I honestly can’t remember a time that I cried as much as I cried today.
Monday night, a young man, Elan Ganeles z”l, 27 years old, was driving to his best friend’s wedding. He was shot in his car by a terrorist. This tragedy came after two sets of brothers were killed in two seperate terrorist attacks. I have watched videos of parents burying their children on the news and on Facebook. I am brokenhearted for these families.
The young man, Elan who was murdered on Monday night was going to be buried in the city in which I live, Raanana. Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages began to circulate. “Please come to the cemetery to show support for the young man and his family. He is an American who does not have a lot of family and we don’t want his family to be alone.”
Of course I would go.
This is my first time attending a funeral of someone who was murdered in a terror attack. I knew it was going to be too much to bear. I parked my car and walked towards the cemetery. An elderly man and woman walked behind me. I could hear their conversation. They spoke in Hebrew. The woman asked the man: “Do you think people will come?” The man responded “What are you talking about? This is Am Yisrael! Of course people will come!” As we walked further, streams of people began to join from different directions, some carrying Israeli flags, walking slowly with sadness and solemnity.
We turned the corner to the entrance of the cemetery. The streets were lined on either side with high school students, holding signs with loving messages, signs of peace, pictures of Elan. They sang in unison as the people walked between the two rows of youth.
The energy was so strong, I felt overtaken and overwhelmed with sadness. My eyes flooded with tears. The hot sun beat down upon me.
I could see young people in front of me passing out cupfuls of water. I suddenly realized how thirsty I was. I marveled at how considerate it was that someone had taken care to think of bringing water for others. I made eye contact with a lovely curly-haired teen who was handing out cups. He nodded at me, smiled, and placed a cup in my hand. That small gesture of humanity and caring was like a warm hug. Support and a feeling of brotherhood comes in many forms.
I followed the throngs of people into the gate of the cemetery moving silently with the flow. There were people everywhere. I found a space huddled among what I later learned had been over three thousand people, strangers, who came together in unity and support for the family. We waited for the funeral to begin. I didn’t notice that I was standing right in front of the door where the family was. A door opened and I could see a tallit, a prayer shawl, wrapped around a body lying on a gurney. My heart sank, the floodgate of tears poured forward again. We parted like the Red Sea and the family, with Elan, made their way through us.
My heart cried for the broken family. Such a loss. Such a shock. Such pain.
The eulogies began. The family spoke about their beloved Elan. He was brilliant, funny, curious, a high achiever, and most of all, he was a good friend to so many people, a loving and caring son, brother, nephew and grandson. He was kind, caring, a nature lover, and adventurous. He was a connector, connecting to people and connecting people to one another He came to Israel and fell in love with the country. He volunteered as a lone soldier. He went back to America to study, but planned to live in Israel. This young man was truly a gem. Like so many who have been taken from us recently, young people who are exceptional human beings, exceptional people, who leave a massive hole in the lives and hearts of their families, friends and communities. One after another, the parents, siblings and friends spoke about how this just didn’t seem like it could be real and how broken they were.
The pain was so deep and palpable. It cut through us all, to the core. My heart broke for the loss of this young man, and the pain that his family and friends were feeling. Thousands of us felt the pain with them.
After the eulogies they moved him to his burial place where he was returned back into the earth, into the soil of the land of his forefathers. The tears, the pain, how do we carry it? How will their families go on?
As the burial came to an end, and Kaddish was said, people broke out into slow and meditative songs. I felt as though the kehillah (community) were singing to Elan’s soul, helping him transition softly from one world to the next. The outpouring of love and sadness, the unity of strangers, the perfect mix of people, religious, secular, old and young, speakers of languages from all corners of the earth, right wing, left wing, united in song, caring for one another, sharing love and brotherhood, heartbroken together. We were united by humanity and what matters most in life. I stayed with the group, singing slow songs, crying more.
As the crowd thinned I decided to leave. As I made my way to the gate, I noticed that the family was there, sitting shiva underneath a small structure. People were going to pay their respects. I waited in line. What could I possibly say to Elan’s parents. There were just no words. When it was my turn, all I could do was cry and give his mother a hug.
I haven’t been able to stop crying. My eyes are red and the skin around my eyes is sore and chapped. I know that for the families who have lost their loved ones, this is just the beginning of a very long heart wrenching and painful journey. I pray for them all. I pray that this should be the last terror attack and that nobody else should know from this pain. I pray for Israel, that we should come together in unity as we did today, for joyous reasons and be there in love and acceptance for one another .
I pray for Israel, her people and our future. In the midst of deep tragedy, there is still no place I would rather be.
What I witnessed today, is a testament to who we are as a people and as a nation. Just as the man who was walking behind me said, “This is Am Yisrael!”
Am Yisrael Chai!