It was a warm Friday night in Israel, and in the village of Halamish, muffled Shabbat songs could be heard from some homes while sleep came early in others. The murderer couldn’t decide: Should he kill the Jews in the house on the right, a house dark and quiet, sleeping Jews who won’t resist, or should he kill the Jews in the house on the left, a house “lit up with laughter,” was the way he described it.
About 90 minutes earlier, Omar al-Abed, 19, dark and lean with thick black eyebrows, went on Facebook, posting: “Jews are defiling Al-Aqsa,” referring to the perennial Palestinian incitement about any Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. (The official Israeli government position bans Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.) On July 14, two Israeli policemen were killed by Palestinians there, leading to days of clashes. On July 19, Abed bought a hunting knife. On July 21, using wire cutters, Abed entered the mostly Modern Orthodox settlement of Halamish. It was Friday night, and he wore a white shirt, as would an Orthodox Jew on Shabbat. He carried a Koran in his backpack and said a prayer, ritually washing his hands with his water bottle. It was time to decide: the quiet house or the house with lights and laughing? He hated the laughing.
The killer knocked on the door. Chaya Salomon opened it eagerly, expecting guests, and Abed — twisting the knife deep into Chaya’s stomach — asked, “What about Al-Aqsa?” There was no more laughing. She lay dying in the bloody gravel.
The Salomons were hosting a Shalom Zachor open-house to celebrate a new baby grandson, still in the maternity ward. The table was ready with soda, whiskey and snacks. Chaya, 46, her brother Elad, 35, his wife Michal, 34, and their five children (ages 10, 9, 5 and baby twins) were spending Shabbat with Chaya and Elad’s parents, Yosef, 70, and Tova, 68.
The stranger walked in, asking in Arabic, “What is your name?” Then he asked louder.
Tova walked towards the stranger who looked at her with “a wide smile,” she recalled. “I thought he was a neighbor,” she later told the OneFamily Organization, which raises money and provides services for families who have been victims of terrorism. “He laughed in my face and waved the knife.” “Terrorist!” Tova cried. Abed slashed her and slashed her again. Tova, trying to get away, staggered up the stairs to the bedrooms leaving puddles of blood on every step.
Abed saw grandfather Yosef and fatally stabbed him in the gut. Elad charged at the killer. Abed stabbed Elad three times. They wrestled for the knife, Abed taking a wooden board, repeatedly smashing Elad’s head until Elad slumped to the bloody floor. Abed knifed Elad four, five… 10, 11, 12 times. Abed then saw Yosef stirring on the floor and Abed stabbed Yosef 15 times more.
Michal and three of her children circled behind the killer, distracted by Elad. Michal was leading the little children upstairs, placing her finger on her lips as if to say “Shhh! Quiet!” Michal and Elad caught each other’s eyes.
Michal told us by phone from Israel of that last conscious moment with Elad: “It was as if we made a deal, an unspoken agreement,” it was a brit (a sacred covenant). “I would protect the kids. He would fight the terrorist. Later, I realized there was more to this ‘deal.’ I had to keep living. I had to be happy, as much as I could. It’s hard to believe that I’m going to continue on this journey without him.”
As Elad fought, Michal and the children ran to the bedroom where the twins were sleeping. She tried locking the door but there was no lock. She was leaning hard against the door, expecting the killer to push in at any moment.
An off-duty soldier heard the screams, looked through the Salomons’ window and saw a man wielding a knife. The soldier fired through the window, hitting Abed in the stomach, not fatally. Abed was handcuffed, face-down on the bloody kitchen floor, hands behind his back.
“The house had an eerie silence,” recalls Michal. She wanted to talk to Elad. “I tried. He couldn’t talk. He was no longer among the living.”
(In late September, an IDF investigation praised the off-duty soldier who shot Abed, but reprimanded three soldiers assigned to the area, as well as Halamish’s own civilian security personnel, for significant breaches in the Halamish security systems. According to The Times of Israel, the leaders of Halamish, after an extensive arson attack by Palestinians in November, had warned Israeli defense officials about the West Bank settlement’s vulnerability.)
With the survivors in mourning, the new baby had his brit milah: He was named Ari Yosef, after his grandfather. At the brit, the ancient words resonated: “I saw you downtrodden in your blood. And I said to you, ‘In your blood, live!’ And He remembered His covenant …”
In Israel, tragedies don’t fade away, they live next door. The Fogels lived in Itamar, in a house quiet and dark on a Shabbat night in 2011 when a killer was lured by the quiet, not the laughing. Ehud and Ruth Fogel, and their three children, were stabbed to death. Ehud’s parents, Gila and Chaim Fogel, “live in Halamish,” said Michal. “I talk to them. Our situations were very similar.”
Michal lives in the village of Elad (her husband and village shared a name). Next door lives the family of Eyal Yifrach, one of the three boys kidnapped and murdered by Palestinians near Gush Etzion in 2014.
On Aug. 16, Israeli forces demolished the Abed family home. Other Palestinians gave the Abed family money to rebuild. Said Michal, “Their house can be rebuilt; my home is destroyed forever.”
“He left me five gifts. I see Elad in each of them.”
Michal told us, “I have received so much strength from people I didn’t know.” U.S. Ambassador David Friedman made a shiva call, tweeting his “disgust for the terrorist act that killed a family at their Shabbat table.” Rabbi Steven Exler of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Rabbi Hershel Billet and Rebbetzin Rookie Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere, visited Michal, as well. Rabbi Billet recognized the neighborhood from his shiva call to the parents of Eyal Yifrach.
Rabbi Exler felt “some trepidation,” before visiting Michal. “I didn’t want to impose. Then, I thought, ‘This is what Am Yisrael [the Jewish nation] is about. We’re a family. If she is open to receiving comfort, we should be here.’” He was struck by how young she looked, a kerchief in her hair, a shy smile, “How pleasant and welcoming she was, as if we were just good neighbors stopping by.” The twins were playing on the floor. The apartment was packed with toys and Torah-oriented items for the children. “I can’t allow myself to be broken,” she said. “I have to be strong for my children.”
When she was 22, and he 23, a friend introduced them. They were both quiet, calm, Religious Zionists (Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank was her great-grandfather). She liked Elad’s smile. “Elad loved to help people. He was loved,” said Michal. At the funeral she eulogized, “My dear husband and my best friend. Thirteen years ago we met in Neve Tzur. … I felt certain in my decision to spend our lives together. You were a perfect husband … excited by our kids, [playing] with them like a kid yourself. … Now you are not here for me and it scares me. … I could never imagine it would end so suddenly.”
Michal told us over the phone, “He left me five gifts. I see Elad in each of them.”
It is Michal’s family tradition not to say Yizkor for immediate family in the first year of mourning. The rest of us, though, can say Yizkor for Elad ben-Yosef, among those, says the prayer itself, who “died a heroic death … in missions of defense and security. … May He remember their martyrdom, may their righteousness stand in merit for us and all Israel.”
Michal expects Elad’s soul to be ascending, protecting her family and all Israel from his place in the Other World. Michal’s Yizkor will come with her children every Shabbat. After all, she says, “We made a deal.”