Their Second Childhood: A Visit with the Fogel Orphans
The Fogel family massacre occurred exactly a year ago, on Shabbat Zachor. The following is a partial translation of an article that appeared in Maariv written by Sari Makover Balikov. After reading this, I feel like Ruti Fogel’s parents are among the most inspirational people alive. True modern heroes, like their idealistic daughter and son-in-law HY”D.
The second childhood of the Fogel orphans is taking place in an old house in picturesque Jerusalem. It is a house that is full and nurturing. The smell of soup, a soft carpet, a child playing an instrument. And Tamar. Exactly a year has passed since she entered her parents’ home in Itamar and discovered the nightmare and fled screaming for her perfect life that was destroyed. Today Tamar is 13 years old and far too young for the memories that haunt her, but her eyes are calm and clean, her look is direct and her personality overflows with, you could almost say, joy.
A full year after what has been described as the cruelest murder in Israel’s history. A father, a mother, a son, and another son, and a baby girl—and the three who survived. Tamar, the oldest child, is smiling now. She talks with her friends on her cellphone in her secret, exuberant teenage language. A sprinkle of freckles marches across her nose and her cheeks.
If there is any revenge, it is this refreshing, girlish, wonderful innocence. “I don’t have anything to say or tell about myself,” Tamar says with simplicity and looks at me with her mother’s green eyes.
“Eema, there was a Terror Attack”
She has a ponytail and crocs and an aunt and uncle who came to live next door with their children. She has a grandfather and grandmother who are broken, destroyed to pieces, who have dedicated themselves to her and to her brothers.
Tali and Rabbi Yehuda Ben Yishai, the parents of Rut Fogel z”l, talk about their daughter and their son-in-law, and Tamar nods. “Do you also want to share something about who your parents were for you?” I ask her. Now she’s thinking. And she decides not to say anything. And that smile again, short and, yes, perplexed. “Since the murder, many people want to interview her,” her uncle, Yochai, explains. “But Tamar feels that when it’s not necessary, you don’t. She is very real and direct. Not mixed up.”
She was the oldest daughter, Rut and Udi Fogel’s only daughter, until baby Hadas was born. “She was so connected to her mother. Unusually so,” the grandmother Tali says and strokes the small hand of her granddaughter. “Ruti felt that this wasn’t good, and that she needed to separate from her daughter a little bit so that she could become her own person. Ruti did an amazing job. She would say to her, “Tamari, you don’t always have to be the best and the most outstanding just in order to make me happy. I’ll also be proud of you if you bring home a low grade…”
Grandma Tali wipes away her tears with the strong fingers of a woman who raised 9 and now 3 more. “It’s possible that that separation was a type of preparation for what would come. I see it very, very clearly. As though Ruti sensed something and wanted to prepare her daughter for it. This also happened with me. We were so close and connected, and in the period leading up to the murder, Ruti told me, “Eema, we need to have a bit more distance between us.”
“Not physical distance, since we didn’t live near each other, and I didn’t understand why. But I trusted her and I didn’t take it hard. I thought, apparently this is what she needs. Only now do I understand that Ruti wanted to prepare me.”
Not a Depressing House
Grandma Tali had already planned late parenthood with her husband. “Most of the kids were already out of the house,” the grandfather, Rabbi Ben Yishai, explains, “Elichai, our 8th child, had enlisted in the army and Hodaya had completed high school. The house had already started emptying out, and suddenly it’s active and alive again. This isn’t a depressing house. We don’t cry the whole day. We definitely cry, but within reason, and also not so much when the kids are here. And when we cry, that’s natural, that’s OK. That’s the secret of life. Something’s alive and it hurts. Alive and full of suffering. Alive and full of joy.”
“At the beginning, right after the murder, I wasn’t prepared to accept this new motherhood,” explains Tali. “I felt very angry, a real inner rebellion. I asked G-d why this is happening to me. Isn’t it obvious that I am no longer at the appropriate age to raise 3 new children?”
“I already gave birth to and raised children and I fulfilled my role. I cannot go back to that. But at the same time, it was clear that I would go back to that. I didn’t have a shadow of a doubt that I would go back to that. Today I’m not in that resentful place anymore, of course. Because I got used to it, because I know that this is what I have to do and also because I receive so much from the children. Today I already don’t know who gives more, I to the children or the children to me.”
“Children are bubbly. Curious. Children are adventurous and then serious and you can laugh with them and suddenly cry. Today I can say that my husband and I have experienced a renewal. It’s a miracle. A great kindness. Even if I need to get up at night. Even if I have to go back to the playground and to school. Little Yishai is only 3 years old and he wakes up a lot at night. I get out of my bed and run to him. Then he hugs me hard and says, “Savta, I am your baby!”
