I believe that many of us will always remember exactly where we were when we heard the incomprehensible news that 45 precious souls had been taken from our midst in the largest civilian disaster in Israeli history, which took place at Har Meron on Lag BaOmer last year.
The timing and magnitude of the tragedy were something that could not be processed immediately. Even rescue personnel broke down from the horror they were witnessing. The chaotic hours during which the horrific details began to emerge, and the days of the levayas and shiva that followed, were filled with shock and grief. Lectures were given to be mechazek the masses, who were at a loss about how to come to terms with such a catastrophe, leaving far too many fresh widows, orphans, and bereaved parents in its wake. We were presented with photos and articles about the victims, detailing their sterling character traits and telling us of their noble goals and plans that came to a tragic end. But a year has passed. While the general public is still certainly very saddened by the tragedy, the intensity has waned over time. For the families of the victims, life will never be the same again. Over the course of the year, the families expressed feelings of emotional and financial abandonment by the state. It took months until a commission of inquiry was established, and it was only recently that they were granted compensation. We can only wish that Hashem comforts them for their great loss as they move along in the painful grieving process.
Despite the passage of a year, there are two families that are somewhat frozen in time. Elazar Berger and Yossi Reit were critically wounded at Meron. Elazar, a resident of Kiryat Moshe, is the youngest injured Meron survivor. He is paralyzed and does not speak. Several months ago, in celebration of his becoming a Bar Mitzvah, his friends made a siyum on Mishnayos and danced in his honor as he watched the festivities on Zoom from his room in the Alyn Rehabilitation Center in Yerushalayim. This was not the Bar Mitzvah that his parents had dreamed of, but they are grateful that he is alive and hope his condition will improve.
Yossi, the now-sixteen-year-old son of my neighbor and friend, is not responsive or able to communicate since the disaster. The early messages posted by his family on the Tehilim WhatsApp group immediately formed for Yossi’s recovery set the tone of unshakable emunah and bitachon that they have consistently modeled throughout this crisis: “Yossi was in Meron last night and is now in critical condition. The doctors say there isn’t a lot to do but wait and hope. Our tefilos are what’s going to make the difference.” In those first weeks, when Yossi’s life was hanging in the balance, emergency Tehilim gatherings were arranged for men and women on very short notice. People took on kabbalos for the sake of Yossi’s recovery. Women did hafrashas challah and lit candles early on Erev Shabbos. Many committed themselves to specific hours of shmiras halashon and gave tzedakah. Yossi was sedated and intubated in the ICU at Rambam Medical Center, riding a roller coaster of small ups and terrible downs. It was heartbreaking. Even the head of the hospital had to leave Yossi’s room at one point. During that physically and emotionally trying time, the Reits received a collective hug through messages from Jews all over the world, including Malaysia. They also received tangible support in the form of challahs, fresh cookies, fruit platters, and ice cream bars - from religious and irreligious people alike. Even during this challenging time, Yossi’s mother, Michal, kept the group updated with messages of strength. “We accept ratzon Hashem whatever it is, but we are so grateful that Yossi’s tafkid (purpose in this world) is not done, Baruch Hashem.”
Eventually, Yossi was transferred to the Alyn Rehabilitation Center, which is much more conveniently located; however, the center requires someone from the outside to be with the patient at all times. At this point, a rotation of volunteers was set up to help the Reits shoulder some of the burden. Between their volunteers and visitors, they’ve greeted people from Monsey, Manhasset, Yad Binyamin, Zichron Yaakov, Bnei Brak, Neve Daniel, Harnof, and Ginot Shomron.
Throughout this ordeal, Michal has taken us along on her journey of growth through her inspiring messages of strength, emunah, and hakaras hatov, which we can apply to our own lives. When things don’t go exactly as she would like, we are reminded that “Hashem can change everything in an instant.” Even the slightest movement in a positive direction is cause for appreciation and celebration. When we wonder why Yossi has to suffer, she provides perspective: “We love Yossi so much and it is so upsetting to see him like this. But we have to keep in mind that Hashem loves Yossi even more than we do, and it upsets Him too, so He obviously has a reason and a plan for Yossi.” We are proud to know people like the Reits who don’t see the way they are handling their situation as greatness, but rather as the default reaction of people raised with the knowledge that Hashem is our Omniscient King and loving Father. But the rest of us know, that there is greatness involved as well.
The Reits are in the process of renovating their home in order to accommodate an elevator and everything else that Yossi will need when he returns home in the coming months, b’ezras Hashem. They seem to have mastered the art of maintaining hope and davening for the best, while at the same time being realistic about what the future holds regarding Yossi’s condition. We hope that their hopes soon become a reality.
Please daven for Yosef Ezriel ben Chaya Michal and Elazar ben Reumah b’soch she’ar cholei Yisrael.