[The following is an account of what happened in Halamish last Friday night, July 21, 2017, as told by a neighbor of the Solomon family, who lives three doors away from where the terror attack took place.]
Let’s get this down on paper. Not just for you but for me, too. I haven’t processed and I don’t know how to. I keep bursting out in hysterical one-second weeping and then it stops. I’m scared to feel all I feel, inside and out loud, because I don’t want the grief to overtake me.
What happened Friday night…
My in-laws were with us for Shabbat, along with a Hebrew University student from abroad and her friend from America.
My husband came home from shul all excited because the soldiers who were on duty in our yishuv accepted his invitation to come and eat Shabbat dinner with us. He rushed in and quickly said, "Shev, there are four chayalim here. Is that okay if they eat with us? Let’s put all the food on the plata."
I was excited. We all were. We’ve wanted to have the soldiers for a long time but never know when they’re going to be around and if they would come. They came. With all their guns, their equipment, their smiles, and their gratitude.
We sang Shalom Aleichem, not knowing that the angels of peace wouldn’t be visiting this Shabbat but rather the angel of death instead.
We sat down, ate, drank, sang, ate dessert, started singing some more — and in the middle of our Shabbat song the commander’s military phone was ringing. He answered and before we knew it all the soldiers jumped up, grabbed their guns, and bolted out the door. This wasn’t how we envisioned the end to our beautiful Shabbat meal. They were trying to say thank you but needed to run while the commander was telling them, "yalla, karah mashehu, karah mashehu, maher!"
I thought maybe something was going on right outside the yishuv, perhaps the all-too-standard Molotov cocktail throwing. But within about 10 minutes the yishuv’s warning siren started going off. This meant we all had to be inside our homes on complete lockdown: Lock all your doors and windows. Put down the trisim (hard plastic shades which block out any light) and turn on your phones to follow security procedures and directions.
The two girls staying at my house are not religious and went to their room to their phones to check the news. I went in there to check on them. They didn’t want to tell me what they saw. After a minute or so they told me three people were critically injured inside our yishuv by a terrorist who had infiltrated and barged into someone’s Shabbat dinner and started stabbing with his knife. Two were already dead — slaughtered.
What?! Who? Where? What is happening?! The worry, the anger, the fear were all growing and swelling and getting too big. I was exploding inside. Our phones kept going off telling us to stay inside, lock everything, and stay alert.
The ages of the victims first given on the news turned out to be a mistake; we kept going through the lists of people in our heads who fit the description. Finally a message came from the yishuv: "A devastating stabbing incident at the Salomons’ house. Stay in your homes. The incident is not over." No! No! This is not happening. Please, Hashem. Help.
* * * * *
Yossi and Tova Salomon lived three doors away from us. They had a new grandson born a few days earlier and the family decided to come to the grandparents to celebrate and have a shalom zachar on Friday night at 10 pm.
The new baby and his parents stayed in the hospital for Shabbat, celebrating from afar. But in the house were Yossi and Tova (70 years old), their daughter Chaya (46 years old), their son Elad (35 years old) with his wife and five children, among other family members. Everyone was invited to their home at 10 pm.
Miri’s brother was home for Shabbat — a soldier on vacation for the weekend — and he ran to his gun, raced across the pathway, stood outside at the window of the house, took one shot, and brought the terrorist down. He then started searching around the rest of the house to make sure there weren’t other terrorists while Miri’s mother called for help and security started arriving and attempting to save those who could be saved.
Yossi, Elad, and Chaya had no chance. Slaughtered. There is no other word to use. They started working on Tova. Tova is no longer in critical condition fighting for her life. She is being treated at the hospital. But her dear, amazing, happy, incredible, sweet husband Yossi is no longer. And her two precious children are no longer. This is not a reality that can be digested or understood or accepted.
We started receiving messages that there might be another terrorist (because the initial screams heard were "mechablim" — plural for terrorists) and were told to stay put and turn on all external house lights. Security and rescue forces — police, military, Magen David Adom, Zaka, Hatzalah — were in every corner of the yishuv and searching every house, yard, field, bush, garbage can, playground, construction site, and forest. Helicopters hovered overhead. They brought in search dogs, special units. For the first few hours, soldiers kept knocking on our door. Some had dogs, some didn’t.
