|Compassion Yes - Pity No|
|By Sherri Mandel|
My 13 year old son Koby, an American and Israeli citizen, was murdered by terrorists in Israel on May 8, 2001. Koby decided to cut school that day with his friend Yosef Ish Ran. They went hiking in the canyon near our home, and were attacked by terrorists who bludgeoned them to death with rocks the size of bowling balls. Koby was beautiful, smart, funny, and always surprising me. He is my oldest child and he taught me how to be a mother. He is still teaching me.
When Koby was killed, I thought that I would not be able to survive and in fact wished that I could die. My precious son was gone, and nothing would bring him back. And he had been killed so violently and cruelly.
When I turned to my husband after Koby was killed, and asked him how we were going to go on, he said: ?We have other children and we are not going to destroy their lives because Koby is dead.?
We had the support of a community that protected us and nurtured us in our grief. They cooked, cleaned, brought us books, visited, stayed at our sides. A friend who had been a pastoral counselor in New Mexico and had trained with Elizabeth Kubler Ross came over every day to talk. Each day I felt like a pane of glass that was fracturing and could fall apart, and each day because I knew she was coming to help me contain my grief, I could carry my pain without breaking.
Right away, we saw that our own kids were terribly misunderstood.. They went back to school after a week and the other kids asked them insensitive questions; for example, a girl asked my 10 year old daughter; do you miss Koby? Eliana couldn’t answer. Missing doesn’t begin to describe how she feels about losing Koby.
We were surrounded by people but the kids were basically alone. They didn’t want to talk to a psychologist and it was hard for them to talk to us at first. We were in too much pain. It was difficult for them to watch us cry. Many families who have lost loved ones to terror find it hard to continue with normal routines, even getting the kids to school on time becomes impossible. We realized that many of the kids from families who had lost loved ones to terror were being neglected, overlooked. These kids needed special care; they needed to be with others who understood them. Children who lose loved ones have to keep facing the loss, integrating it into their lives as they mature. Dealing with grief is a difficult process and requires tremendous support.
We took the love we had received and created the Koby Mandell Foundation. We established sleep away camps where kids who had had family members murdered by terrorists could be with other kids like them, kids who understand them. Last summer 600 kids attended the camp. The camp also takes place during Sukkot, Chanukah, and before Passover. 400 kids participated in a 4 day camp in Eilat during Chanukah, hiking and riding camels, in the evening lighting the Chanukah candles together. The kids have a great time and with the help of art, music, and drama therapists are able to touch the places of pain, if they want. Just being with other kids who have also suffered loss and trauma helps them know that they are not alone.
We also run a camp for kids who were injured in terrorist attacks. One of the boys who had been injured in a bus bombing said “In school kids want to see my scars and they turn away. But at Camp Koby everybody wants to show each other their scars; they want to share them.” Another 16 year old boy said that in the regular world people look at him with pity. But at Camp Koby, nobody though he was pitiful. He was like everybody else.
Pity means that others look at you with fear. Compassion means that others look at you with love. At Camp Koby and Yosef, the kids are surrounded with compassion.
One of the campers, a 10 year old girl, told the camp mother, a volunteer from America, an astonishing story. Her father had been killed in a bus bombing. Every night she had a recurring dream. She was in a beautiful garden surrounded by flowering bushes. When she saw her father, he was facing away from her but when she ran to him, he disappeared. She hadn’t told anybody about her dream. She didn’t want to hurt her mother. After a week at the camp, she told the camp mother about the dream and that her dream had changed. She ran to her father. He was dressed in beautiful flowing white clothes. He held her and told her “I am watching over you and your mother.” The girl felt relieved. In the protection of the camp, she had found a taste of healing.
The foundation doesn’t just work with kids but with their families as well. We hold mothers healing retreats-- 2 day retreats where grieving mothers and widows receive love, support, and spiritual sustenance. We work with grief therapy and give healing massages, do yoga, art and drama therapy, and spiritual healing work. The women continue in support groups, and soon after, we work with the entire family in healing retreats and follow-up sessions. Healing retreats are three- day programs where bereaved families participate in fun activities like jeeping and hiking, as well as in healing groups for couples, children, and teens. There is sharing between groups and enhanced communication as families see that their problems are shared by others; kids are able to voice their feelings of being neglected; their pain at seeing their parents’ pain; parents are able to share their dilemma of being incapacitated by pain. We also run groups for adults in their 20?s who share the burden of loss as well as the feeling that they have to “parent their parents”.
All programs honour Koby’s sense of fun, adventure, and his great compassion and love for others.
In my book The Blessing of a Broken Heart (Toby Press, 2003), I tell the story of our spiritual journey of love and healing. I write of the Kotsker Rabbi who said: there is nothing so whole as a broken heart. By letting the pain of our loss teach us and guide us, we have been blessed with a richness of being. We will never be whole again, though our lives are full. The loss of a family member to terror is so painful it can feel like madness. We help people know that they are not alone, that others care and are with them. We insist that Israel is one fabric, and that though the fabric is torn, it will not be ripped apart. We miss Koby every day of our life, every minute, but we choose to honour him by growing, by being better, and by helping others to create and build from their pain, rather than be destroyed.