The expression besorot tovot — may we hear good news, or glad tidings — has become the way Israelis wish each other well. It signals optimism and looking forward to a better future or at least a hope to see some light in the darkness.
So much of the news we receive is not good. The entire country listens to the news with trepidation, waiting to hear the list of recently fallen soldiers. Most of us go on with our lives — going to work, shopping, taking care of our families and trying to maintain some sort of precarious emotional equilibrium.
On the fifth night of Chanukah, we received some happy news. Our youngest son called us as we drove to the wedding of the daughter of one of our friends to tell us that he was on his way into Shaarei Zedek hospital. He had rushed from his reserve unit near Israel’s northern border to be with his wife who was giving birth to their second child. He arrived 10 minutes after his daughter was born, and all was well.
Later he remarked how kind and friendly everyone had been to him, even when he tracked dried mud from the Galilee all over the floor of the Jerusalem hospital. “They’re really nice to you when they see you in uniform.”
When we went to meet our new granddaughter for the first time the next day, we were slightly disconcerted to see that our son had his grenade launcher with him in the hospital, holding it on his knees next to the baby’s bassinette.
“I didn’t have anywhere else to keep it,” he said. Weapons must be kept locked behind two doors on leave unless the soldier keeps them on his person. That is why so many people in civilian dress are carrying guns in public these days — many are soldiers on leave. War impacts on all aspects of our lives here, creating many unsettling situations and highlighting stark contrasts.
From Shaarei Zedek, we walked across Herzl Boulevard to the military cemetery for a funeral. Earlier that day, we received word that the oldest son of our good friends, Robert and Lisa Zenilman, had fallen in battle in Gaza.
Ari Zenilman made aliyah with his family in 2005 and attended the local yeshiva high school in Maale Adumim (the school that my sons attended and where I work today). He went on to serve in the IDF, attend the world-renowned Har Etzion yeshiva and receive a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Hebrew University. He married Chava Landau in 2015 and had three children, the youngest less than three months old. For the past two years, he worked for Mobileye in the field of high tech. He was not yet 33.
It is not possible to sum up the life of any human being in this kind of a brief bio.
At the funeral, I heard from Ari’s commanding officer about his exceptional personal warmth and caring for others. I heard from his mother and father about his tremendous love of reading and learning, particularly Torah study. I heard from his siblings about how much they looked up to him and about the absolute joy he took in playing with his children.
Eli promised that Ari’s children, including his youngest daughter Ma’ayan — only 10 weeks old — would grow up hearing stories about how much their father loved them. His brother Yonatan emphasized that Ari had given his life to protect the Jewish people and combat evil. This is an essential component of tikkun olam — repairing and perfecting the world. Particularly touching was his father Rob’s unanswerable question that hovered in the air: Had Ari lived a longer life, how would he have made this world a better place?
Ari’s sister Shira and her family arrived in Israel only after the funeral; she and her husband are serving as Jewish Agency shelihim, emissaries, in Australia.
But the remarks of his youngest brother Eitan caused the tears that were in my eyes from the start of the funeral to flow freely. They were an impassioned call to God to bring deliverance to the Jewish people — now. Eitan underscored that the struggle that had taken Ari’s life was not over Gaza — it was over Jerusalem, and the vision of a better world that our holy city embodies.
As the funeral concluded, I saw a woman to whom I had spoken briefly as we were crossing Herzl Boulevard on our way into Mt. Herzl cemetery. She had told me that she attends as many of the military funerals as she is able to. “They belong to all of us now.”
On Rosh Hodesh Tevet, one of the last days of Chanukah, my son called us to tell us that our new granddaughter had been given a name. Tsofiya — as in the words of HaTikvah, Israel’s national anthem:
“As long as in his heart within,
A soul of a Jew still yearns,
And onwards towards the ends of the east,
His eye looks towards Zion — ayin l’Tzion tsofiya.”
We’re all looking forward with joyful anticipation, hope and expectation for the fulfillment of promises of peace, redemption and good tidings. Besorot Tovot.
Nahum Schnitzer is a native of Wilmington, Delaware, and a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy, now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr. He is a librarian, Jewish educator, translator and writer living in Ma’ale Adumim in Israel.