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The Beaufort Family

The letters and stories of families affected by the incident at the Beaufort.

"As soon as the IDF's operational plan was adjusted and the main thrust was redirected to the Akiye Bridge, there was no special urgency to neutralizing the Beaufort. Amir Drori's war-room staff grasped this fact after the invasion had started and tried to postpone the Golani attack. Drori considered bypassing the fortress. The Chief of Staff happened to be in the command's war-room when the subject came up, and he personally confirmed the postponement. Drori issued an order not to go through with the Beaufort operation that night, but for some reason it never reached the Golani commando. The order was simply swallowed up, misplaced, or forgotten somewhere down the line. After the war, an investigation was held to find out why the order failed to reach its destination but the results were inconclusive.

At midnight, therefore, when urgent requests for helicopters to evacuate the wounded from the Beaufort resounded through his war-room, General Drori and Lieutenant-General Amos Katz, his chief of staff, were thoroughly bewildered....The requests were received by a Lieutenant-General who shot back the question: `Are you certain it's the Beaufort?' He was sure that the order to postpone the assault had reached its destination quite some time earlier."


Quoted from the book written by Ehud Ya'ari and Ze'ev Schiff: " Lebanon War of Deception"

From Raya Harnick June 1, 1983

Ramah and Yehoshua, what can I say that I haven't said already? I feel like I've known you and Yaron for so many years. It's inconceivable that a year has gone by. Why, just yesterday they were still with us. I think of King David's lament over the death of his son, Absalom, "Were it only me instead of you", of the low price he offered. If it were me instead of Goni, or instead of Yaron, you know I'd gladly make that kind of a bargain and come away feeling I was a big winner. You see, they had their whole lives ahead of them, while my whole life is shadowed by their being and their loss.

I think of Yaron and of Gil. They were like little chicks, still soft and covered in downy feathers. I think of Avikam and how multi-talented he was, of Yossi and Razi, and all the rest and I truly wish that it could have been my life instead of theirs...Take a flower for me when you go visit Yaron on Monday, and shed a tear for me as well...

 

June 18, 1983

 It's late at night now, so please excuse me if this letter is a bit unfocused. After our conversation this morning, I was thinking that somewhere along the line we're basically deceiving ourselves. People are always asking, where do you find the strength -- to deal in politics, to publish the booklet, to plan the memorial evening -- and, well, the truth is I don't have the strength not to! I think we have to be honest about it. It's been a year in which both you and I have been dealing obsessively in matters pertaining to our sons. The year is over, and we've completed the concrete tasks that we'd set out for ourselves. But although this outer circle closes, something integral is still missing. The wounds are still open, and there's no less of a need to engage in activities relating to our sons.

Society expects us to "get back" to living, and perhaps this is what we expect of ourselves as well, but either we can't or we don't want to. So, Yehoshua, I think it's no coincidence that you're writing letters for Yaron's memorial album. You, too, go on trying to address certain questions. And you need the answers, even if they bring pain, because they relate to Yaron. And as long as we can engage in these activities in a dignified manner, then I see no reason to stop. Sometimes I get the feeling that the number of years that we'll need before we are able to let them go will be equal to the number of years we raised them, devoting to them our love, thoughts, and feelings. And, in the end, they will be reunited with us, biologically-speaking, and maybe then we'll feel some sense of completion. Then we'll be able to live and die along with them and not alone.

But don't caught up with all this every year. You're under no obligation, nor am I, nor is anyone else. We had them for more then a year, and they won't disappear after one year. Our pain is what's left of them. I don't want to let go of the pain because if I do then Goni will be lost forever. As long as it hurts, he's still here. And the same is true in terms of Yaron.

 

June 27, 1983 To Ya'akov Guterman

Ya'akov, my friend, you carry a heavier burden than I. You lost a son after the Holocaust! But you must find a direction, you mustn't remain too long in the depths of pain and suffering. You must give them up. You can return to them in times of need, but you simply cannot allow yourself to remain down there.

 

The following is a letter I sent towards the end of my stay in the United States. 

December 1983. To the Beaufort Family -- parents and dear friends.

It's a cold, cloudy Sunday and I'm at a railroad station that runs parallel to the Hudson River. I'm waiting for some friends who are going to pick me up and take me to their place. On a steep hill across the bridge there's a park and trees shedding their leaves; I look all around it and at the river running to New York and into the Atlantic Ocean. I had time to spare, so the whole time I spent climbing over and walking through the thick blanket of leaves. Above the trees crows are calling, and above the water sea-gulls. I'm so sad here. I really wish that Yaron were here instead of me. And I need you all so much, to hear your voices, to have your support, to share our feelings. Although I'm far away, I can see you all, everyone at home, with their respective families.

I don't know what's so special about today. Was it riding the train on such a dismal day? The water racing in the river, and the thoughts racing in my head? Maybe it's my incessant dreaming, repeatedly taking me back home, to Israel, the family -- and Yaron. Maybe it's the fact that I was up late last night getting material ready for the publisher who's going to publish Yaron's album in English...and what goes around, comes around, except for Yaron...

And I translated a poem by Yehuda Amichai last night. I take it with me -- it provides me with strength when times are hard.

 

Now As The Water Surges

Now as the water surges
Against the walls of the dams
Now, as the white storks, homing,
Turn in mid-sky into jet squadrons;
Once more we shall feel the strength in our ribs,
And how stout the warm air in our lungs
And how bold you must be to love in the open plain
While towering dangers are arched above,
And how much love is needed
To fill the empty vessels
And the clocks that have ceased to tell time
And how much breath
To the very end of breath
To sing this little song of spring.

 

Poem written by Yehuda Amichai

 

And maybe it's because I agreed to speak with a Garin [settlement group] made up of young men and women, ages 25-32, who are getting prepared to make Aliya to kibbutz within the next six months. It must be everything put together. The truth is that as I go around promoting the various causes I have taken on, I feel that I'm learning. But beyond this, I feel that I'm sending a message -- about us -- about Israel -- that is clear: Here and everywhere, we need to enlarge the ranks of the constructive forces for peace and development.

