Tova (in Jerusalem):
I am heartbroken for all of you — and all of us. Love, Tova
Me (in Atlanta):
Tova's e-mail, a blanket of love and support, lacked specifics I desperately needed. What news? Who? Which of the boys I have been anxiously praying for since the war broke out... ? I hastily checked Haaretz [Israeli daily newspaper] online to read the fine print (I always duck from the names) and found the dreaded details. My beloved cousin Gila's son Noam Mayerson, age 23, was killed in Lebanon.
Oh no. Send me your phone number.
Oh my – I just read Haaretz. Oh my oh my oh my. Oh Tova. I am shaking. How can I help my dearly beloved cousins? Call them now? Wait a bit?
I have no words. I think the help will be in the days and months and years to come. If there is any way I can help you help them in the short term - be your shlicha [emissary] in any way - let me know. May this be the last time, the last soldier we lose. — Tova
In this e-mail conversation, I got the news we dread, always, especially in war.
- Within hours, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post (two among many English language Israeli papers and blogs I follow) posted Noam's photo and a brief bio. Israeli papers and radio stations always announce the names as soon as immediate survivors have been notified. (I shuddered, recalling that some elected officials and others in the USA chastise TV news programs for issuing a daily "roll call" — naming American troops killed in Iraq.) Tragically, the media update the names and photos steadily.
- Minutes before Tova sent me her first e-mail, I had sent an e-mail to Chaim, Noam's father. I wanted to lend strength and to send love via my previous blog entry, where I had written about Noam — alive — and about Aviyah, our cousins Ditza’s and Chanan’s paratrooper son.
- And now, Tova's e-mail alerted me that Chaim wasn't at his computer, and why: One of the boys was gone. Chaim and his family were together, in a pool of shock and grief. In an instant, they had become the bereaved good people who lost a son, a brother, a fiance, an uncle.
- Our Noam was killed defending all of us against terrorists — hate-filled lunatics who seek his and his people's and — especially if you are living in a democratic society, your extinction. What would Noam’s family, friends, teachers, students, all of us not give to have been spared this outcome?
Of Torah, often called a path, we learn —
דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם D'racheha darchey noam, Its ways are ways of pleasantness [Noam] וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם vchol netivoteha shalom, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17)
נעם, כשמו כן הוא Noam, kishmo ken hu, Noam, as is his name, so is he.
We all loved Noam. It was impossible not to. A deep thinker with a buoyant personality, Noam spread joy and optimism. Once, I knowingly missed the deadline to pick up a package from the post office because I couldn’t tear myself away from discussing big ideas with him. (The package was returned to the sender, and though it was months before I received it, the gift of continuing the discussion will be with me forever.) How could I tear myself away from this passionate young man who expressed ideas and learning easily, engaged in civil dialogue eagerly, reframed his statements as often as needed, and explained terms and assumptions until I “got it”? Who could resist these encounters, all blessings, with Noam?
When I visited his parents and turned the key in the front door lock, I rejoiced to spot him — studying Torah, playing guitar, packing for a hike [which included “shopping” in the kitchen pantry;-)], or yakking with his buddies in person or on the phone. And when my cousins invited me to spend Shabbat or a holiday together, I always hoped Noam would be home from yeshiva or army service those times. I love being with them, whether listening to Chaim gently lead us in prayer or watching Gila hold high the havdala candle or photographing Noam (shown here flanked by his younger brothers, Yoni and Hilly, building a sukkah).
Two years ago on Pesach, at the Seder, late into the night of questions, he and his mother fell into a fit of laughter that would not stop. The antics of this jolly twosome brought me back to my childhood when at the most sacred moments of a ritual meal, my sister and I would fall out laughing, spurred by a stimulus, invisible to all but us, that set off our joint funny bone.
Torah teaches us —
עִבְדוּ אֶת ה בְּשִׂמְחָה Ivdu et Hashem b'simchah, serve God in joy. (Psalm 100:2)
Noam was radically present, exquisitely alive, and fully engaged in the lived moment. His life comprised Torah study, reflection, refinement of character traits, deeds of lovingkindness, gratitude, and action. All these he pursued with a glad heart, a spirit of happiness and vigor, with the joy of acknowledging God's goodness. The way Noam lived his life lifted us toward connection with all creation in a kind of “spiritual oneness” of peace and good fortune for every being. Noam didn’t just follow Torah; he became it.
נעם בן גילה וחיים. יהי זכרו לברכה Noam ben Gila vChaim. Yehi zichro l’vracha. Noam, son of Gila and Chaim. May his memory be a blessing.
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