Note: Marilynn’s new book Journey Into Zion, has just come off the press in Israel. For a copy with this and many more stories contact her personally firstname.lastname@example.org.
A voice heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded…’” Jeremiah 31: 15,16
It was a peaceful Saturday in Adura, a small village of 70 homes nestled in the Judean hills just west of the ancient city of Hebron, 40 minutes southwest of Jerusalem. As always on Saturday, the Jewish Shabbat, Y’acov Shefi, 32-year old father of three, went to their shul to pray in the morning. Coming out of the small synagogue into the bright sun of the new day, he turned and headed up the road toward his house, his friend Jacob Katz not far behind him. Approaching his house Y’acov saw two Israeli soldiers, or so he thought, standing on the steps of his house. “Hey guys, what’s going on?” he yelled. Suddenly one of the “soldiers” started shooting at him! He screamed “Terrorists!” As though all done in slow motion Y’acov saw the fire coming from the gun, bullets pinging all around him. He thought, “Why aren’t I dead? Why don’t the bullets hurt me?” He stood, frozen, until his feet finally started to move. He started running, fell, got up, fell, got up again and kept running, around a corner and into a neighbor’s house. In the meantime as his friend Jacob Katz was running to get his gun, the terrorist shot Katz dead. By this time the village was awake to the attack and calls for help had been made. The men of the Village were arming themselves, running out to confront the murderers in their midst.
As quickly as it had all started it was finished. The terrorists were fleeing with armed villagers in close pursuit. Soldiers were on the way. Rescue workers were quick to respond. Y’acov, feeling as though he were in a terrible dream, was escorted to his house. He knew that the other terrorist had entered his home. When they arrived, they found his wife, Sheri, hysterical. His two little boys were crying uncontrollably. There seemed to be blood everywhere. Sensing the worst he looked around for his little girl. Then, as the nightmare continued, he saw a small body, wrapped in a blanket, being carried down the stairs. Y’acov knew it belonged to his little five year old Danielle and that she was gone forever from them. He went to his wife and two sons. Sheri was bleeding from her hand and his 4 year old son, Aliad, was bleeding profusely from a head wound as well as other wounds. Only baby Orial seemed to be unscathed. His little sons were crying, ”Daddy, Daddy!!” Sheri sobbed, “They have murdered two of our children.” He said, “No, Sheri, they have killed Danielle. Aliad will live.” With tears streaming down his face he took his baby boy in his arms, comforting him along with his wounded wife and son. He looked over at his little daughter’s body, wondering how life could ever go on without her, his treasure.
Later, in the hospital, Sheri was able to tell her husband what had happened: She was upstairs in the children’s room with the three children, 5-year old Danielle, and the two little boys, 4-year old Aliad and Orial, 14-months. She was sitting on the bed combing Danielle’s hair. Suddenly a man burst into the room with a machine gun, spraying bullets everywhere. He was dressed as an Israeli soldier. Her mind could not comprehend why he was shooting them. She jumped up and cried, “What are you doing? Get out of here!” Then she pushed him out of the room and shut the door behind him. He didn’t come back. Danielle, Aliad and Sheri were all bleeding. She could see that the two older children had head wounds. Sheri was terrified the assassin would return. She grabbed the baby and told the two older children to quickly get under the big bed. Then she crawled under the adjacent bed with baby Orial. She whispered to the children, “Be very quiet.” When there was no sound from under the bed next to her she thought they were just being good, staying quiet. After a few minutes Sheri realized that Danielle was barely breathing. Both the older children were very white. Then, slowly, Danielle stopped breathing. Sheri knew her child was dead. She lifted the children from under the bed. The room seemed to be bathed in blood. At that point Sheri became incoherent with grief and shock. The terrorist’s bullets had shattered everything in the room, including their own precious children. And he had shattered their lives forever.
The assasin had shot over 13 rounds of bullets into the house. For some reason that Y’acov and Sheri still cannot understand, Sheri heard nothing until the fateful moment the man entered the children’s room. The thick stone walls of the Israeli built house had effectively silenced the sound of the violence. None of the noise in the street, or the machine gun spraying her home with bullets downstairs had registered. Thus she had no time to protect herself until the terror was upon her.
The next day little Danielle was buried in the local cemetery, still clothed in the clothes she was wearing, and wrapped in a small dark blue burial cloth. Many attended the graveside service, accompanying the small body to its final resting place. Sheri too was there, hand bandaged, with Y’acov supporting her. Four-year old Aliad remained in the hospital.
Y’acov is a gentle, soft spoken man, small and well built, a former IDF soldier, as are most men in Israel. He has been a policeman in Hebron for several years, but now thinks he will try something else. He is not bitter. He shares his thoughts about his little girl: “All of us must spend our life preparing to see God. After many years and struggles, we hope to be ready. But my little Danielle was always ready. She didn’t have to prepare. She was one of God’s innocents. I can see her in heaven running and playing, eating good things. I see her with God and she is content,” he says. “She sees us and tells us not to worry, that she is very happy. It’s just us that can’t be so happy yet.” His eyes fill with tears. He continues, “There is more than just Danielle’s death. Many have died, many children, but one day we will all be secure in our own land. With God there is a bigger picture and I want to understand it.”
