I held it together the past few days. . . until I saw Ezra Schwartz's friends embracing and singing Hatikvah (The Hope, Israel's national anthem) as his body was loaded onto a plane to return to America. Ezra was an 18-year-old American who had come to Israel for a year to study Torah and volunteer. He was gunned down on his way to deliver sweets to Israeli soldiers.
I didn't know Ezra, but Israel is such a close-knit country that within hours I felt like I did. Though I didn't know him, I know so many like him – young men and women full of promise, idealism, laughter, and excitement. I also know hundreds of families like the Schwartzes, and I know the loss and pain that they will live with for the rest of their lives.
So I held it together through the news of his death and the deaths of so many others — a father and son, a young woman, mothers and children. But hearing hundreds of voices singing our eternally hopeful national anthem finally opened the floodgates, and I cried for them all. For all the lives cut short, for every soldier, and police officer, and civilian, for the families who died together, and for those who died alone.
In my 12 years living in Israel, our country has lost hundreds of its citizens to violence, but sometimes there are losses that both devastate and unify us. Ezra's death brought so many people together to mourn and to celebrate his life, and those images of solidarity brought me back to similar moments of pride and sadness.
During 2014's Operation Protective Edge, two American lone soldiers were killed in combat. (Lone soldiers serve in the Israel Defense Forces, though their parents live overseas.) One lone soldier, Sean Carmeli, was set to be buried in a military cemetery in Haifa, though his parents live in Texas.
The local Haifa soccer team heard that he had been a fan and immediately put out a call to all of their fans to attend the funeral, so that it would not be empty. His grieving parents were quickly joined by 20,000 mourners, who poured into the cemetery from around the country. Max Steinberg, another lone soldier from California, was buried in Jerusalem, accompanied by thousands of mourners who never knew him, but who wanted to honor his sacrifice. We wept for their deaths, but we did so together.
These moments and so many others may devastate us, but they also make us stronger. We unite to mourn, we unite to sing, and we unite to remind ourselves that life, love, and faith will heal our wounds.
- Davida Kutscher lives in Jerusalem with her daughter (and dog) and works for the AJJDC.