Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is available in paperback and on kindle and is being reprinted on Catholic News Agency with author’s permission. Cheryl’s non-fiction book is called Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with Her Past.
Praise the Lord, who is so good; God’s love endures forever; Praise the God of gods; God’s love endures forever; Praise the Lord of lords; God’s love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-3
Nothing Beth had ever heard, or read, or thought, or imagined, or saw, or knew had prepared her for the next moment of her life. As they had raised their glasses to Meir’s words of ‘Le Chaim,’ an explosion simultaneously rocked the marketplace.
Everything was happening so quickly that Beth couldn’t separate the sights and sounds, the screaming and yelling and crying. She couldn’t breathe, her nostrils seemed to be on fire. Her eyes were burning from whatever was in the air. The back of her head prickled all over and when she touched it, her hand came away bloody. It began to throb but as soon as she noticed the pain, her attention was diverted to her friends at the table and then to everyone around her.
The impact of the bomb seemed to immediately set off sirens in the air and on the ground. Everywhere she looked, Beth saw terror. She was sure her heart was going to explode, making as horrific a mess as did the blast that just shook the marketplace. People were rushing through the streets, not knowing if they should run to help others or seek their own safety.
In the midst of the pandemonium, Beth looked at her dear friends around the table; Miriam, David, and Meir. She didn’t know what she was looking for, maybe some sort of reassurance that this moment would quickly pass. That this wasn’t near as terrible as it seemed to a visitor. However, searching their faces all Beth saw was complete and total pain. No words could ever describe their eyes. In an instant, they had changed from being full of life to being lifeless. Beth wanted to scream to them, But we are alive! Let’s leave this awful nightmare. Let’s talk about our plans for tomorrow. If we ignore this it will go away. It has to!
More than anything she had ever wanted in her whole entire life, Beth wanted to escape the horror of this moment. And then, time stopped. When it began again, it was slower, more methodical, there was no noise, no screaming, no sirens. Beth seemed to have joined Miriam and David and Meir in a different realm of existence. Her heart joined theirs. Their pain became her pain as she achingly realized that Ayala had been in the location of the blast. The terrible, horrible explosion happened very close to the stall where Beth had bought Luke’s coffee cup, where Ayala had spotted the tea service and had gone to make a purchase.
Beth felt sick and thought she might become ill. She didn’t know what to do as her body seemed to have a mind of its own. It wanted to collapse, to cry, to scream. Beth, however, wanted to say words of assurance to her sweet and kind friends. Beth prayed that her mouth would move and that somewhere from the depths of her soul would issue soothing words. But none came. Beth sat at the table waiting for the next explosion that would take her life. She was waiting for, she didn’t know what she was waiting for, she was just waiting.
Slowly, then, succinctly, the mother in Beth took over. She pushed back her chair and moved to where Miriam also sat motionless. Beth crouched down in front of Miriam and held Miriam’s hand. Beth’s heart was filled with Ayala’s love of Miriam as she realized that somehow, somewhere deep inside, Ayala knew, as she always did, with her intuitive sense, that she could not let Miriam purchase the tea set. Beth thought of her own daughter, Sophia, and knew that she would, without even thinking on it, put herself in harm’s way to save her daughter, her sons, her children. As time stood still, Beth understood the great capacity to love that dwelt within a heart. The kind of love that Christ, Himself, must have felt to have offered His life for all.
Beth could see the entire scene replay in her mind’s eye. Miriam offering to go make the purchase and Ayala saying something about being undecided on the color and having to go herself. And as Beth held Miriam’s hand, Beth knew that it was one thing to console a daughter who has just lost a mother but it would have been something much worse to have had to console a mother about losing a daughter. And, in that instant, Beth understood how even in a awful tragedy, there could be gratitude.
Within minutes the ambulances and the police had filled the area. In a calm but firm way they were walking around, together, speaking with witnesses, sending people home, and investigating some of the minor injuries, like those at Beth’s table. Holding Miriam’s hand, Beth could see that the left side of Miriam’s face had a few small abrasions where tiny drops of blood had dried in the ten excruciating minutes since the blast. They seemed to have been sitting at the very perimeter of the terrible explosion; a safe enough distance to have kept their injuries to a minimum.
As Beth looked around, the same could be said of David, except his few cuts were on the other side of his face; his right side. And Meir had no apparent abrasions. This was because of the way they had been seated at their table. Beth’s back was to the blast and with Miriam sitting to Beth’s right, the left side of Miriam’s face had sustained a minor cut or two from the debris that had flown through the air. Then, with David sitting across from Miriam, and at Beth’s left, the right side of his face had sustained a few cuts as well. Because Meir was sitting directly across from Beth, but apparently blocked a good deal by Beth, he didn’t seem to have any injuries in the physical sense. But looking at the pain in his eyes, Beth knew he would have traded places with Ayala in a heartbeat.
The police and paramedics walked up to their table and began questioning them in Hebrew. Beth gathered that David identified Beth as an American, or as a guest, as all eyes turned towards her. Their exchange lasted but a few minutes and ended with the police obviously giving condolences to the Goldfarbs. The sincerity of the moment brought the reality to light and all three Goldfarbs began crying. It wasn’t a heart wrenching cry that Beth had so often seen on the television news. It was quiet, with no sobbing noises or motions. There were no hands waving in the air and no falling to the ground. And Beth saw that in the silence of their tears was the greatest grief of all.
Everyone remained mute, lost in his or her own sadness, as the paramedics tended to each of their cuts and scrapes. The paramedics suggested that they all ride to the hospital, just to be safe, but they declined; each knowing that their wounds were not of a physical nature. Then, when the paramedics walked away, Beth heard what sounded like a ripping noise. She turned and looked at David who had torn the collar of his shirt. Then Beth heard more ripping sounds as she watched Miriam and Meir do the same thing.
As the four of them turned and began walking home, Beth, too, tore her shirt. Mourning had begun.
The previous chapters are listed below: