By Rav Doron Perez
I had the privilege of being present at a Brit Milah this Wednesday unlike any other I had ever attended.
It was the Brit of the infant son of a man who became a close friend after he visited our Mizrachi community in South Africa exactly 10 years ago. His name is David Chatuel, a household name in Israel. His story, perhaps more than anyone else’s in the modern era, is our story – the story of the Jewish People.
On Wednesday afternoon, David and Limor Chatuel celebrated the Brit Milah/circumcision of their fifth child who was named Eitan. What made this celebration extraordinarily remarkable is the devastating and tragic background of the Chatuel family that many of us know about.
The Chatuel’s lived in the Yishuv of Katif in the Gush Katif area, and his pregnant wife then – Tali, who was in her 8th month of pregnancy, along with their four beautiful young daughters, were on their way to Ashkelon to meet with their husband and father, David. In one of the most devastating and heinous acts of terror and murder, Tali and her four children were gunned down at point-blank range by Palestinian terrorists who shot at the car, causing it to swerve and stop. They then came up to the car and reshot Tali and her four children to ensure that there would be no survivors.
The Jewish People in general and the State of Israel were stunned, witnessing the funeral of an entire family, with the father mourning his wife, four children and unborn child. We had the privilege of hosting David and his brother Yaniv 15 months later in our community in South Africa during the time of the evacuation and expulsion from Gaza. Not only had David lost his whole family, but he was now about to have his home destroyed. It was simply too much for him to personally witness, as the home that his wife and him built for their children, with all the memories, was about to be destroyed. Friends sent him and his brother to South Africa to enjoy time in the embrace of the Jewish community and the African wild. It is here that David forged lasting relationships with many of us in the community.
David and I remained in contact and particularly deepened our connection once my family and I returned to Israel a year ago, and we had seen each other on a number of occasions. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the news of the birth and Brit.
Soon after the impossible first year of mourning for his family, David was introduced to Limor, a 32-year-old single woman from Jerusalem. A little over 9 years ago David and Limor got married in the most beautiful and uplifting wedding, where both his deceased wife Tali’s parents and his new wife Limor’s parents stood under the Chupah. It was a wedding that no one who attended could possibly forget.
Incredibly now, almost 10 years later, David and Limor celebrated the Brit of their fifth child. David pointed out in his speech at the festive meal that although one person cannot replace another, it was quite unusual how he now was blessed with his wife Limor and 5 children, having lost Tali in her 8th month of pregnancy, about to give birth to a baby boy, and their four daughters. He pronounced the words from Psalms – “הודו לד’ כי טוב, כי לעולם חסדו – Give thanks to Hashem, for he is good, and his kindness is forever”.
An additional point which was hard to ignore was that the Brit Milah took place almost exactly 10 years after the evacuation/expulsion from Gush Katif. The Brit took place in the Yishuv of Amatzia, in the Lachish area down south, not far from Kiryat Gat, where the whole Yishuv of Katif where David lived had relocated. They stood together as a family and as a community, celebrating this Simcha.
It is actually quite hard to believe that the previous residents of Katif now living in Amatzia are still living in temporary houses, as they are part of those evacuees who have yet to be resettled in permanent homes. (This underscores not only the tragedy of the Gush Katif expulsion, but also the ridiculous planning for the day after, where literally 10 years later many have not yet been settled into permanent homes.) Despite this fact, life is teeming in Amatzia, where people against such difficult odds have moved on with their lives, reaffirming life and celebrating this remarkable occasion together with the Chatuel’s.
The story of David Chatuel is the story of the Jewish People. It is the story of hope in the place of despair, faith in place of tragedy, and the reaffirmation of life in the place of death. It is the belief in a bright future over the reality of a devastating past.
Two verses came to mind during the Brit Milah which I would like to share in conclusion. The first comes from the 16th chapter of the book of Ezekiel, and forms part of the ritual of the naming ceremony. Just before the child gets his name, all those present chant the following verse in unison: (Ezekiel 16, 6): “וָאֶעֱבֹר עָלַיִךְ וָאֶרְאֵךְ מִתְבּוֹסֶסֶת בְּדָמָיִךְ וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי – And when I passed by you, and you were weltering in your blood, and I said to you – In your blood you shall live, and I said to you – In your blood you shall live.”
This prophecy is one of comfort to the Jewish People and the destroyed first Temple of Jerusalem in anticipation of its rebuilding. The prophet marvels at how the newborn child is enveloped in the blood of the placenta and the inners of his mother. This verse was instituted by our Sages as part of the naming ceremony, as our sages say it also refers to the blood of circumcision. Blood is the symbol of life and vitality – through it we are born, and with it every male enters the covenant. The loss of blood, therefore, is tantamount to and symbolic of the loss of life. It is also the blood of pain, hurt, suffering and death which is inextricably linked to the reality of life. The Jewish People know this more than any other people, and we declare to the young Jewish child that as challenging as this reality can be, it is ultimately through this blood that we live and continue to reaffirm life.
Never has this verse had more meaning to me than at this particular Brit Milah.
Finally, it is hard to ignore the timing of this Brit. It was in the week after Tisha B’av, as we finished the תלתא דפורענותא – the three most difficult weeks of חורבן and destruction. Yet the very first Shabbat straight after Tisha B’av this week initiates the שבעה דנחמתא – the seven weeks and prophetic Haftarot of comfort. On this Shabbat called נחמו we initiate these seven weeks of comfort, and we will hear the famous words from Isaiah chapter 40 opening the Haftara – “נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלקיכם – Comfort My People, Comfort them, says Hashem.” The prophet urges all those who can to come and comfort Jerusalem and the Jewish People. The blood of suffering will be replaced with the comforting vitality of the restoration of life.
All of Klal Yisrael celebrates together with the Chatuel family, and may we all in our personal and collective lives merit the comfort, blessing and promise of Jewish fate and destiny.