At the annual Beit Hillel Shabbaton, held in late December 2014, we had the privilege of the company of two sets of parents from last summer’s tragic kidnapping and subsequent murder of three youths, both families closely affiliated with Beit Hillel. Rabbanit Rachel Sprecher Fraenkel is one of the Rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel; and Ofir Shaer, the husband of Bat-Galim, is Beit Hillel’s accountant. Bat-Galim addressed us and explained the necessary balance between dignity and feeling; between staunch discipline and dedication to a calling on one hand, and allowing oneself to suffer agonizingly, traumatic emotion on the other.
The narrative in Breishit retells a remarkable seven times that Yosef, who clearly had many crises to endure, was reduced to tears; who knows how many more times he cried that are not reported? He was the viceroy of the empire of Egypt, one of the most powerful men in the world, yet he frequently surrenders to his emotions. Far from this being a contradiction, the Torah legitimizes the necessity to give expression to one’s feelings, to break down, to cry, even, perhaps especially, for the greatest of leaders. Being humane is not a weakness; on the contrary, it is a pre-requisite of a wholesome individual.
Nevertheless, the story reflects a continuing tension between Yosef’s irrepressible urge to weep, and his determination to perform his historical task. He is clearly in turmoil as he presses ahead through his critical mission, but the public show of his inner feelings would betray his goals. Time after time, he turns aside, and lets nobody see his inner turbulence. Only once his goals are achieved, we are told that “Yosef could no longer control himself”, and he allows himself to be overcome by the wellsprings of his heart, and he sobs for all to see. He displays the ultimate balance of allowing a place for his emotions, while remaining master of timing the appropriate moment.
During the unbearable 18 days of searching for the three sons, the mothers, Bat-Galim, Rachel, and Iris Yifrach keenly recognized that their unendurable circumstances were simultaneously a unique and singular opportunity to serve the Jewish people. In an unprecedented display of dignity and humility, they tirelessly held a solid, optimistic and glowing disposition, made no demands, blamed no one, and constantly beckoned all sectors of the nation to pull together, remain united in prayer and fused in action. Secular, religious and Haredi gathered together in an unprecedented manner, to pray and to search, to reach out and to lend support. The result of this bonding was a profound effect on the national psyche and are still vividly felt, many months later.
But don’t be fooled, Bat-Galim told us. At night, when the lights were dimmed, when the cameras were turned away, there was no shining countenance, no steely glow of determination in their eyes: “And [Yosef] quitted to his room, and wept there”.
Not only did they show restraint, they were also impelled to project strength. “In the first days, I held back the tears in public for Gilad; I thought he would see me on TV, and I had to ensure that he would remain strong,” Bat-Galim recalls. But then she observed the healing effect the mothers’ dignity had on the whole country, so she persisted to control her public face, to strengthen the entire nation. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hurting inside. The pain was very real; and it was immense.”
The New Sabra: Dignified on the Outside – Tender Within
The gap between the resilient image broadcasted and the inner storm was illustrated by a story Bat-Galim told, with a twinkle in her eye, of how her daughter’s teacher had recently called to report that although Bat-Galim’s daughter was a fine student and excelled in her studies that the teacher was concerned. “I think,” she pondered “that something might be bothering her.”
Many months later, the mothers still continue to inspire with messages of unity and optimism. “But we’re not really strong,” Bat-Galim confesses. “There is no such thing as strength when losing a child. It hurts everybody with the same severity, whether you are a leader or a simple mother.”
Drawing strength and comfort from her tireless and intense public work since involuntarily receiving celebrity status, Bat-Galim reminds us of a most vital message: there are thousands of bereaved families suffering on a daily basis. “As I am now a familiar face, people reach out to support me; strangers still show up at my door with plates of cookies, exactly when I feel I am plummeting to despair, but we all need to embrace all those anonymous families who have experienced loss; they are in endless and eternal pain.”
Proud of these Beit Hillel families, and inspired by their example, Beit Hillel, too, continues to strive to remain dedicated and focused on providing a caring and enlightened religious leadership to our people.
Rav Yitzhak Ajzner, a member of Beit Hillel’s Beit Midrash for Halacha and Beit Midrash for Hashkafa, heads the Beit Hillel Media Response Team. He spent 10 years as an educator in Israel in various positions, ranging from a school principal to a teacher at the Hesder Yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim. He also served as a community rabbi.
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