On Death and Undying Faith: The First Interview with Avivit Se’ar after the Loss of her Husband and 5 Children

On Death and Undying Faith: The First Interview with Avivit Se’ar after the Loss of her Husband and 5 Children

On March 26th, a freak electrical fire burned down the home of 34-year-old high-school teacher Avivit Shear of Rechovot, killing all 6 of her family members: husband Shai (36), Eliav (11), Evyatar (8), Amitai (7), Shira (3), and Itamar (2). Over the past two months, Avivit has refrained from speaking publically about her family tragedy, until her first interview with Meir Turjeman and Anat Meidan that was published this past Friday in Yediot Achronot.

The following is an edited excerpt from the original Hebrew article…

Question: “Do you ever wonder why you were the only member of your family to survive the fire?”

Avivit Shear responds: “The question I have is not ‘Why’, but rather ‘For what.’ For what purpose has Hashem left me in the world? I’m not supposed to understand the Divine plan. I always explained to my students that the fact that we don’t understand, does not mean that Hashem isn’t reasonable or just. Like the child who can’t understand why his mother forbids him to do something, but that doesn’t turn her into a bad mother. This is what I’ve been telling myself over and over since the disaster. I feel no anger, since I know that what happened wasn’t a punishment or the result of something that was done. Hashem speaks with us through actions. And I only pray that this will be the last tragedy before the coming of Moshiach.”

Avivit’s strong and solid faith wasn’t shaken and wasn’t broken by the tragedy that has befallen her. The opposite is true. Her faith, she admits, is what keeps her from falling apart and enables her to live with the tragedy that destroyed her life. She constantly thinks of the letter that her husband Gai wrote to her, and has been serving as her guide since she lost her family.

Every year the 11th graders of Rechovot’s Tsvia religious girls’ high school, where Avivit teaches Bible and Hebrew, go on a four-day trip called “The Beacon to Rebirth,” during which they learn about the Holocaust as well as the establishment of the State of Israel. This past January, Avivit accompanied her students on the trip, during which the participating students receive a letter written to them by their parents. This year, Avivit was surprised to discover that she had also received a letter, which her husband Gai had written for her without her knowledge. He wrote: “Continue to live your life with joy, and to ingrain and assimilate the holiness of life that the Nazis wanted to destroy.” He wrote this as part of a longer letter, but he emphasized the words “LIVE YOUR LIFE WITH JOY” in big letters.

“For me, Gai’s message was, ‘Avivit, continue to move forward in the journey of your life…” I kept Gai’s letter in my bag, and that is how it was saved from the fire. I believe that nothing in life is coincidence, and it is not a coincidence that this is the first year that Gai wrote me this kind of letter and that I kept it in my bag. During the Shiva I heard the world “Shoah” a lot in the context of what happened to my family, but I remind myself that the word Shoah is paired with the word “Rebirth” and I need to adopt this pairing for my own personal life just as the State of Israel did on a national level. After the fact, I understand that the trip that I took with my students helped me to put my own tragedy into perspective.”

During the Shiva the close friends who provided intensive support for Avivit asked her what her next steps would be, and what would be with her. “Suddenly,” Avivit recalls, “you are alone. You have no family. A chapter of your life has been buried. Those thoughts occupied me very much over the first few days. After that I learned to be strong. If they had asked me before this happened whether I would be able to cope, I wouldn’t have said that I would be able to cope. I always knew that I was fragile, but that inside me there was a bedrock of strength. But still, I was surprised by the strength I discovered within me; today it is clear to me that everything is from Above, also the tragedies and also the ability to cope.”

“I don’t have moments when I am falling apart, but I do have moments of crisis. But they don’t keep me from getting out of bed, or from going to work, or from taking care of what I need to take care of.”

“The first Shabbat after the shiva was Seder night. I spent the seder with Gai’s aunt in Maaleh Adumim. I had to prepare a bag for myself, and I remembered the days when getting ready for a trip was such a huge story: packing suitcases with clothing and bags with bottles and diapers and games for the children, and in the end I always forgot something. This year, I looked at the small handbag I had prepared, and I told my sister, ‘Ayelet, can you believe what I am taking with me for Shabbat?’ Of course, I was crying very hard, but I took a deep breath and I went.”

“On Seder night I needed to light candles. I looked at the candles and I said, ‘Gai and the children aren’t here, what should I do? For whom should I pray, what should I request? I stopped for a moment, and I thought, and I decided to translate my tears into prayer, and I asked Hashem to give me strength for my parents and for my father and mother-in-law and for all of the Jewish people.”

“One thing I know for certain: Hashem doesn’t give a test to a person who cannot withstand that test. When the seder was over, I was terribly tired, and before I went to sleep I cried so much. Seder night was as difficult as every day that has come since it, and I allow myself to cry and to feel pain, but the ability to transform pain into prayer makes it so much easier for me.”

“I miss Gai and the children very much. I remember the wonderful things we did together, and my tears flow. That’s natural; we are flesh and blood after all and our heart in made of flesh, but that doesn’t contradict in any way my faith that this is for the best, and that at one point we will understand the purpose of this tragedy.”

Question: Where will you be in 5 years? Is there a chance that you will have a new family?

“I am not thinking 5 years ahead. I am living day by day, and I depend on Hashem that He will guide my life in the best possible way. We see that human beings make plans, and in a second everything is destroyed. Gai and I had many plans as a family. And those plans are no longer. Today, I am not planning anything anymore. I just plan how I am going to spend this single day. When people would ask my 3-year-old Shira how she was, she would always answer, “Thank God, day by day.” That is the inheritance that she left me, and I have adopted it as a way of life.”

Click here to donate to the “Etz Chaim” Synagogue and Beit Midrash being constructed in Rechovot in memory of Avivit’s family. If you do not understand Hebrew, and would like to make a donation, please contact me for details.

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8 comments

  1. Wow is all I can say. This woman is so strong and truly an inspiration. I can’t even imagine the pain she is going through and she still remains strong throughout it all. It speaks to me on so many levels…

  2. Do you have a link for the original hebrew article? I searched for it and couldn’t find it. Thanks!

    • JewishMom

      I also looked for it and couldn’t find it online in Hebrew…If anyone does find it, please post the link.

  3. Shoshana

    Oy. May she be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

  4. Oy, my heart aches in pain, and I dont ever remember having such big tablespoon full tears dripping down my face as I read about her davening by the candles…May Hashem grant her peace and comfort her pain as she is a true reflection of schina in galus…waiting for her home to be rebuilt. Her name Avivit also the coming of spring..with such a nisayon prior to Pesach ..I think is an allusion to her closecoming redemption…all of clal yisrael, amen! my prayers go out to her that btchiyas hamaysim she reunites with her angels.

  5. My heart! I do worry sometimes about the pressure we put on one another to “be strong” or “pillars of strength” during their trials. When someone is hurting, no matter how religious or observant they are, they are hurting. They will doubt, and be angry and basically go through all the normal symptoms of grief.

    Thank God we have Hashem’s guidance and love to get us through–as well as the love and care of the entire Jewish community–but grieving for a lost family will take it’s a toll on even the most religious heart. It will come in waves, likely over many, many years.

    While we look to her for “inspiration”, let us allow her space to grieve and grow too, without the pressure of having to be responsible for our own strengths during crises. Everyone deserves the right to feel the very depths of sorrow and pain without feeling guilty about it.

  6. how can anyone survive this?

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