A Shattered Childhood

By Frimet Roth

Published September 19, 2003, issue of September 19, 2003.
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As I write this, my son and daughter are attending a double funeral. David and Nava Applebaum, the father and sister of their friend, were among those murdered last week in a Jerusalem café. Within minutes of the attack, my son was out hunting with his distraught friend for the missing father and sister in Jerusalem’s hospitals.

It was a familiar experience: After the Sbarro suicide bombing on August 9, 2001, my son helped me hunt for Malka, his sister and my daughter, in the very same hospitals and with the very same prayers. But Malka, like David and Nava Applebaum, wasn’t found on an operating table or lying unconscious in some emergency room. Not for us that good fortune.

The dead sister of my son’s friend was to be married the night after the café bombing. Now my son is standing beside him in a graveyard instead of in a wedding hall. The young bride-to-be was buried with the wedding band her fiancé placed beside her.

My oldest daughter is 14. She cried all morning after hearing of the late-night café attack. Then she phoned me from school; she and her schoolmates huddled in the corridors, sobbing and hugging while waiting for the bus to take them to the funeral. The teachers, who had taught the dead girl and her sister and my own dead child as well, were themselves paralyzed with grief, unable to control the chaos.

Most women three times my daughter’s age have never known the pain she lives with every day. Though I have rarely seen her cry these past two years, she recently confided to me that she does — but only at night in bed.

We Israelis are a stoic people. We shed tears at our funerals, then wipe them away. We pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and move on. We grab normality and cling to it by our fingernails.

Conventional Israeli wisdom dictates such conduct to us. Any hint of a chink in our coping facade increases the enemy’s resolve and heightens his glee, goes the logic.

Thus, hours after a terrorist attack, our journalists return to the site and are impressed: with the traffic jams, the hustle and bustle, the already-underway renovations to the demolished premises. It won’t be long, they predict, before the place will be filled to capacity again, just as it was on the night of the bombing. And they are invariably right.

But I have my doubts. We may be digging our own graves with this stiff upper-lipping. The world hears of our losses, and then sees that we’re functioning just fine, thank you. They couldn’t possibly be victims, it figures. Hold the sympathy.

It is now the start of the week of the shiva, the customary Jewish mourning period. My son and daughter are helping to keep the bereaved family surrounded by visitors. It was the same at our own house the week of our shiva. Seated on low chairs all day long, we told and retold again and again about our 15-year-old treasure with a heart of gold, felled by monsters with hearts of stone.

The adults came and went. But my children’s friends stayed all day during that week. Israel’s children are grappling with adult-size grief.

Other children are saddled with adult-size hatred. We watched news footage of Palestinian children in Gaza after last week’s massacre. They laughed, waved ecstatically at the camera and passed out candies. So much to celebrate: Two suicide bombings and 15 Israelis dead, all in one day.

America, remember those jubilant Palestinian children and the education they have received: the school maps that carry no mention of Israel; the Hamas summer camps that train them for battle; the school skits re-enacting suicide attacks; the miniature replicas of the Sbarro pizza shop where my daughter Malka died; the ubiquitous portraits of the murderous martyrs.

So before you send us your next road map or peace plan, ask: Will it manage to deprogram these children? Will it revamp their school curriculum? Because without that there will be no peace. They are the next generation of suicide bombers, well primed and eagerly waiting in the wings.

Frimet Roth is a New York-born freelance writer living in Jerusalem.

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