It's possible that the built-up sadness I feel today is a result of the high level of tension that comes with the type of connections I've had these past few weeks; I'm always on the go. Maybe it's the gathering in store for me a few days from now: My friends in New York all set to hear about Yaron, and about us. They may even be willing to take action in some small way.

So, maybe when all is said and done, I have to give thanks once more for the tears that flow, opening me up, helping drain my pressures and ease my grief.

Please forgive me for not writing sooner, as well as for the sad tone of this letter. There's still no other way for me to write. I don't hold it against you that you didn't write me. I live and breathe each and every one of you; you're so very important to me, I like to think that we all truly feel that way, and that the feeling travels across great distances with no need for words. Roaming around as I am, I still don't expect to receive any letters, but believe me, I'm looking forward to seeing you, being with you and speaking with you upon my return. 

Embracing You,

Lovingly Yours,

Yehoshua

 

 May 25, 1984

Dear Donna Harnick,

Your letters always speak to me. In just a few words, you're able to say what really matters. Since we met, your letters have been sad and honest, and they deserve a reply.

Your letter, which arrived in between the two days of remembrance [for Holocaust victims and for fallen soldiers; the days fall several weeks apart], helped me clarify a few things. You explained why Ramah and I are so important to you. I'd like to explain why you and Ro'i are so vitally important to us. As long as it's mutual, because there may come a day when you'll feel the need to change direction -- make new contacts -- seek out different people; you'll be important to us then, too, but it will be as an extension of the past. Reading your letter, I began to think, what's really left of Yaron, or of Goni?

Memories, dreams, feelings -- they're all intangible. They come and go as they please. Pictures, diaries, poems, letters, and other things they wrote, and things that other people wrote to and about them. Their possessions are left, a book, an article of clothing, a drawing. The memories are essentially intangible. Things in writing have one other drawback: They may be signed, but by their very nature they are also sealed; they shut things away and bring them to a close.

It turns out that, of all that's left of those we held dear, there's nothing more valuable than the people whom they held dear. Yaron had good friends to whom he was connected; now they keep up contact with us. And they are the ones who carry on the memory of Yaron, Goni, and all the others to the greatest extent possible. Despite all the differences between you two and Yaron, it is through your visits that we continue to sense his existence, even when we don't mention him whatsoever. Because, basically, you are living the life that he might have had.

Yaron had all sorts of friends, male and female. It turns out that our ties with you and Ro'i are the most profound. We feel close to you even when you're far away. In your letter, you write with great fervor about survival. In order to get back to living normally you have to expend all the grief within you. On the other hand, the time comes (and it's a different, albeit finite, length for each of us) when you have to go through a process of saying good-bye: The ability to live the present without forgetting, but also without being constantly fixated on the image of our loved-one. It's an extremely difficult process. A wise Greek man once said that had he to choose but one virtue, he would choose the ability to see things in perspective. He chose well, but how do you place the right perspective on the past, present, and future? The problem is not a simple one, but neither is it insoluble.

It's not easy to give our lives direction; nor is it easy to find help in books, even by the most brilliant authors, but there's no doubt that you can find help there. On the subject of survival, you should read or reread Samuel Pisar's book, Of Blood and Hope.

Concerning the anniversary here on Ein-Dor. I'll say it in no uncertain terms -- don't feel obligated to come. You have your own day of remembrance. One can bear only so much pain and sorrow. We'll know that you're with us. We'll just have more time to spend with you if you come a different day. Anyway, there's never really any time at these formal occasions to break away and talk. If you decide to come, you'll be more than welcome, and if you'd like, you can stay the night by us so that you can stick around for the meeting with Lova Eliav [a highly-regarded figure on the Israeli dovish left] that evening. The theme is "The Role of `Peace' in the Jewish Heritage". 

Fondly Yours,

Yehoshua

 

P.S. I reread your letter and I'd like to say a few more words...Since David is away doing army reserve duty in Lebanon, we've been helping our daughter, Tamar, with our granddaughters, Maya and Maude. As a result, we've been more active than we've been for a long time, more or less since Yaron was a baby. But we're always occupied with life and living.

Donna, do you realize that the forces of life within all this activity outweigh the forces of death! As for you, why do so belittle the value of the things you've done these past two years? Completing your work in reconnaissance; helping educate children both disadvantaged and neglected. What does "doing" mean? Manning the barricades? Don't you dare put down the things you've done, nor the work Ro'i has done as a counsellor in Kedma. If Mitzvahs [good deeds; the word also denotes commandments from God] are still being done in this country, then you're the ones doing them. If there are still modest people not looking for headlines, then your co-workers are among them. There are other things to be accomplished, too. But you're out there on the front lines.

Once in a while, I ask myself why it is that we have relatively weak ties with the members of Yaron's age-group here on the kibbutz. Are they afraid that by calling up Yaron's image, their very existence is a burden upon us? Do they ask themselves, how is it that Yaron is gone and they're still here? Or are they unable to repeatedly cope with such a question...?

 

To the Beaufort Parents August 31, 1984

Here's the text of the tape I made at the hospital and sent to all the parents.

It's August 22, 1984, nine o'clock in the morning; The pain in my leg is causing me to stay in bed. For several months now, I've been hampered by physical pain which hasn't been unbearable. Let me now say good morning to my loving family: to Dita and Ya'akov, who must be working on the farm; to David and Mona, who might be in Tel Aviv, getting the apartment ready for the new year; to Raya, who's perhaps on her way to work at the radio station; to Ya'akov and Annie, who are so different -- Ya'akov off to the Al HaMishmar newspaper, to put together a newspaper for children, something nice, something that will make them feel good inside. It's sort of like the little booklet of poems that he put together for his daughter, Michali. He's really should publish it one day, so that lots of kids will be able to enjoy the stories and poems that he illustrated. And then there's Annie, who left the nursing profession, and now enjoys her work at their huge factory; to Fania and Avraham who we don't see enough of, despite their being the closest to us geographically: Fania is certainly plugging away in the kitchen, preparing food for Yossi's friends, and all the Golani reconnaissance soldiers, who stop when passing by to drop in and say "Hi". And Avraham is busy on the farm, in the fields and at the children's zoo he's been developing. And Ramah is making curtains for the new houses [being built on the kibbutz] and this, too, is a sign of life.

