Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Israelis are generally friendly, warm and happy to have guests over. You don’t have to call in advance, just show up and knock on the door.

But there is also a different kind of knock on the door. One that is never welcome. In fact, it is every family’s nightmare.

Last night a family in Haifa was getting ready to go to bed. Galit and her four children ages 6-14, were going through their habitual motions, the same as any other evening. The only thing different was that Galit’s childhood sweetheart, husband, father of her children, was away in the south of the country, on reserve [military] duty.

Dinner, baths, possibly a TV program or a movie. The things every family does.

There was no forewarning, nothing to raise alarm or concern. Dudi hadn’t gone off to fight in a war, of course he would come back… The news that a military helicopter crashed would not have reached his family. The news was only released this morning. 

One moment life is completely normal and then, a knock on the door changes things forever.

Can you imagine that knock on the door, when no one is expected to show up? Looking out, you see military uniforms and somber faces. Your heart begins to race. This is the experience you have heard about from others. The one experience you never dared think about, horror of horrors, the event you never want to have happen to you. But it is happening. This time, the nightmare is yours.

Do you dare open the door? If you let them inside you know your life will be shattered. You don’t want to hear what they came to tell you. At the same time, you know that slamming the door in their face will not undo the reality that is about to step in to your home.  

Did Galit hope they were going to tell her that her Dudi had been injured? Were her children next to her when she was notified?

If your child is asleep when you find out that your husband is dead and will never come home again, do you wake up the child or do you let the child sleep to give him or her a few more hours of innocence?

The IDF never leaves a bereaved family to cope alone. A trained team goes to notify the family face to face. They are the ones who take the brunt of the family’s initial shock and all the emotions that rise up as a result – anything can happen from tears, rage, to physical collapse that necessitates emergency medical treatment.

I have heard so many stories of this awful moment. People who opened the door and understanding what they were about to be told, instinctively slammed the door, as if that would keep the awful news away. One mother told me that when she was notified, she fainted. When she revived she found herself lying on her couch but it seemed like she was in a black pit with demons pushing her down. She couldn’t get up, couldn’t hear anything that was happening around her.

I will never forget the teenager who described how the night before they were notified that his brother had been killed, he and his mother felt physically ill. The next day he was sitting in the window of their home and he saw the uniformed team walking to their door. He flew out of the house, screaming at them to go away, to not come any nearer to his home. He did not want to hear what he knew they were going to tell him. He did not want his mother to have to face them. He screamed at them in rage. They calmed him, hugged him and took him inside to speak with the rest of his family.

What a horrible job.

It takes unfathomable depths of spirit to be capable of embracing and containing the pain of families ripped apart.

I did not know Maj. David “Dudi” Zohar or his family but he is (was) a well-known figure in Haifa. He was a Hebrew Reali School alumnus. His four children attend the Reali school (the same school mine attended). The school has a Remembrance Wall for each student / graduate killed during IDF duty or in terror attacks. Dudi’s will be the 302nd name added to the wall.

Dudi Zohar was a highly appreciated figure in Elbit Systems where he worked for the last 13 years. Just a few short hours before the tragic helicopter crash Dudi was filmed for an internal project in Elbit, geared to support and encourage leadership. He explained his perspective on camera, saying: “Talents are a good starting point. No one is born to be on top. Those who attain the top are born talented but also must work very hard. Talents are the minimal starting point. After that, everything depends on work, guidance and faith… a leader must be brave and have enough daring. His [or her] responsibility is to coach others.” 

I didn’t know Dudi but, in a way, I do know him. He is family I never met. His are the qualities that built this country, raised up new leaders and protected our future. He served his people in the IAF and in civilian life. His death bites chunks out of the lives of many who will continue to live but will always have a gap where the man they once knew should have been. The husband, the father, the friend, the advisor, the mentor…. Gone.

I don’t know Galit or her children but I can’t stop thinking about the knock on their door. My heart aches for their pain.

And I hope to God that knock never comes to my door.


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