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Bereaved children light a candle at OneFamily Chanukah Camp: “looking for my brother inside me”

The article below is a translation of a piece published on YNet, Israel’s leading news site, about the closing ceremony at OneFamily’s Chanukah Camp.

It was a joyous Hanukkah party, with dancing and singing, even though the hearts was silently torn asunder. Two hundred children – boys and girls from bereaved families – gathered for a candle lighting ceremony organized by OneFamily. Eight candles, eight children – and each one is a world of loss and longing.

For most of us, the faces are anonymous but the names are familiar: Noam, son of Emanuel Moreno, who was killed during the Second Lebanon War; Sarah, the sister of Aaron Benita, who was murdered on his way to the Western Wall during Sukkot. One by one they stood up, a candle in their hands, joining the intimate circle of bereaved families.

OneFamily, an organization that supports victims of terror, asked the children to speak, release their burdens, and display the strength they found through coping with their tragic circumstances. “Surprises and Revelations” was the theme of the event held in Khan Revivim, and the children talked about the inner strength they found within themselves, as well as new challenges they needed to adapt to.

Take for example, Yuval Abutbul, 16, from Pardes Hana, who lost her mother Hadas in a shooting attack even before her first birthday. For years Abutbul avoided outdoor activities. She said it was only in the last year that she had the strength to deal with the pain she couldn’t explain, even to herself.

“Each time I tried [to participate in outdoor activities], I would start screaming and need to return home,” she said. In ninth grade, she forced herself to join a course of Young Field Guides but the pain continued. “During one of the trips, I was surprised to suddenly discover within myself physical and mental strength I did not know was there. It made me realize that no matter how difficult it would be for me, if I want it badly enough and believe in myself, I can accomplish anything.”

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The Hardest Year of My Life

Sarah Benita, 17, from Jerusalem, joined OneFamily a year ago. “Everything changed in an instant. It’s so cliché to say it, but it is true. When I called my brothers on Saturday night and they told me, I did not want to believe it until I heard his name on the radio. That’s when it hit me. My whole world turned upside down.”

“It was the beginning of the school year. Everyone began to return to normal, and I did not want to go back to school. At first I tried, but I realized it was too much for me. My school tried everything to bring me back. They pushed me up a grade, tried to convince me that I had to learn. At one point I thought maybe going back was the answer, but it did not help.”

Over time, Benita began to understand she couldn’t continue that way. “I even surprised myself. I realized I wanted to learn. I’m looking to finish high school with a high school diploma. Before the murder I was very withdrawn. I thought there was only one way to do things, and did not let myself look right or left, and to see that there are thousands of options.

“But something loosened itself and exploded in my mind. I started to dream and fulfill my desires. Before, I pushed down all the things that burned inside me. I wish for ourselves, during this holiday of Chanukah, that each of us will go with his heart until the end and not be afraid to want and dream. If there is anything we believe that is good for us, we should go all the way and not give up, just like the Maccabees.”

“I want to feel more connected to my brother who was murdered”

Chai Moriah, 11, is from Efrat. His brother Avraham David Moses was murdered at the age of 16, spoke about his inner life. “It’s surprising and strange to me that on one hand this is my brother, someone who is very close to me, and on the other hand, it is very hard for me to connect to him only through the stories. I was two years old when my brother was killed at Mercaz Harav, and I know him only from the stories that I hear from my family,” he explained. “I want to feel more connected to what happened and maybe even find out I’m like him in some ways.”

Noga Eisenman, 13, spoke passionately about the grief she felt since birth: her grandmother Noa Alon, 59, and her sister Gal, 5, were killed in 2002, before she was born, in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood. Noga’s name combines the names. She joined OneFamily when she was in second grade.

“When I was asked to speak at the event, I was surprised that I felt I could speak to the group. I felt comfortable talking about my story,” she admitted. “I’m not ashamed of it thanks to the strength I got here, and today I light candles with this new strength that flows in my blood.”

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The House Where the Lights Are Out

The ceremony was directed by Oz Boanis and Avinoam Rubin, members of OneFamily. Boanis lost his father, Yitzchak in a clash with terrorists in Hebron on Friday night, 2003. (Brigade Commander Dror Weinberg was also killed in the same battle) and Rubin lost his brother David in a clash with terrorists in 2008.

“Dealing with bereavement through the eyes of children, is one of our biggest challenges,” says Chantal Belzberg, CEO of OneFamily. “The perspective of children is immeasurably different from ours, and their ability to continue to cope with their new lives is different. We see the importance of the relationship between Chanukah and children. Hanukkah is the festival of the intensity of light. Throughout the ages, we had times we needed to find light even in moments of complete darkness.

“The children in the organization come from families where vital light was extinguished. For us, it is of utmost importance to give them light – which they will then shine onto their families,” She added. “When they all gather together, it is like a family reunion that strengthens them.”

The candle lighting ceremony on Tuesday concluded the Hanukkah Camp. “It is important for us to provide a place for children to enjoy themselves,” said Itzhak Fried, director of the Youth Division of OneFamily, “and no less, to allow them to benefit from the unique atmosphere that is created here – an atmosphere where all participants face bereavement, and this reality helps them develop the tools that will allow them deal with their daily lives.”