I asked Ramah this morning, why is it that people continued to writing letters once the audio cassette had been invented. You know, we're all much happier to receive a tape than a letter. True, letters are usually better structured, and a good graphologist can detect what a person is feeling through their handwriting. But from the start, you can't hide what you're feeling when people hear your voice. But who in the world wants to hide it? Most of us, actually...Anyway, I've started this tape in my head several times. And for a number of reasons.

I once heard about a doctor who, one morning, arose and wrote a book. He said that upon waking up in the morning he remembered a dream and that the entire book was written in this dream; he felt as if fate was commanding him to write. Lying here in pain these last few days, I feel that I want to say some things, and share them with you. And that's why I'm talking to you now. Unfortunately, my thoughts are confused and unstructured, maybe it's better that way...

There's a short story I'd like to tell you; it's from Zhiau Tese's book, Voices of Earth.

"There was once a man who was frightened of his shadow and abhorred his footprints. He would run to try to get rid of them. The more he quickened his step, the more footprints he made. As much as he increased his speed, his shadow stayed by his side. He thought to himself that he was still too slow, so, without a moment's rest, he ran at great speed, until he ran out of strength and died.

He didn't understand that his shadow would have disappeared had he stood in the shade. And had he stayed in place, he would not have left footprints. What a fool".

 

It's easier to read other people's stories than to write them yourself. What's particularly nice about this story is that it's all open, you can interpret things however you wish. It doesn't limit you or hem you in. And now, for our story.

It's not a new idea, although it's taken quite a long time since we first talked about it. Right after our sons died, we already had the feeling that we should publish a book together. David and Mona, in particular, tried to convince us of how important it was. At that time, we still weren't aware what the full cost of this damned war would be. Time has passed meanwhile and it looks like we each needed to live with the grief alone and "process" it at our own pace. Now that two years have gone by, maybe we can bring up the issue again.

That someone will read the book I can't say, but for us, the Beaufort Family, it's especially important that it be written. It's another way for us to deal with our grief, our pain, and our thoughts. It's clear that each of us is progressing at a different pace, and each carries his load in a different manner. Maybe I appear to be someone who carries it more easily than others. But my physical pain in the last few months has thrown open the floodgates in me. Every evening, I'm forced to return to that dreadful night at the Beaufort. Even to write about it is hard, and I'm sure that we've all experienced something similar and that we go on experiencing it. I feel like I'm now paying the price of this damned war. After all this time, I've just now realized that only now, when I can justify it physically, have I let myself yell and cry out loud...It's the cry of pain for a son that should be here, living with us, and growing older with his friends.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm doing wrong. Maybe I'm wrong for bringing all this up; I should have let everyone continue to move along at their own pace. And what's all this about a book? What possessed me to start talking about it all over again. And how could we even tell about the saddest thing that ever happened to us? And to think that someone would want to read it and learn from it, no less. And I'm looking for even more. I want the book to be so human, so genuinely Israeli, that whoever happens to read it will want to pick himself up at once and do whatever he or she can so that something like this will never happen again, at least not in our country.

I'm so naive, I'm so removed from what's being written in the papers about the upshot of the recent elections [in July 1984], the deep divisions within our nation. Still, there's not a soul who doesn't wish for his son a fate different from that of our sons. So, maybe, together, we can do something.

There is no one more qualified than us, the six families, to write about pain...I envision a book with four chapters.

Chapter One should be The Tale of the Six Families, who would never have met had their sons not been killed that night at the Beaufort. All of us are deeply rooted in the country, firmly settled. All of us came because we chose to come or stay, each of us following a different course. We all still dream about a land where you can live without burying your son, where you can live alongside your [Arab] neighbors who live here, too, and not fight a never-ending war.

Chapter Two might be The Beaufort Story -- conflicting interpretations of what happened that night on the Beaufort. Now that I've read Israel's Lebanon War by Ya'ari and Schiff, I've been thinking that maybe we should have asked them to write it...and until that time that the book is published, perhaps we should ask this poignant question: After it was written down for all to see that our sons fell in a battle that shouldn't even have been fought, in a war that should never have been waged, how is it that no one stood up, no one went to investigate, no one came to visit, no one paid his condolences!

Chapter Three, The Tale of the Extended Family, would be about the ties we've forged, and the letters we've exchanged. About matters personal and painful. Will we agree to reveal such things about ourselves? But if the book isn't genuinely personal, is anyone likely to read it? And even if they read it, will it have an impact? I still believe that whoever reads it will think over and over again about the heavy toll taken by war. In any event, I think that we have to try to say our piece, because it may be the most important contribution that we can singularly make for the sake of peace...Yes, we need to direct ourselves to all those parents happy that their sons came back unharmed from the Lebanon War and to those whose sons have not yet been drafted. Yes, and also to that father who wrote me that "...since the day my son was born, I've felt like he's been given to me in trust for eighteen years..." Maybe together we can manage to do something. Despite the fact that Ya'akov Guterman says that we're the world's most beaten army. We are six families, we have lots of strength, together.

Chapter Four would be about our sons. It's title would be a gruesome one: When Will We Stop Burying Our Sons? But it would contain the most beautiful things that our sons ever said, wrote, drew, or were, as well as things said about them by others. It would be worthwhile to try and address the question of what brought them to the Beaufort, what drew them to elite reconnaissance?

We mustn't allow the book to look like a plea for pity. The book must have truth, it must be about people seeking direction: Can we ensure that we'll never have to bury our sons! Of course, we'll have to get together and give some thought in terms of making the book's contents acceptable to all.

 

 

 

From Raya. September 5, 1984 

Did you realize that when you started your tape, you said the "twenty-second of August, 1982"? I don't need Freud to explain that to me. It's obvious that we're all still stuck in 1982. You're constantly offering definitions of "working through the grieving process", and "coping". But I've given up. I don't believe that either time or psychology or anything else can do something about the feeling I have of being ripped at the seams. What I've learned and am still learning to do is to hide it better. But on the inside I'm falling to pieces. It's a process that will be with me my whole life and I have to live with it like you live with old-age or an illness; the only sure thing is that one day it'll all be over. Meanwhile, you have to maintain your dignity [used in English in the original Hebrew text] as much as you can. There's no word like it in Hebrew. Fulfilling your responsibilities to both the living and the dead to the greatest extent possible.