A Thought you Can’t Handle
It was Shabbat Zachor, the first Shabbat of March a year ago. The police arrived at the parents’ house in Jerusalem to inform them of the unfathomable tragedy, but nobody was home. “The Holy One did a kindness with us and sent us to spend that Shabbat with Yochai’s family in the North,” Rav Yehuda recalls. “He granted us several more hours of happiness. We had a wonderful Shabbat. Looking back, I think that that Shabbat was somewhat special.”
“On the way to Yochai, on Friday, we spoke with Ruti for the final time,” Tali remembers. “We spoke about the preparations for Purim and the costumes and the guests. I put Ruti’s voice on the speakerphone and the whole way we spoke and laughed harder than we ever had before. Ruti talked about guests who arrive drunk for the Purim meal and about others who don’t understand why people drink on Purim anyway.”
And then she said, “Eema, you know, I’m not certain that we’ll be coming to the Purim meal.” We had never celebrated Purim without the children. Everybody always comes. And in the end, she was right. There was not a regular Purim meal that year. There was no Ruti.”…
No More Eema
When Shabbat was over, the men remained at shul in order to recite Kiddush HaLevana. “Our son Elichai called and said, “There was a terror attack in Itamar,’ Tali recalls.” Right away I called the telephones of Ruti and Udi and nobody answered. I called Uriya, our daughter who lives in a yishuv next to Psagot. She cried and told me, “Udi and Ruti are gone.” …
The bereft grandparents met their grandchildren at the funeral. “They brought me Tamar and Roee,” Tali cries. “They hugged me so hard, and there was so much crying, but there was also comfort that three were left…At least three. And even though I hugged them the entire shiva, they weren’t in my world. At all. Two days after the funeral I picked up Yishai from his babysitter in Itamar. And only afterwards did I begin to feel. A child doesn’t understand, an adult also doesn’t understand, but the reality forces us to return back to the earth. And there was so much to do. Thank G-d that there was so much to do. That kept us from losing our minds.”
This is the Life that We Chose
Photos of the Fogel family decorate the walls of the house. Ruti and Udi in the living room, Yoav and Elad and Hadas in the kitchen and the entrance hall. Yehuda ben Yishai, a Rabbi at Machon Ora, and his wife Tali believe in the simplicity of the flow of life. Without hiding anything and without going into hiding. A positive world view that sees the light hidden within the great darkness. Inspiring.
Yochai (37) is their oldest son, the second child was Ruti, who earned an MA in teaching and Talmud at Midreshet Harova. “Alive, bubbly, full of inner fire, a very strong personality,” her mother says of her.
“Nobody could remain apathetic next to her. She always left an impression. She was very talented, but she was unwilling to realize her talents at the expense of her children and husband. Because she was a mother with all of her being, she was immersed in a conflict between total dedication to her husband and six children without sacrificing who she was, her inner self.
In the beginning of their marriage, Ruti and her family lived in Netsarim. After Gush Katif was evacuated they resettled in Itamar. “They didn’t leave there in anger,’ Ben Yishai explains. “They said that if the Jewish people is willing to give up part of the Land, then apparently we didn’t succeed in convincing the Jewish people of the importance of this place. They always said, ‘The Jewish people is us. How can we be angry at ourselves?’ It was important for them to leave their house before the soldiers arrived and knocked on the door. They didn’t want their children to experience trauma. They left so the children wouldn’t see soldiers, their own flesh and blood, exiling Jews from their homes.”
“Ruti had leadership qualities,” her father adds. “On the one hand, she aspired for perfection, for high ideals, and on the other hand she was very connected with reality. A go-with-the-flow type. If we’re laughing now, then laugh all the way. And if we are being serious, also all the way. When they lived in Netsarim, coping in terms of security was far from simple. Once she called and told us, “Just now they shot at me while I was driving…” All of us were extremely upset but she was much less so. Here attitude was: “True, it’s not pleasant that they shoot at you, but we chose to live in Netsarim. This choice also contained this possibility.” She was realistic, she knew that life in Itamar could demand everything of her.”…
Ruti’s mother continues, “The moment you choose to live in Israel, you choose something very total. Abroad, it’s much easier. The children don’t serve in the army, at 18 they are already studying in the university, nothing unexpected, no risks. The moment you make the choice to live the history of the Jewish people in this generation, that means doing things all the way, including taking the risks. We made aliya to Israel from France because we knew that there is a great deal of light here…”
“The sky is brighter. The Torah that we learn is much more vivid and deep, the holy books of Rabbi Kook talk about the lights of the Land of Israel. We are people of light, despite the great pain, we try to bring down the light of Udi and Ruti and give it to the children.”
There’s No Choice, You Go On
The children are truly full of light, the grandmother and grandfather declare. Powerful and full of strengths like their parents. “I would have expected that they would be falling apart. That we would need to pull them together. Truly pull them together,” their grandmother says. “But actually we discovered that they have unusual strengths. They are in so much pain but they continue to live and to cope. They don’t cry the whole day. Of course they do cry. Especially Tamar. But when there is no crying there is acceptance and determination and even many moments of joy. As great as the life that has been lost, so too is the life that they have brought into our home.”