The chayalim wanted us to know they were searching our yard and we shouldn’t be alarmed. We were told to report anything "different."
I camped out in our living room. Obviously sleep was not going to happen. My kids are on the second floor. If anyone is breaking in, they’re not getting to them. So we "slept" at the entrance to the house. My husband and I stayed in the living room until messages came that the nighttime search basically was over – maybe 3 or 4 am, I don’t know. But they said the searching would in effect continue until minyan at 8:30, so until 8:15 no one was allowed to leave their houses or unlock their doors.
This was supposed to be a beautiful Shabbat. It was the most horrific Shabbat.
* * * * *
After we ate lunch, there was a knock on our door. More soldiers. My throat went dry and my heart dropped into my knees until I saw their faces. The same soldiers from the Shabbat dinner last night. They wanted to come and properly say thank you.
"No, No!" we insisted. "Thank you." We sat with them in our yard, with our children and guests, and they started rehashing details from the night before. They needed to talk it out. We listened and spoke and ate and drank. How surreal. So calm. So peaceful outside. But no peace at all. Just everything broken. The heart, the mind, the soul, the breath — all broken.
This yishuv is amazing and resilient and strong. It’s been through so much. Recently and not so recently. The community made a potluck seudat shlishit and everyone brought something. People spoke, leaders of the community; everyone sang and ate and hugged each other. And cried. And cried some more. People were together. And we’re coming together and moving forward, meeting our security needs and all our other needs as a beautiful, growing, strong, and passionate yishuv.
At Shabbat lunch, my almost-four-year-old-son wanted to sing a song. He opened the bentcher and pointed to some words (yes, the bentcher was upside down) and said "Ima, sing this one!" pointing randomly at some words. I said okay, not knowing what I was about to start singing. What came out of my mouth was "Kol ha’olam kuloh, gesher tzar me’od" ("the whole wide world is a very narrow bridge").
My son knows it and he was excited and starting singing along more loudly when we got to the second part of the song — "v’haikar lo lefached klal" ("the most important thing is to have no fear at all"). The fear is so strong, it’s awful; it can paralyze. But we can’t be afraid. I keep telling myself this. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to feel strong and not intimidated or scared. I want to feel powerful and warm and loving and fierce. We’re supported and supportive and are strong together.
* * * * *
Thank you to everyone for the messages and calls of love and concern. Each one means a lot.
We are davening and doing whatever we can so that this should never happen again. Anywhere. Ever. We are davening that Tova bat Chaya Esther will have a complete physical refu’ah and are davening extra hard for the emotional part. Who could imagine?
The song we were in the middle of singing with the soldiers on Friday night is called "Agaldelcha," a Sephardic song which has beautiful words. The ending signs off with a sort of Kaddish: "V’yitgadal b’goy kadosh v’elyon. V’yitkadash shmei rabah b’alma." That night ended in the biggest Kaddish. Yossi, Elad, and Chaya are with Hashem now and we will fill their void here in olam hazeh with kedushah.
The previous week our yishuv had hosted 56 special needs children (and some older individuals) for an entire Shabbat. Each child had a counselor accompanying him or her. Families were asked to sign up to host a participant and a counselor for sleeping and eating one meal.
We had a five-year-old girl and her fifteen-year-old counselor stay with us. It really was a special Shabbat. In shul, one of the participants, a boy maybe 20 years old and in a wheelchair, asked my husband if he could find someone to say Kaddish for his grandfather. My husband of course said yes and went over to Yossi and asked him to say Kaddish for the boy’s grandfather. Yossi didn’t hesitate for a minute. Of course he’ll say Kaddish for him.
And now we’re saying Kaddish for Yossi. And his two children. Just beyond devastating.
We should learn from Yossi and always smile, be friendly, help when we can, and sometimes even when we feel we can’t. We should be positive and holy, filling the void in this world by acting and speaking and living with kedushah and purpose.
With a lot of love,