You see, there was a time I really did know: What I wanted, how to raise children, what's important, and what isn't. But now I really don't know. The mistake, it appears, was so large and so irreparable that I can't even say "I know" about much less important matters.

It isn't hope that holds me together. It's stubbornness. Sometimes I feel that people would like me to go away, disappear, or at least shut up, but I must be imagining things. But, I'm not going anywhere, and I'll go on crying out. And as long as I'm here, then I'm alive and there's a part of Goni within me (even if only genetically), and I won't let him be killed again. Because I'd go insane after that, I'd cease to exist.

I was talking with an acquaintance who told me the story about when King David prayed and fasted for his ailing son. After they told him that his son had died, he ceased his lamentations, washed himself off and had something to eat. When asked to explain his actions, he replied: "As long as he was alive, I did whatever I could to save him; there's nothing I can do now that he's dead". When I got home I looked up the story in the Old Testament, where I discovered King David's last sentence, too. I wrote my acquaintance a poem, and I enclose it within this long and rambling letter to you:

 

"Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."

(Second Book of Samuel, Chapter 12, Verse 23.)

 

Still I go to him

But he shall not return to me

Still my steps are harsh

On the last road where he was borne

Still the wind makes the pines sound off

Up above his grave

And as long as I breathe

I shall go to him

For he shall not return to me.

 

 

Not all parents send their sons to war. There are parents
who refuse to and they don't have a choice. Even in Israel,
there are parents who haven't come to terms with it. Maybe
they don't make enough noise, but I believe they're out there.
I can't forget the time I saw Ya'akov Guterman on television;
Ya'akov's son was killed in the Lebanon War. What he said
is still ringing in my ears. He said, I know that within this plot
of land lays the beautiful body of my son. These were the
words he used, the beautiful body of my son. I can't forget it.
And you realize that somebody sent him out there, to the
Beaufort, to his death.

From an article in the dialy newspaper "Yediyot Achronot" by Yehudit Handel

 

October 1984 From Ya'akov Guterman

My ability to concentrate is nearly non-existent and it's even hard to write a close friend a simple letter. Many times I catch myself sitting and staring out aimlessly...

I'd like to overcome these weaknesses; I'd like to resume regular activities; I tell myself: Don't you dare hold your son Raz's death responsible for anything! Do you hear? For anything! Sometimes I catch myself confessing to close friends, saying, "...before Raz was killed, I used to...but now...," and when I'm later by myself, I am pervaded by the anger I feel towards myself and I say to myself again and again, you're not allowed, not allowed, not allowed! Certainly, the last thing that Raz would have wanted is for you to fall apart, to have his death bring this, that, and the other upon you...maybe, and I'm thinking out loud here, it's just that our hidden, latent weaknesses, that hadn't been so apparent, have suddenly burst out like evil beasts from their cage, claiming their freedom. That's one side of it. From another angle, there really seem to be some things too hard for us mortals to ever surmount. Something trivial, for example: Once I used to love running happily on the paths of the fruit orchards; I was quite devout about it, running through nearly the entire year, sometimes even in the rain...Several times this year, I forced myself to get back to it, and it always ended not long after in a feeling of mental anguish. You don't have to be a prominent psychologist to provide a precise diagnosis: The entire basis for all these desperate efforts of ours is faulty and unstable, hence our failures. We've simply lost our lust for living, our attachment to the life flowing around us and within us, the same life in which, before the deluge, we found reason and purpose.

Excuse me for suddenly shifting to writing in the plural, but this dark feeling seems to exist in all of us, not just in me. I'm not going to write about how we've spent the holidays [the major holidays of the Jewish people fall in September-October], because we're surely all in the same boat, and aside from differences in nuance, I suppose that for all of us he holidays are unbearable. Apropos of comments I've made above: Last night, watching a holiday special from Kibbutz Sa'ad, I was surprised to see the mother of Ya'ir Fruchter (may he rest in peace); she was appearing as a soloist in the kibbutz's singing group (by the way, she has a quite a fine voice). Her wounds are my wounds; her tragedy is my tragedy; and I know from meeting with her that her pain is my pain. Consequently, I was amazed at how people like her can elicit the latent emotional strength to help them try and reconnect to life. Where do they draw this strength?!...

Here's another small confession that perhaps will somewhat point out the differences between us, for, nonetheless, differences do exist between different people (and how could it be otherwise?): As far back as I can recall, I've loved to sing; singing was always a sort of great love of my life. Maybe it's more accurate to say: An integral part of my life; an integral part of my personality. Since Raz fell in battle, my voice hasn't sung one note of music, not a one. Just the thought of singing makes me shudder...which goes to show you how many different ways we all struggle with ourselves and how profound the difference is between our varying degrees of success and failure...This last blow seems to be too much for me...

 

February 19, 1985 From Ya'akov Guterman.

The bitter bonds of fate, which were forged between us up on the Beaufort heights, tie us together with inseverable bonds, but with all my heart, I do believe that even if we had just met each other under regular circumstances (and how painful it is when you realize that it's such a shame that the circumstances were not very regular...), even then the same emotional chemistry would have been active among us. With all my heart I believe this to be so.

I know you now for quite some time, but you have this quality that's so special about you that stirs me time and time again: Your search for meaning in life, and your attempt to fill life with meaningful, humane values. This, I believe is a trait born of humanity and nobility, in the truest sense of the words.

As well as I know myself, I seem to have never delved into the meaning of my life. I've always endeavored to be an honest man, and to adhere to a life doctrine that has seemed to be just and humane (atheism, Zionism, socialism, tolerance of other nationalities, etc.), but I've never tried to put my life into a kind of conceptual Shulhan Aruch [a reference to the Jewish code of religious laws].

What's more, I have a pretty pessimistic outlook on life (even though I was always kind of a rascal, and many people must have viewed me as someone who looks out on the world brightly and optimistically).

