Last month, a father and his son were taking a drive together outside their home in the city of Hebron when terrorists opened fire on their car. The father, Rabbi Ya’akov Litman, and his 18-year-old son, Netanel, were both murdered. The fact that their daughter and sister, Sarah, was scheduled to be married just days later made this tragedy all the more poignant.
In the face of such loss, the family, including Sarah Litman and her fiancé, Ariel Beigel, decided to postpone the wedding by one week in order to sit shivah. When she was interviewed in Israel, Sarah said, “Very soon, we will marry in a large and happy wedding. We will go on and be happy as father and Netanel always were. We will not be crushed.”
When I heard this courageous and incredible display of strength, I was touched to my core. I felt that Sarah represented much more than just one person. She came to symbolize the spirit of the entire Jewish People. Her words emphasized that we will not be defined by tragedy, and we will not stop living our lives even in the face of darkness. I knew then that I had to go to Israel and dance at this wedding, and with just two days notice, 12 leaders of my congregation decided to join me.
We entered the wedding hall together with 20,000 other people – Jews from every walk of life, from every corner of Israel and beyond, from every religious stripe. We were secular and religious. Some wore their army uniforms, while others wore uniforms of a different sort, including the traditional ultra-Orthodox garb of bekishes and shtreimls. The message was clear: Am Yisrael had gathered together to find peoplehood.
In the middle of the craziness, through circles of circles of dancing men, I somehow found myself propelled to the very epicentre of the joy, where the chattan, with his beaming smile and larger than life joy, was.
I told him we had come all the way from Canada to be with him and to dance at his wedding. He took hold of my shoulders and for a moment that felt like an eternity, he looked at me with disbelief. Then he said, “Wow! Thank you so much for coming here and for being with us!”
I just burst open with awe and pride.
To go from the fresh grave of a father and brother to invite the entire nation to your wedding, and for that entire nation to respond with an incredible “Yes,” despite the pain – or, perhaps because of the pain, the need to harness, uplift and sanctify the pain – all the dire strivings of our people were encapsulated right in that single gesture, a wedding in defiance of a funeral.
We came from Montreal looking for brotherhood, and brotherhood is what we found. I silently prayed: “Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the World – this is your chattan, this is your kallah, these are your sons, these are your daughters. And if for just that one moment we could truly see all that was important, then dayeinu – it was enough.”
For 2,000 years, we sat shivah, outside our land, aware of what we have lost. And yet we have continued. We keep getting married, keep having children, keep celebrating, notwithstanding the tears we may still have on our cheeks. Our people never give up on life itself.
Rabbi Mark Fishman is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Montreal.