironically, had involved counseling victims of terror – and her four girls, I was haunted by thoughts of the one left behind, their husband and father, David Hatuel.

"I am all alone; there is no one left," he wailed at the funeral held just five hours later.

Like many Israelis, on the night of the funeral, I thought of the man sitting shivah, his life literally blown away. How could any of us possibly think we had a right to any comfort when his soul had been torn into five pieces?

David Hatuel, I was to learn, was far stronger than I. Far deeper.

Months later, a columnist asked him if he hated God for what had happened.

"My secular friends ask me how I can carry on. They tell me that if it were them, they would have put a bullet through their heads. But I am only able to cope because of God. Rather than focus on the horror of how my family was taken from me, I am focusing instead on the 12 beautiful years God gave me with my beloved wife and daughters. I just have to believe that God has a plan as to why that time was cut short."

There's a Jewish custom to wish everyone mazal tov at weddings and other happy occasions, whether or not the person has any particular connection to the celebrants. The idea behind it is that, related or not, a simcha – the creation of a new home or the birth of a child – belongs to all Jewish people.

Just as Jewish law dictates that kol Yisrael arevim zeh l'zeh – "every Jew is responsible for one another" – so, too, do we have a part in each other's joy. And, in the case of David Hatuel and too many other Israelis, we have a stake in each other's grief.

So what a source of wonder it is to hear that David Hatuel is marrying again: He is engaged to Limor Shem-Tov, 32, an occupational therapist whose family has lived in Israel for seven generations.

As we gleefully exchanged the news – as if either of us knows either the groom or bride – a friend commented that she couldn't imagine how he could do it. How could he go on?

The sad reality is that, only two generations ago, millions of Jews started over under even worse circumstance: How many Holocaust survivors lost not only their spouses and children, but their parents, siblings and entire communities?

New beginnings, sadly, are not new to Jews. David Hatuel knows this.

"My sight is set on the future," he said at his engagement party. Israeli newspapers reported that he said, "I am building again on a home that still is. My wife and daughters were not erased. They live inside me. They are part of my life. I am like a tree whose branches were cut off, and now they are growing again. I had two options: Fall down and be totally destroyed, or stand up and live. I am choosing life." u

Liba Pearson is a writer living in Jerusalem.



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