We all recognize victims of terror. We know about them — and their bereaved families — from news reports and public memorial services. We are about to see a new wave of such reports and memorials as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
But what we don’t always recognize are how the victims of terror are often “re-victimized” by society, by politicians, by charities and by the press.
This process of re-victimization, sometimes done by well-meaning people, is at the core of a powerful new book called “Mourning Under Glass: Reflections on a Son’s Murder” by Naftali Moses. Moses’ 16-year-old son, Avraham David, was one of eight yeshiva boys slain by an Arab intruder in the library of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6, 2008.
Reading the story of the loss of his son is heartbreaking. Reading about how he and how other families were re-victimized is infuriating.
In some ways the process is built into Israeli society, where the line between public mourning and private mourning is very thin. The Mercaz Harav shootings quickly became a national tragedy. The incident was used to make a political point, as various politicians spoke out and the government distributed pictures of the grisly scene to emphasize security risks. Yeshiva administrators and others exploited it for fundraising purposes. And it was used by the press.
The television news reports, Moses writes, were the most difficult for him to watch.
“There was much made of the particular gruesomeness of the boys’ death — they played the recordings of a student’s cell phone call for help, during which shots could be heard, and showed picture after picture of the carnage,” Moses writes.
There, on the screen, he chillingly recalls, were pools of blood, “religious garments stained as if they had been dipped in red paint and eight body bags, all lined up in row.” For most viewers it was just the nightly news, but for Moses and other family members, here on the screen were the last earthly remnants of their sons.
After the television pictures came the television pundits. Seated in a semicircle with their shirts open at the neck, they spoke, Moses recalls, “of the Arab rage in the streets, of how the Mercaz HaRav attacks was the bitter fruit of IDF operations; payback for Baruch Goldstein’s Hebrew massacre years before (which had recently been reenacted on Hamas TV); and Iranian-supported remote control terror.”
In an encounter barely a week later with the press, Moses was asked by a TV anchor for Israel’s Channel One about a rumor that he and other family members of the slain boys were going to march on the east Jerusalem house of the killer, Ala Abu Dheim. The anchor asked him if the family members were going take matters into their own hands if the government did not tear down the house. Moses was stunned by the question.
“All the families had spent the previous week bunkered down in their own homes mourning,” he writes. “We barely knew each other, and certainly hadn’t had the time to meet or plan anything. But again, the story the news anchor was seeking had more to do with the pre-scripted sense of ongoing conflict between Jews and Arabs than with the particulars of this attack.”
Moses is a Long Island native who made aliyah after college, got a doctorate from Bar Ilan University and settled in the West Bank town of Efrat. He found that practically no one in Israel — not the press, not the politicians, not the government, not the yeshiva — focused on his son, which is one of the reasons that Moses wrote this book. He describes Avraham David as a “beautiful child” with blond hair and sparking blue eyes set in a sweet face. By the time he reached high school, Avraham David decided to dedicate himself to Torah study. He was able to recite entire Orders of the Mishna by heart, his father recalled proudly, and could catch mistakenly quoted biblical passages in published texts.
But he wasn’t all about the books. Ever since Avraham David was 2 years old, father and son loved to hike and bike together and, as the boy reached 16, he was well ahead of his dad on their outings. On one hike up a hill, Moses recalls, the boy beat the father to the summit with time to spare. “I laughed with him as he announced how many minutes he had already been sitting in the sun watching for my arrival,” Moses writes. “We strolled together back to the car happy to be together, each of us happy to witness a boy’s growing up.”
Moses’s book is a stark reminder that as we approach 9/11 and other anniversaries of terror attacks both here and in Israel, the personal — and not the political — are the most important stories to tell.