Pain and grace of lynching victim’s family

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JERUSALEM, Oct. 18 (JTA) – Anna Nourezitz is inconsolable.

Her long hair caught in an almost girlish ponytail, the mother of Vadim Nourezitz, one of two Israeli reserve soldiers lynched by Palestinians in Ramallah on Oct. 12, cannot control the quiet sobs.

Her husband Issai sits next to her on the small couch, staring into the black hole of his grief. Their two remaining children, Misha and Marina, hover close by. The dark circles under their eyes mask handsome faces framed by the same high cheekbones as their father.

The small living room in Or Akiva is filled with mourning friends and relatives, all still in shock over the loss of Vadim.

Shiva calls are always difficult, but what do you say to a family who sits numbed by the unspeakable violence committed against their 35-year-old son and played on TV screens all over the world? The pain in the room is palpable. It hangs heavily in the warm, still, mid-October humidity of the small town near Caesarea.

The Nourezitz apartment reminds me of the homes of refuseniks I visited in the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. The furniture and tchotchkes have that Russian flavor, but Or Akiva is a far cry from Irkutsk, the Siberian capital from where the family fled in the early part of the 1990s.

Vadim was married just one week before his death. He and Irina, a soft-featured, attractive woman, dated for four years before standing under the chupah together last week. Irina pulls out pictures of their wedding – pictures that had graced the pages of all the Israeli dailies last Friday. A shy-looking, handsome Vadim, wearing a white satin kipah, looks at the camera with an open smile. Irina, in traditional white, looks radiant, far from the state in which we find her just 10 days later.

I’m accompanying Rabbi Avi Weiss who has traveled from New York to comfort as many of the families of the Israelis killed in last weeks terror as possible. We decide to drive first to Or Akiva and Petach Tikva, where the two Ramallah murder victims lived.

Why there and not Elon Moreh, where Avi’s friend, Rabbi Zvulun Lieberman, is mourning his son Hillel, killed on Shabbat Shuvah walking to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus? Simply because driving to Or Akiva and Petach Tikva is still relatively safe, whereas getting to Elon Moreh has become a complicated and risky endeavor.

Taking a car with protected windows is not sufficient. Such measures protect only against stones, not bullets. We simply don’t have enough bulletproof vehicles in the country for everyone who needs to travel to and from their communities these days. Rabbi Lieberman tells Avi that he would welcome visitors.

Avi, as rabbi of a New York congregation that is one of the most vibrant Orthodox synagogues in the United States, has decades of experience comforting the bereaved. But I can see that even for one accustomed to confronting mourning, the deep, profound grief of the Nourezitz family is difficult for him to face. Each of us in that living room grapples with the task of erasing the horrible images of Vadim’s death from our minds.

The rabbi’s words are translated into Russian for Issai and Anna by Alex Rovni, a family friend and local council member who is helping to coordinate the stream of condolence visits by Knesset members, rabbis and government ministers. The parents nod slowly in appreciation of Avi’s empathetic expressions of caring and sympathy.

Finally, as we rise to leave, Issai raises his eyes to tell us that he still has a future and Vadim will have a legacy because Irina is pregnant.

As we rise to leave, Issai raises his eyes to tell us that he still has a future – and Vadim will have a legacy because Irina is pregnant.

(Judy Lash Balint is a freelance writer in Jerusalem.)

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