One degree of separation
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One degree of separation

The loss of Itamar Ben-Gal rippled through schools across Israel, where his family members teach our children

Itamar Ben-Gal (third from L), who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on February 5, 2018, pictured with his family celebrating Hannukah in 2017. (Courtesy)
Itamar Ben-Gal (third from L), who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on February 5, 2018, pictured with his family celebrating Hannukah in 2017. (Courtesy)

Teachers are everything.

They role-model for our kids. They stretch their minds, challenge their psyches, cajole them into growing and learning and believing in themselves. They see pearl drops of magic in our offspring, and remind us the value of embracing our children’s quirks and personalities. Being a good teacher means growing your empathy muscles tenfold. Day in, day out. C’mon, be your best self, they ask of their students. We know you can do it.

Demanding is the job, especially in Israel. You get paid little in the way of money. But you are rich in fashioning minds. You do it because you believe in it. The majesty of education pulses through your heart.

And what to do when terror strikes our teacher’s hearth? (or heart?)

Where does that leave us parents? Where does that leave our children?

* * *

Sometimes, Israel feels so big, so otherworldly, the vastness can consume you. Other times, this country feels like a tiny island in a sea of insanity. Today is one of those latter days for me.

My daughter’s day started with hope and happiness and school. Her amazing school. A place she has been gifted with wonderful, patient teachers and staff. Each one, adding to her as a person and a student. Contributing so much to the young lady she has become. Yesterday, she became a former student who will visit a teacher mourning for her own murdered child. The son of my daughter’s beloved teacher for the past two years, who was himself also a teacher, was brutally stabbed in the chest and killed by Hamas today. For no other reason than that he was a Jew.

The woman who was my daughter’s teacher is filled with compassion and strength and so much love. Oh, how I wish she could have taught Hamas and their terror squads even just a fraction of her love and patience.

But how can a society built on hatred and violence learn anything? How can we ever hope for peace with such a partner? His killers have already been praised and supported by Hamas leadership. These are leaders the West pins hopes for the future on? How can the world be so deluded? How can the insanity of the situation not be abundantly clear?

Violence is never an answer. It isn’t an answer to Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, a UN ruling, or even provocation (if there was any, which there was not). An innocent 29-year-old father of four, his children orphaned today. And his only crime was that he was a Jew. For that, he paid with his life.

Itamar Ben-Gal zt”l, may you rest in peace. May your killers be found and brought to justice and may your family find comfort among the mourners of Zion.

— Miriam Lottner

Medics treat Itamar Ben-Gal, fatally injured in a terrorist stabbing attack in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, February 5, 2018. (Samaria Regional Council)

* * *

I got the bad news the way many of us do today: via text message.

My cell phone beeped while my 8-year-old and I were practicing his speech for a school presentation about his grandfather.

“Sorry to report that the man killed today was Yisca’s brother.”

Then I googled.

Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, z”l, a father of four, and a teacher, was stabbed to death yesterday standing at a bus stop at the northern West Bank’s Ariel junction.

I did not know this man.
But I know — and LOVE — his sister.

His sister, Yisca, is my 11-year-old son’s sixth-grade teacher. And she is fabulous. She is the kind of teacher who excels both at educating and at loving. You just know that she has pockets in her heart for every child in her class, and it numbers 35! During vacation, she sends emails that say, “I miss your kids.” And she means it. She embraced my son after a sabbatical year with heart, patience, and support.

In general, I shield my young children from terrorist attacks. Why do they need to know about stabbings, car rammings, and the like? But this one was too close to home.

What is it about Yisca that makes her so special?

My son and I put our heads together.

She’s so tender, I volunteered.

Yes, that’s it, he said. She is TENDER!

Not the most common quality.

News agencies are reporting that it was Abed al-Karim Assi, 19, who fatally stabbed Itamar, and that he had received social services assistance in Israel, including at a home for at-risk youth.

Murdering a man at a bus stop doesn’t liberate Palestine or prove x and y and z.
What it does do is rip hearts in families. A woman lost her husband. Four tiny orphans!

I am not going to understand this. I’m just going to weep into the dirty clothes as I load the washing machine while my kids aren’t home.

I’m not going to talk about politics. Just want to express that someone I love and cherish and respect and feel grateful for every day lost her brother. That another family has been destroyed.

A family that produces teachers — well, those are parents that were doing something right.

May we all know brighter days.

— Ruth Ebenstein

Itamar Ben-Gal, who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on February 5, 2018, pictured with his wife and family. (Courtesy)
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