“After the terror attack, the balance shifted at home,” explains Rabbi Ben Yishai. “The tasks were diverse and never ending. We needed to make important decisions. Practical decisions. For example, ‘Where are the children studying tomorrow?’ All of their friends are in Itamar, and how can we provide them with a framework that is, on the one hand different, and, on the other hand, a continuation of what they knew before?”
“And should we talk about the parents? And if yes, how do we talk about them? What do we say about them? What pain do we touch and how do we choose to touch it?…”
How Do We comfort Them?
“Adults can understand that we have no choice, and that we must go on,” Tali Ben Yishai says, “But a child is emotion…The memorial service was approaching last month, and one evening I saw that Roee, who is seven years old, was very sad.”
“I hugged him and told him, ‘What do you say, Roee, are we going to overcome this?’ and he said, ‘Yes, Grandma, we will overcome.’ Then I asked, ‘Is this world good or bad?’ And this child, from such an innocent and pure place, told me, ‘Despite everything that happened to us, Grandma, the world is good.’
“Also little Yishai is managing in an amazing way. He is demanding like any young child. But his demands connect him with life. He gives a great deal of love and also gets irritated quickly and cries a lot. He misses everyone so much. Many times he calls me ‘Eema.’ At the beginning, this was difficult for me. But I know that this is very important for him, so I encouraged it. I tell him, ‘Come to Eema, Yishai.’ Not always. Sometimes I remind him that I’m just his Grandma.”
“And we have photos in the house of all 5 of them. They are here, the photo of Ruti and Udi is in the living room, so everyone can see them, and also Yoav, Elad, and Hadas. And when Yishai speaks to them he is not traumatized despite the fact that I believe that on the inside there are many unresolved issues. Sometimes I point at them and I say to him, “Here’s Aba Udi and Eema Ruti. Where are they now?” “They passed away,” he says. “Then I tell him, “Aba and Eema went to build the 3rd Temple.”
“She is in pain, but life goes on. Her message is “Hitnaaree Me’afar Kumi” (“Shake off your dust, arise!”) just like her mother. Don’t give up on the here and now. Once, before the disengagement, they did a women’s workshop in Netsarim. They asked the participants during which time period they would choose to live. There were women who said “5 years ago,” when the cloud of the evacuation was not yet hovering over their homes, and there were those who said, “In ten years,” when they would have recovered from the trauma. And Ruti said, “I want to live here and now.” And Tamar is the same way.
“She is living here and now. And we respect that. She has moments when she is very open and there are moments when she closes up and misses everyone and is in terrible, terrible pain. But I believe in processes. Ruti would tell her, “My daughter, you simply need to keep living.”…
“People ask me today how many children we have, and I say 9, and I mean it,” Grandma Tali concludes, “I know that there are bereaved mothers who say that the hardest question for them is ‘How many children do you have?’ But for me it’s not a difficult question. We have 9 children. What? I didn’t suffer in labor with Ruti? I didn’t raise her and see her grow and blossom? I didn’t marry her off to our Udi and I didn’t receive as a gift 6 grandchildren? So when they ask me, I tell them that I have 9 children. And I have one who skipped a grade ahead of all the rest…”
Did the tragedy hurt your faith? How could an all-powerful God allow this kind of horror to take place?
Rabbi Ben Yishai: I must say that even though it’s been portrayed that way, I didn’t have that kind of questions. The new reality took place so quickly that we didn’t have time to say “Good, maybe we’ll take some time and ask questions.” Children are waiting for you and they don’t have time to wait for philosophizing. Right away you need to give them warmth and a feeling of continuity…
Yochai (Ruti’s older brother): I think this depends on your point of view. We believe that Ruti and Udi and the children were destined to arrive in this world for a short period of life. We believe that Hashem had already planned to end their lives. We try to say thanks for the gift of their lives despite the difficult fact that their lives are over. We believe that they were blessed and we were blessed with the little that was. This is the only way to understand Divine politics.
Rabbi Ben Yishai: “They were at the height of their flowering, at the height of their success, and suddenly what happened? Everything’s erased?” the grandfather’s eyes fill with tears. “What justifies this kind of erasing of a life? The only thought that possibly explains what happened is that they were transformed from private people into Shlichei Tsibur, representatives for the entire Jewish people. I feel that they closed their private home and opened a public house. The entire Jewish people is today the Study Hall where people study who they were. This understanding helps, because this way you don’t have claims against Hashem…The murderers don’t interest me at all. Because, from my point of view, they simply don’t exist…
The transition between a private house to a public one for Ruti and Udi was difficult, abrasive, but I don’t feel that we lost them.
I attended the funeral of the commander Pascal Avrahami. For his whole life nobody knew anything about the heroic deeds of this modest hero. Only when he was killed did the Israeli public hear about what he did for our security. His father said an incredible sentence at the funeral, “Pascal, they say that you fell while performing your duties. And I say, you didn’t fall, you rose up.”