The few times I've tried to focus on the meaning of life, I've always found myself repulsing those theories that seek to endow humanity with some kind of social or religious mission, or any kind of ideational mission. I've always been convinced, and I still maintain this opinion today, that a human being enters the world like any other animal, exists on this world a certain number of decades, works and endeavors, hurries and rushes about, struggles and suffers, and disappears and passes on, as if he had been dust and had never existed at all.

"Vanity of vanities," said the wisest among men, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity...there is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after..." (Ecclesiastics, Chapter 1).

True, we can't allow ourselves to live like beasts (and how many people do!). I believe that in a world that's warped and filled with suffering such as ours, we can't allow ourselves to live in isolation, we must reach out to our fellow man and try to construct a society that's as humane and just and beautiful as possible. But I don't feel that these remarks are in contradiction to the basic way I conceive the world, which says that there's no inherent purpose to life.

If I may put to you in a ridiculously simplistic manner: You weren't given a target to aim for when you came into this mortal existence of yours, but as long as your living, make it a life of beauty, in the humane and moral sense of the word. Don't bother others, and try and contribute to their welfare as far as your abilities and talents allow. I've always been guided by these ideas, but I haven't viewed them as an inherent philosophic aim, but just a simple way of life. We all know that our lives must certainly end. I've always seen that end lurking just behind the door, and that vision has always caused my life to be pervaded by a sense of tragedy. That end has cast its long shadow over my entire life and has imparted to it a touch of the absurd.

If that's the end to life, then what do all our labors and struggles mean? Not without reason have I loved the book of Ecclesiastes for so many years and viewed it as a work of genius... The sense of hunger I always had teaching this book to my class! I'm sure that, with the enthusiasm I felt teaching Ecclesiastes, some part of my great love for the book has rubbed off on my pupils.

I'll tell you something else, Yehoshua: Since Raz died, I've asked myself countless times: How can it be?! How can it be that I sleep, eat, work, walk about -- exist?

One of the main rational thoughts that has helped me maintain my sanity, and I remember it clearly since those first minutes when a friend held tightly on to my arm, so that I wouldn't collapse onto the floor, and whispered the verdict into my ear, since that damned moment, I find comfort in this sentence, short and sweet: We are all ephemeral. Imagine what it would be like for us if it weren't for that certainty. I can't believe that any of us could have born the thought that an eternal life on this planet was awaiting our wonderful children, and that some fiend robbed them of it. Who could undergo such a thing and not go crazy? It's hard enough for us as it is to endlessly bear our cross...

That's enough! Every time that I talk or write about all this, my conscience troubles me: I'm a vile character, so despicably self-centered -- so focused on my individual suffering and my personal pain?! Is that what's important?! I don't think we have the right. "Vanity of vanities," said the wisest among men, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity...there is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after..." (Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1).

I think that whatever remnants of emotional energy we still have should be saved for the tragic and heroic attempt by which, in spite of the difficulty, we try to preserve something for our living children and their spouses; for the social and political struggle to save other young men and build them a nation that's sane and a society that's decent. My brother, I agree with every single thing you wrote in your letter! May we find the strength to accomplish them all!

The last few days I've been taking a turn for the worse, both physically and mentally, but I'm trying to fight it. You two, the Scherfs, and the others give me wonderful examples to copy. I look at you all as my closest of family (and I'll leave it at that so as not to get carried away and get too sentimental)! Let each of us find within him or her the strength of spirit needed so that we may hold on and continue to support one another, for there's no one in this world more in need of it than us.

I intended to write about less complex matters, more prosaic things maybe having to do with how things are going in life, but God damn it, here I am wallowing in mud so sublime.

Right now, my cute little Raz is looking over my shoulder and wearing that mischievous smile that I miss so much, he's telling me: Dad, give it a rest...what the hell are you being so philosophical about...take life as it comes and live it...Once, in some chance conversation, he really did say that to me.

I'm clasping your hand really hard. And please give Ramah a kiss for me. 

Very Lovingly Yours,

Ya'akov

 

 May 26, 1985 From Mona and David Scherf.

Greetings Ramah and Yehoshua!

Once again, we're all situated at the beginning of the Jewish month of Sivan [the Jewish lunar month which starts in May and ends in June]. The moon is still just a sliver, but it will become larger until it's full and once more will shine as it did on the night our sons fell...because the orders not to take the Beaufort didn't arrive...For us, that night has become never-ending, it follows us all day, every day.

On June 6th, we must also remind others of what happened. Because this date is not just any day on the calendar. What do you think of this idea: That each year, on the day of the battle for the Beaufort, a different family would write something? We think that the title should be "The Battle for the Beaufort" and that all the rest should be left to the ones doing the writing. We're enclosing what we've written, so that you'll get it before it's printed. What do you think of the idea? 

Sadly and Lovingly

Mona and David

 

Most Israelis, however, seemed to feel only numb. Lebanon became the war everybody wanted to forget. As Shlomo Gazit, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, once said to me,, "There would never be an Israeli Pentagon Papers for the Lebanon War. Too many people were guilty," he explained. Too many people and too much party politics were involved. "It is part of the rules of the game," said Gazit. "We should not embarrass each other to the very end. We cannot afford to go into a commission on Lebanon and hope to continue working together. We cannot allow ourselves to be demoralized completely. The cost is that the lessons may not be learned, but even if we have a commission, the lessons may not be learned."

Instead of really learning from the war together, Israelis explained it away--each according to is own politics--just enough to be able to forget about it.

Quoted from Thomas Friedman's book: "From Beirut to Jerusalem"

 

November 16, 1985

From Raya.

In reference to my conversation with Yehoshua on the closing day of the International Conference on Bereavement, held in Jerusalem, I'd forgotten the term in English that they were always using. It wasn't "separating" exactly, it was "letting go" [used in English in the Hebrew text], and that's precisely the thing I can't do. Separating just might be possible (and I wish it were!), but for me "letting go" is totally out of the question. Perhaps the reverse is true: Ever since he was a little boy, Goni acted like a grown-up and he was always quite independent, and for this reason I'm internalizing him more and more. The idea of having such an integral part of me vanish like fog and only being left with the pleasant memories seems an unspeakable peril. As opposed to what was said at the symposium, I don't have any problem with my memories of Goni. I can look at photographs of him, speak about him, come across his belongings (my entire house is filled with things he built, assembled, etc.), and it doesn't make me cry (maybe that's too bad...), it's a part of my life. And it's been that way from the beginning. In a way, it's like what Donna said to you about Meir right after the war: "Goni remained in the house". The problem is just that he didn't only remain in the house, he's growing inside me, too, and it's getting harder for me to tell the two apart.

