UJA Federation, NY: Funerals in Jerusalem

by UJA Federation of New York CEO, Eric Goldstein

I’ve been friendly with Rabbanit Chana Henkin for more than 20 years. She’s the founder and dean of Nishmat, a groundbreaking institution of advanced Jewish studies for women in Israel.

Last Friday morning, together with thousands of others on Har HaMenuchot in Jerusalem, I attended the funerals of her son and daughter-in-law, Eitam and Naama Henkin. They were murdered the night before by Palestinian terrorists while driving home with four of their children, ages 9 years to 4 months old.

The funerals took place during the Sukkot holiday, typically among the most joyous and beautiful times of the year in Israel. Last Friday, though, was almost unbearably sad. Eitam was a brilliant Torah scholar. Naama, a gifted graphic artist, owned a design studio. As Rabbanit Henkin noted during the heartbreaking eulogy for her son, she always expected to be eulogized by him, not the other way around. Now, she and the other grandparents are responsible for raising their grandchildren. And a 4-month-old child will never know his parents.

Most searing for me, the funerals concluded with the Kaddish being haltingly recited by Eitam and Naama’s 9-year-old son.

As we all know, since then the violence in Israel has escalated. This past Sunday, two additional funerals were held on Har HaMenuchot for Israelis stabbed on Saturday night by Palestinian terrorists. And the wave of attacks has continued daily.

There is real concern we may be experiencing the beginnings of a new cycle of sustained violence. The streets of Jerusalem, typically teeming with people over the Sukkot holiday, were noticeably quieter on the last days of the chag, especially in the Old City. The country is tense and remains on high alert.

I’ve returned to New York with renewed conviction about the importance of mending the fraying bonds of our community. Particularly in these trying times, we need to remember who our enemies are — and who they’re not. Those within our community — whether they support or oppose the deal with Iran, or Israel’s current settlement policy — are not the enemy. We may vehemently disagree about the right way forward for Israel, but speaking about community members as if they’re the enemy only serves to obscure those who really are.

For the sake of our children — and in memory of Rabbanit Henkin’s — let us resolve in this New Year to hold each other closer, and stand united, so that we can address our real challenges together.

Shabbat shalom