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Friday, March 05, 2004

PURIM WITHOUT KOBY
By SHERRI MANDELL


from Kosher Spirit via Isralert
I was asked to write an article entitled “Purim Without Koby.” But I can’t write about Purim without Koby because even though Koby is dead, I don’t celebrate Purim, or anything else, without Koby.

In an article in The New York Times, Steven Flatow said that even though his daughter Aliza was killed by terrorists, he was still her parent. I am still Koby’s mother. I will never not be his mother.

Trying to explain my relationship with Koby is like trying to translate blindness to a sighted person. I speak a different language now.

It is like being a haunted house, or a hallowed one. There are times when I feel horrible pain, and I feel that I will always be haunted. I see how people look at me sometimes and remember the haunted house I used to pass on my way into town when I was a kid. Unlike our modern, shingled house, it was old, dark brick with spires and round windows. Now perhaps, I would look at the house as curious, interesting, maybe even beautiful. For what is haunted can also be hallowed, sanctified by loss into something grander, more attached to G-d. It depends on how you translate your experience.

Purim tells us that this world is one where meaning is hidden. The name Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, is related to the Hebrew world for hiddenness. And in the Purim Megillah, G-d is never mentioned by name, though he is not absent from the story.

To encounter G-d, we have to move from our position of pride to a position of humility, enhancing our own hiddenness. Only then can we emulate Esther, who could have stayed in the palace, where she lived in luxury, massaged and oiled and groomed, but chose instead to feel the suffering of the people. Esther did not let her elevated status go to her head.

That may be our job in this world: to connect more with other people, to feel their pain and their problems, to act as one with them. Perhaps that is what we should celebrate: our ability to help each other move toward healing; to move from our limited sense of self to feeling one with the people around us. Such unity can lead to healing.

Less than a year after our son was killed, my husband and I marked our wedding anniversary by going out to dinner. I can’t say we celebrated, because we were too sad. When we walked into the restaurant, the smiling waitress with her shiny, black hair had a spirit and effervescence I could only admire. I thought to myself, ”She has no idea of the pain I am living with, the weight of what I carry.”

As my husband and I ate our meal, we realized that the restaurant was a perfect place to commemorate what would be Koby’s upcoming fifteenth birthday. We wanted to take fifteen poor or disadvantaged people out to dinner to mark Koby’s birthday—to remember the dead by bringing joy to the living.

We spoke to the manager about our plans. He said that he volunteered at a nearby center that helped teens from poor, broken families, and he thought that the teenagers would appreciate going out with us. The idea was taking form almost on its own. We hadn’t thought about taking teenagers out for a meal, but it made sense. Koby was a teen when he was killed. We thanked the manager for his suggestion. Before he walked away, my husband said: “Do you know the Goodman family? They live around here. They lost their 16-year-old son, Tani, this year in an accident—we went to the shiva—and I wanted to know how they are doing.”

“You can ask them yourself. Your waitress is their daughter.”

I looked at her, at her beauty and her spirit, and I thought, “You never know what’s going on inside a person.” I had misjudged her. When she came over to the table, we told her of our loss, and she shared her own.

As we spoke, I realized how much of life is hidden. We don’t see what’s inside of people.

As we shared our feelings, my husband and I felt less isolated. The pain lifted for a moment. Healing may occur when we reveal what’s hidden inside of us. Then the pain doesn’t haunt us but brings us closer to others.

If we can’t even see what’s inside of other people, imagine how difficult it is to see G-d in the world. But Purim tells us that even when we can’t see G-d, he is with us. Even when it seems otherwise, G-d does not abandon us in our pain.


Seth and Sherri Mandell moved to Israel from America in 1996 because they loved Israel and wanted to put Judaism in the center of their lives and their children's lives.

Their lives were devastated on May 8, 2001, when their 13 year old son Koby was murdered by terrorists. Koby went hiking with his friend Yosef Ish Ran in a canyon near the Mandell's home. There, in a cave, Arab terrorists stoned the two boys to death.

The Mandells, parents to 3 other younger children, knew that in order to go on, they needed to transform the cruelty of Koby's death into acts of kindness and hope. For that reason, they created the Koby Mandell Foundation which provides healing programs for families struck by terrorism.

Seth, a rabbi, and Sherri, an author and journalist, believe that the Jewish response to suffering is to live a fuller and more engaged life. Their programs help others who have suffered the trauma of loss overcome the isolation that keeps them from returning to life. Participants are helped to find meaning in their loss, so that families become stronger rather than weaker from their traumas. In this way, they keep Koby's spirit alive in the world.

Opportunities for Giving are available at the Koby Mandell Foundation.