It's true that, as opposed to you, perhaps, I feel that by a certain age children have certain obligations towards their parents, and it stops being a one-way street. I wouldn't have taken the news of Tamar and Naomi's trip so calmly, perhaps not so much because of my own problems but more out of a doubt whether this was a sign of independence or of escape. Offspring must feel obligated to their parents, not because they were raised by them, but because no adult relationship can survive when only one party is doing the giving (love, attention, praise, consideration, and, when you live in the city, money), while the other party is "merrily living its life". I have done a lot of thinking on the subject, and my feeling is that it didn't used to be this way, and that maybe it's partly the influence of what's referred to as "Dr. Spock babies", whereby parents allowed their children to feel that all that parents, or society, were asking of them was to be "happy" (a difficult mission, and well-nigh impossible) and by doing that they'd fulfill our expectations.

This is such an arduous task that they come to feel that just by searching for happiness they've already complied with their parents' demands. I fear that there's also a little anger mixed up in it -- because their burden is so hard to define, it might be easier for them to understand if their parents wanted or asked for something more tangible, like financial support, or to pay a daily visit, or to call once a week, something that you can do, something visible, so that if you've done it, you've done well. (A friend of mine, whose mother was very old, once told me: "If I only devoted to my mother the amount of time that I devote to the guilt I feel about her, it would be better for both of us.")

But, in terms of Goni, it's obvious that the guilt only travels in one direction. And my feeling of owing him, and of not even being able to accomplish the little that can be done (like this book, for instance, something I'm becoming obsessive about), and of him not being able to defend himself, all the elements that exist, essentially, between a mother and her baby, they make up a totally different kind of relationship. There's so much unfinished business between him and me, and it requires so much emotional energy, that I'm really left with very little strength. Like a damaged computer, half of me is always spewing out thoughts about what I should have done, where I'd failed, and sometimes, when I've gotten really exhausted, this computer just sends out a stream of empty print-outs, all that's written upon them is Goni, Goni...It really wears me down, and I don't know how to make it stop, even worse, I'm not sure I want to make it stop, and then my energy runs out, or maybe it fuses with his, and because I have so little strength left, everything else (and not the things on the surface, per se) seems difficult and oppressive.

I don't think I've "taken advantage" of grief, used it as an excuse. Any rehabilitation counselor would be quite proud of how well I was "functioning". I'm working, I'm writing (something I didn't do before Goni's death). I try to help those who turn to me for assistance.

No, no, I haven't taken advantage of grief. Maybe grief has taken advantage of me. But, when I mention that my emotional strength is at less than zero, it's not that I'm legitimizing in me a type of behavior which I found unacceptable both then and now (perhaps I'm more tolerant when I see this behavior in others, but I'm quite cautious not to get sucked into it myself). So, what's this long, apologetic letter really all about? Maybe it's just because Yehoshua got so angry at me on Thursday. I am no longer of the opinion that these kind of things can be learned through books or in scholarly conferences, even so I'll read the book, The Family Crucible, even though I think I was misunderstood by Yehoshua (that has to be my fault for not properly explaining...), so, anyway, as for me, I love you all very much.

See you on Saturday,

Raya

 

 June 9, 1986 From Dita

I must admit, I still have a hard time seeing it all as part of a process advancing ever more -- into our past and that of our children. Maybe it's because I don't think so much in the abstract, and maybe it's because time and time again, the physical absence sends me reeling, and upsets every single aspect of my life.

 

July 1, 1987 

Dear Mona,

Hard times are upon us. At a time like this, with David lying in Rambam Hospital in Haifa, and no hope left of saving his life, what can I say that you don't already know? What good are words at a time like this?

Where will you find the strength to get through the hours and days to come? How can I be so pretentiousness as to think that I have something to impart to you? Why am I writing you when tomorrow morning I'll be back by your side, yours and David's? What makes me so sure that I'm not just making things harder on you? Dear Mona. We've gone through a lot together, these past five years, much of it tragic, and even though you've been blessed with such a large, extended family, you told us more than once that only we are capable of understanding one another, of voicing and hearing the things that we find truly dear and important. Allow me to dive down to the depths of a sea of pain and fear...and hope. Yes, hope. I said to David on Sunday: "You did everything a man could do". And David replied: "And I haven't stopped". When Ramah and I said good-bye this afternoon, he said: "This is what it's all about"...

On Sunday, Mona, you said, "I know what his real condition is. The previous regression wasn't as bad; this one is pretty bad, and the best thing you can say about the next one is that it'll be worse". Although it's hard to speak these words, David will only be able to keep fighting a little while longer; his spirit will fight to the very end, but his body has betrayed him and the doctors are powerless to save him. The days and hours that remain are so precious for all of us, for David, for you, for Hagai, for your immediate family, and for us, the Beaufort family. From now on, it's important that each of us to try and say good-bye to David, and take our leave from him. We'll each go at our own pace and do it as best we can, but as long as David's mind is sound, even if it's only for a few minutes, we should try and talk with him, and take pride in both of you for every minute of the lives you've led with such great meaning. Proud of the wonderful abilities you've been blessed with -- to make the most out of every moment -- up until last Wednesday -- always doing what you believed to be correct -- even when confronted by colossal forces which you, no, we couldn't beat.

Try and read between the words, between the lines, Mona. Let your tears flow, even if they soak the pages. Look at every lucid moment left as a gift; you should make the most out of it and not lose it. Don't run away from the bitter truth that David won't be with us much longer. It's hard on you and Hagai, but it'll be much harder if you don't now approach every minute with an attitude of acceptance, even if words don't come easily.

