My Neighbors Were Murdered: The Fogels of Itamar


fogel-hydBy Rachel Gordon

We were nearing the end of our Friday night-Shabbat meal. Filled with the warmth of the pleasant family atmosphere, our younger children were preparing for bed. Binah, who recently became bat mitzvah, asked for permission to go to her friend’s house for a Shabbat gathering.

“Yes, sweetheart, you can go,” I said. “Just make sure you’re back by 10:15.”

Unusually for me, I am too tired to wait for Binah, or her older brother who went to a friend’s house for the entire Shabbat meal, to return home. After clearing the table, I retire to my room and sink into a deep sleep.

At 2:00 a.m., my husband jumps out of bed. My oldest daughter is calling him. Soldiers are at the door. “Is everything o.k.?” I call out sleepily.

My husband checks on all the children; they’re all safely at home. He reports back to the soldiers. “What’s going on?” I ask.

“Some kind of security incident,” he replies. “They’re checking up on all the families to make sure that everything is okay. I think we’d better say Tehillim.”

I get up and join my husband in prayer, concentrating on the positive verses and mentally blocking out all the verses that seem to insinuate evil tidings. “Think good and it will be good,” I tell myself.

From time to time I look out of my bedroom window. To the side, I can see military vehicles driving up in the direction of the newly built houses at the other side of the village-an unusual sight on Shabbat for the religious community of Itamar. This is obviously a case when profaning the sanctity of Shabbat is permitted: Lives are clearly in danger . . .

Military flares are exploding in the dark night sky above, illuminating the hills around us, a sure sign that the army is searching for somebody or something ominous out there. I continue saying Tehillim, trying to fathom from the familiar, calming words whether all is good, or not; but I am no prophetess.

I see a group of soldiers walk across the synagogue courtyard just beneath my window wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, guns at their sides. The flow of vehicles continues. Military jeeps and ambulances are now rolling out of the village. I notice civilians walking quickly to the village offices, which are also in view from my window. During times of danger, the offices serve as headquarters for the emergency task force which collects and relays information to us citizens.

Seeing the civilians walking freely outside, I realize that the incident has come to its end. Maybe now we can learn what happened. I am still optimistic.

My husband spots a friend and walks down to greet him. Through the window I watch them embrace in a bear-hug. I try to discern from their motions whether all is well. An hour has passed since we awoke.

Exhausted, I crawl back into bed, waiting for my husband’s return with news. At long last he comes in but stands there in silence. Something is clearly not right. “Is anyone injured?”

“Yes,” he replies quietly, and adds no more. I recognize that if he could, he would assure me that nobody had been killed. I am dumbfounded.

“Terrorists infiltrated the village and broke into one of the houses,” he tells me slowly and is silent once more. Unfortunately, in the 12 years that we have lived here, Itamar has known too many similar incidents.

“Was anyone saved?” I ask him haltingly, well-versed in the ramifications of such an occurrence, but wishing only to hear good to the same extent that he wishes to refrain from telling me of the evil.

“Three of the six children were saved.” I instantly derive that the parents, too, were not spared.

Not wishing to leave me groping for questions any longer, he adds, “There were five killed altogether, the Fogels . . .”

A chill grips my heart.

It’s Shabbat, I tell myself; try not to cry on Shabbat.

I try to defeat the tears that threaten to overwhelm me with the power of my mind by regulating my breathing to the rhythm of a Chasidic meditation. I toss and turn in bed. Sleep evades me for the next few hours. Towards dawn, I finally fall into a short, fitful sleep, dreaming strange dreams.

I wake up at 7 o’clock to the sound of my children’s voices, hoping ever so briefly that last night was nothing more than a horrific nightmare.

My husband is already in synagogue, praying in the first prayer service, as he does every day. I must get up to tell the children before they run down, too, and hear the shocking news from other sources.

“The Shabbat gathering I went to last night was at the Fogels!” Binah tells me through her tears, as I sit with her on her bed. “We all left there together and Tamar [Fogel] was with us!”

“That’s why she was saved,” I reply, gently caressing her.

Throughout Shabbat everything centers on the terrorist attack that left Tamar and two of her younger brothers so dreadfully orphaned at such an early age.

“Mrs. Fogel was helping to organize the celebrations for the Talmud Torah’s 20th anniversary,” my 14-year-old son tells us with tears in his eyes. This year, until baby Hadas was born, Ruth Fogel had been working as the secretary for the school while the regular secretary was on maternity leave.

“Last year she was form tutor for the other ninth-grade class,” my now tenth-grade daughter tells us. “She taught us, too . . .” and, I remember now, Mrs. Fogel would often give my daughter a lift to school.

After the morning prayers each of the children goes off to a specially arranged meeting with their familiar educational figures from the village and professionals in trauma treatment. There they hear the whole story in a way that is supposedly suited to their age (is there really a way to tell young children that their schoolmates and their parents have been brutally murdered in cold blood?!)

Although I hardly knew the family myself, that doesn’t help ease the shock, the horror, the pain I share with my children, with my community, with my people. And, I remind myself, G-d says He shares our pain with us, too: “In all their troubles, He is troubled.” (Yishayahu, 63:9; Talmud Ta’anit, 16a)

The names of the victims have not yet been released to the general public. After Shabbat is over, I call my 17-year-old son in yeshiva high school in Jerusalem-Mercaz HaRav. Was it only three years ago that we were at our wits end with worry over what was going on there? He was only in ninth grade at the time and, by Divine providence, was out of the yeshiva when the gunman shot at the boys learning there in the library, injuring my son’s roommate and killing one of his classmates along with seven other pupils . . .

I can’t make a call out of my cell phone-the cell network is busy, probably overloaded with callers who have just heard the horrific tidings. I call again from our land line and he answers immediately.

“Have you heard the news?” I ask him gently.

“Sure. My friends told me something was going on in Itamar and I was just checking it up on the Internet. I was worried about you.” I didn’t ask him why he didn’t call us to find out.

My heart is torn to pieces. Why do my children have to know such suffering at such a tender age?

Unlike my heart, my faith is whole, as is the faith of our community and all those who build their homes in every part of the Land of Israel. We are aware that by living where we live we are protecting Jerusalem from more such vicious attacks; and Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya, Ashdod . . . No matter how much we suffer, our faith grows ever stronger. We channel our pain into positive actions, standing solidly by our resolve never to succumb to the use of violence against the brutality that smacks us in the face again and again. For every Jew murdered, more orchards, more fields, more greenhouses will be planted; another house, another neighborhood, another village will be built, with the compassion and benevolence that we learn from the Torah and will continue to teach to our children.

Ours is the same legacy of faith that the Fogels, Ehud and Ruth and their three innocent children, have left us. Together they built a home in Netzarim, in Gush Katif, only to be cast out of their home, their lives uprooted, for our enemies to trample upon its ruins in a fantasy of peace that has never been realized. Undaunted, they relocated to the town of Ariel, and then finally to Itamar-just two short years ago. Rabbi Ehud found his place as one of the rabbis in the school here and Ruth continued to build their beautiful family in their new home. Together, they planted an olive orchard and taught their children to love the people of Israel, to love the Torah, and to love the Land of Israel. Together they were snatched away from us by the brutal hands of bloodthirsty terrorists.

May the Fogels’ souls be bound in the bundle of life.

It is no longer Shabbat, we are allowed to cry.

{ Newscenter}


  1. This should be required reading. I think a lot of people are passing it by because it is too painful to contemplate. It was beautifully written. I am proud of the writer whose reaction — besides tears — is to become stronger in her faith.