Sheri Shefi, a tall, dark-eyed pretty woman, says she is trying to be strong for her children, and to do her work. She is a bookkeeper. She was unable to stay in her home for several weeks, even though the Israeli government is quick to repair all damage from the attacks. They are back in their home now, but Sheri still has flashbacks of that terrible day. She is also terrified of riding in a car in the area as several cars have been ambushed and their occupants shot. She wants, somehow, to have a bullet proof car to keep her two remaining children safe. She does not know if she will be able to stay there. She never feels safe. Her home, the one place that she thought was secure, was violated.
Now Y’acov frequently visits the families of terrorist victims. Shortly after their little girl was killed a family in Tel Aviv lost their grandmother and small daughter when a bomber came into an ice-cream shop. Knowing more than most the pain they felt, Y’acov went to comfort them. Many people from all over Israel as well as the world have reached out to his family, sharing in their grief. As much as anything can, this has helped. Y’acov says these cards and letters confirm his belief in the true goodness of people. Their son has recovered but did not want to go home. His dad promised that when they went back he would make him a great party for all his friends. Aliad had his party, but he still suffers from post traumatic syndrome. Other children in the village have also had to deal with the trauma. Danielle’s good friend Hadar, a little boy her own age, still can’t say her name. He doesn’t want to leave his house without someone going with him, and he is often found hiding behind things. Not only did he lose Danielle, he lost his friend, Judah Katz. Judah went to live with relatives in New York after his father was killed.
Of the two men that committed the murders, one was killed in the escape, but not before he had killed yet another member of the village who was chasing them. The villager did not know that the terrorists were in Israeli IDF uniforms. When he saw the two men he came into full view and shouted to them that there were terrorists in the village and to come and help find them. The gunmen shot him. The other assassin made it to a nearby Arab village but was later apprehended and is now in jail. That day in Adura two men, one woman and one little girl lost their lives in the murderous attack.
One year has passed since that terrible day. Due to the generosity of both Christian and Jewish organizations here, the Shefis now have a bullet proof car and Sheri can drive to work feeling much safer. Y‘acov says he is happy to drive his old car. He is never without his guns, one in a holster on his belt, an Uzi over his back. Only when they are in the home does he take them off. He won’t be caught unable to defend himself and his family ever again. More and more, this has become a way of life in Israel. Although Sheri wanted to be able to stay in the pretty little home she and her husband built together, she has been unable to overcome the flashbacks and trauma of that horrific day. Being in the same house, looking out daily upon the Arab town that sent her little daughter’s murderer to kill them, has been more than she can manage.
Y’acov has found a new job with the coast guard in the coastal city of Ashkalon. Since he must often work late, he does not want Sheri to be in a place where she does not feel safe. Thus, he has found them another house in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kiryat Arba, (Jewish Hebron). While this area is scarcely considered safe real estate, it is considerably better protected than their Adura home. While they still love their home in the beautiful village of Adura, there are too many reminders of that terrible day, too many fears that it could happen again. Though the badly damaged furniture is now replaced, and all has been painted and bars placed on all doors and windows, there are still grim reminders. A kitchen chair is pierced with a bullet hole. As she sweeps her steps in front of the house, Sheri picks up something shinny. It is a bullet casing. Aliad picks up a children’s video. “Danielle’s movie,” he says.
They can’t sell their house. No one will buy it. Of the 70 households in the village only a few over 40 families are left. They will have to rent the house in Kiryat Arba. They can’t afford to buy another house. Y’acov says he is glad they are keeping their home. He feels that one day, in a better season of their lives, they will return to this beautiful place, high up in the hills of Judah. This wild, rugged, altogether beautiful area of hills and valleys with its pure air and vistas that seem to stretch forever, are part of “the mountains of Israel” spoken of in Ezekiel.
These mountains, encompassing almost all of Judea and Samaria, are the very heart of the lands deeded to the tribes of Benjamin, Judah and Joseph. They are unchanged since the days when Abraham pastured his flocks upon them. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob are buried only 20 minutes away from here, in Hebron. This is ground sacred to Israel. The bible says that this land cannot be given away. It belongs to the Lord and he has covenanted it to the Sons of Jacob. The price has always been high. Y’acov and Sheri are sabras (those born in Israel). Their roots run deep in Eretz Israel. It is hard to walk away from any part of it. However, for Sheri the price was too high in Adura. She looks around her home, so full of her little daughter’s life, and she smiles sadly, remembering the beautiful, dark eyed, curly haired little girl that will never return.
By Marilynn Ahlin Marilynn Ahlin is a free-lance writer presently living in Jerusalem. She is currently working on a book chronicling many of the miraculous ways in which God has and is fulfilling His promise to once again establish His people in their land. It is not without sacrifice.
Below right: Danielle Shefi, 5 years old
Below left: Danielle and Sheri Shefi