On Sunday, I asked you what the subject of your master's thesis was and you replied: The History of the Poalei-Tzion [an early Socialist-Zionist movement] in Romania. I wondered why this topic merited your skills, and you said it was convenient and quite useful for the teacher because he had studied the subject, and then, dear Mona, you added: "And that way, maybe I can find out something more about my father..."

Now I understand better. You yourself gave the answer, pointed out the direction in which you should now be headed. It's been many years since your father disappeared from your life and now all you have left are some written fragments far away, that maybe you'll locate...

And right there before you, in your hands, and right before Hagai is your man, his father, and you can talk with him and say everything that has yet to be said. Before it's too late. While he's still sound of mind.

How do I dare give up on David's fight to stay alive? And yours? Who gave the right?

Our friend, Abie, spoke with the department's chief physician and he was told in language quite plain that the condition is terminal. The immune system does not, and cannot, function; he's been hemorrhaging, and it's going to continue. As long as the bleeding is in the body and at skin-level, David will be able to pull through. And that can go on for days, maybe even for a week or two. But if, God forbid, he should have a hemorrhage in his brain, there will be no time at all. The chief physician said that the doctor on shift would speak with you tomorrow. And if that's the case, then why am I writing you all this? Why don't I just wait for the doctor to say what he's got to say? The reason is that, according to my painful experience, a doctor might be a brilliant scientist, yet powerless or emotionally incapable of facing death; he may not know what really needs to be said or he may be unable to say it, and say it properly. I hope that this particular doctor is perfectly capable, but I'm not looking to take any chances, and so I've written, I'll come visit, and I'll do everything I can do.

 

August 7, 1987

Dear Ruvik,

Before anything else, I'd like to thank you for your book, "Silent Scream".

I read the book review in the paper sitting alongside David Scherf's bed in Rambam Hospital, Haifa, several days before he died. David was a member of Kibbutz Bet Zera, my friend from "the class of 1960" at the Oranim Seminary, and a brother in the Beaufort family. Since the Beaufort, and after the traumatic loss of two of his three sons, his internal immune system failed him. Four years ago, they discovered leukemia, and despite his courageous struggle ever since, his body wasn't up to the task that his spirit was.

Last night, in tears, I finished a first reading of your book, "Silent Scream". I don't know many books which deal with death so honestly and bring it into view for all those who have yet to stand the test, so that they can gain a little better understanding, feel it, not be afraid of the fear, and get on with being alive in the shadow of death. We have something else in common. Your lost your brother, and I my son. I find it hard to believe that you could have handled the subject of Eran's death had you not personally experienced the death of a brother. Your words are likely to help many people to express their love and emotion. Your book is a tribute to both to Eran's family and his kibbutz for attending to him in the way they did. Despite his many limitations, Eran was able to enrich the lives of those around him, and you found a way of bringing his marvelous nature across to the reader. You must be congratulated for having the skill and the emotional strength to accomplish such an undertaking.

I've only written a small portion of what I'd like to say to you, but I'd also like to ask something of you. Would you be "available" at this point to get involved with the Beaufort family? Is there a possibility that you'd be willing to consider editing our raw material? Do you think that our story might be of interest to you at this point in your life and career? If so, we'll be in touch so that we can find a way to get things moving. 

Fondly Yours,

Yehoshua

 

Ruvik Rosenthal decided to take it upon himself to write our book, The Beaufort Family. Following his decision, a meeting was held between him and the Beaufort parents at Kfar Yehoshua.

Ruvik acted as moderator, and without his moderation this important gathering could not have taken place. It was a gathering at which the Aliels rejoined us, making it possible for the first time to discuss differing political opinions. Ruvik's moderation was gentle yet did not allow the participants to avoid confronting the pain, the differences of opinion, and contrasting emotions. Ruvik discussed his approach to the book and said that it was also important for him to write it. He dealt with Mona's request that the book be first and foremost a book of remembrance for the boys and explained that this was impracticable. He explained that only through us could the boys be brought to life.

Ruvik concluded that the book would be about us; it would relate to the boys through our eyes, and only through our eyes. He couldn't say for now how it would turn out exactly, but he said he has all the material he needs to write it. From here on, he would have to try and disengage from us, and let the story take shape. The book would be about bereavement. And as someone who lost a brother, both meeting us and writing the book held great importance for him. The book would include the following elements: Our personal life stories, where we came from, what kind of places and families; the boys' encounter at the Beaufort, through which their story would be told -- the war itself and the battle for the Beaufort; and it would be about us, the Beaufort family, still together after six years. He'd like us to approve his conception of the book and his approach to it, to trust him, and not even read the book before its publication...He noted that there was no way to write the book without the Aliel family. While it was true that they were only one of seven families, they represented the opinions of approximately half the population of our country.

 

May 9, 1989

The program, Now's the Time, was aired on the eve of Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, following the publication of the book, The Beaufort Family. Here are some reactions I received over the telephone.

Yisrael Viener Told me that all the workers at Israel television were very moved. He told me also of a very interesting reaction expressed by parents whose sons are now serving in the [occupied] territories: "They derived encouragement from the program..."

Naomi Tzur, from Tivon. Was deeply moved by the program and maintains that she knows no other program on television quite as unique. In her mind, Avraham stood out from the rest precisely because of the simplicity of his words, which contrasted with how everyone else presented their thoughts. It's a shame that people this wonderful have to be the ones to pay this high a price. She didn't feel that the program lacked a direct, political message. From her standpoint, the human message, the intense feeling of loss, was extremely potent, and she and the rest of her family sat and cried throughout the entire program... 

My brother, Tzvika, from Kibbutz Hatzor. Said it's rare that a program should treat the subject of bereavement to such a degree, and not just concern itself with the boys. Many people on his kibbutz came up and told him how impressed and how moved they were by the program.

Abie, from Haifa. He was very impressed by the program, but, as he's said in the past, he neither needs, nor is he able, to share the pain of losing Tal with anyone. The same is true concerning the cemetery, too. He goes there to find communion at times and on days when others aren't around.

He doesn't believe in optimistic approaches to the human condition, and he's a far cry from accepting the attitudes currently more prevalent concerning the teleological nature of human existence. And the interrelation between this attitude and a belief in God is a concept certainly foreign to him. If there is a point to living, it must be to do whatever you can to give life meaning. The fact is that most of humanity shows an inclination for the bestial side of their nature. We should at least try and comprehend humanity and the world and, in so doing, elevate human life above that of barnyard animals.

How can you be optimistic after 14,000 senseless wars, replete with victims and suffering brought about at the hand of man? Existence has no purpose unless its given meaning by humanity. And, like Professor Leibovitz, he believes that, every nation-state is doomed to eventually turn to fascism, and that this is inherent in the way the nation-state is defined; and that all power corrupts, and it doesn't matter if it's held by the Right or by the Left. You see, the very existence of the state creates a legitimate need for an army to defend it...and the same is true for the state's bureaucratic apparatus which usually loses sight of the goal behind its existence, which should be to help support the existence of the individual. But, whether it's the Right in power or the left, their concern is to keep themselves in power, and nothing more.

And as for us? He is deeply hurt by the fact that more than half a million young people have left Israel. It's a pity that an historical experiment that could have been so thrilling ended up a failure.

He is hurt by the fact that people don't comprehend that an Arab mother's pain over the death of her son is no less important than the pain of a Jewish mother...

Raya Harnick Told me that the telephone in her house didn't stop ringing that night until four o'clock in the morning. When she asked people why they were calling so late, she was told that they had been trying to get in touch with her for hours but that the phone was always busy. So -- if she'd taken the phone off the hook, they wouldn't be disturbing her, and if she was still talking, then they too would just have to tell her how moved they were by the program...and, anyhow, they couldn't get to sleep.

Her son-in-law Yoav's mother told her that all day at school and in the teacher's lounge the program was the only thing people talked about, and this without people being aware of her relation to the Harnick family.

Similarly, Raya noted that when she arrived to work at the radio station, suddenly, after seven years, people treated her as if she'd just gotten back from sitting Shiva [literally meaning "seven", Shiva refers to the seven day period of mourning in which Jews traditionally sit in their homes and receive those who come to express condolences]. They brought her a chair to sit in...and when she asked them to bring some record albums, it was done quickly and pleasantly.

 

Ruvik We talked about the reverberations caused by the program, and I put forth another thought that I'd had in the wake of recent events. It seems to me that the intensity he brought to his work on the book (and perhaps another secret of its success) could be attributed to the fact that during this period, he wasn't only working through his grief over the death of his brother, Gidi, in the Yom Kippur War [of 1973]; at the same time, he was dealing with "losing" his kibbutz, a new loss for him and one of great importance. He was leaving his kibbutz after having identified with it so profoundly for such a long time.

He mentioned that it was extremely important for him that things were working out as they were and said that it gives him the faith and the strength he needs to keep on writing about subjects like this one. is defined; and that all power corrupts, and it doesn't matter if it's held by the Right or by the Left. You see, the very existence of the state creates a legitimate need for an army to defend it...and the same is true for the state's bureaucratic apparatus which usually loses sight of the goal behind its existence, which should be to help support the existence of the individual. But, whether it's the Right in power or the left, their concern is to keep themselves in power, and nothing more.

And as for us? He is deeply hurt by the fact that more than half a million young people have left Israel. It's a pity that an historical experiment that could have been so thrilling ended up a failure.

He is hurt by the fact that people don't comprehend that an Arab mother's pain over the death of her son is no less important than the pain of a Jewish mother...

  

Ruvik We talked about the reverberations caused by the program, and I put forth another thought that I'd had in the wake of recent events. It seems to me that the intensity he brought to his work on the book (and perhaps another secret of its success) could be attributed to the fact that during this period, he wasn't only working through his grief over the death of his brother, Gidi, in the Yom Kippur War [of 1973]; at the same time, he was dealing with "losing" his kibbutz, a new loss for him and one of great importance. He was leaving his kibbutz after having identified with it so profoundly for such a long time.

He mentioned that it was extremely important for him that things were working out as they were and said that it gives him the faith and the strength he needs to keep on writing about subjects like this one.

He concluded by saying that some good might still come out of all this pain...

The situation continues to evolve and to provide pleasant surprises.

And he writes in a short note dated May 14, 1989...The book's political impact is shooting ahead faster than we'd anticipated and it's hitting the right targets...

  

May 8, 1989

Irit Gal, the program's research assistant.

Replied to the accolades I'd bestowed upon her for her part in the program's success and to the fact that the public pays so little attention to the researchers, by saying that she's basically used to it by now.

She thought it was a shame that Dita didn't speak more than she did, about the trip to the Beaufort, for instance. In addition, too little time was allotted to a very important issue and that is the meaning of the family as a whole.

 

May 11, 1989

Mona, from Kibbutz Bet Zera.

When they finished taping the program, she was scared that we'd look as if we were sad souls pleading for pity, something she didn't want. She was also scared of not being able to handle being exposed to the outside world...In spite of all that, she was pleased with the positive response and she also expressed her opinion that the program and all that went along with it had brought the family even closer together.

She told me that there had been very favorable reactions to Ya'akov Guterman, who had come across as someone in great distress, and who had spoken like an artist. And she told me that Fania Aliel had called her at midnight to say how good the program was.

I talked with a great number of people both before and after the program was aired on television. Here are some of the thoughts that I had at the time. What lays behind the powerful response to the program? That's the real question. As I see it, the fact that we allowed ourselves to speak openly about the intimate issues of bereavement and loss apparently opened a flood-gate of repressed feelings built up for years within so many people who now sensed that it was all right to talk about it; a weight was now lifted from them, and thus they expressed their thanks...

My fear is that, paradoxically, the strength we demonstrate in how we relate to one another, and provide acceptance and support, is liable to eventually create the impression that it's not so terrible; and that, in as much as wars seem to continue on as a fact of life, there's no need to try and stop them from happening, for as you've seen on this program, you can still handle it, in spite of everything...

Here's another thought, sad and somewhat macabre. Sons who have been killed -- not only do they not grow older, and stay forever young, they can essentially never disappoint us, from now and forever. They embodied all our dreams and they will never shatter any of them.

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