By Toby Klein Greenwald
How meaningful to have begun writing this on the late afternoon of Tishah B’Av, a day commemorating destruction, and to have completed it on Tu B’Av, the holiday of love.
Eight years ago, on the eve of the 17th of Tammuz, as Rachela and Dov Kol were leaving a Shabbat spent with their extended family at the home of Ruti and Hezi Cohen in Ganei Tal, in Gush Katif, three weeks before the expulsion, they were gunned down by terrorists on Kissufim Road.
Their deaths by terror made news not just because they left behind three children, but because they were a couple known to live in peace and love with their contradictions. Dov was a secular left wing Tel Avivian (though he had moved to Jerusalem) and Rachela, the beloved aunt of our son-in-law, was a religious woman with right wing politics.
Of course, it’s never as simplistic as that, but it was close enough to put their deaths in the headlines more than usual.
Dov’s first wife had died of cancer, and Rachela had been her close friend and a source of support to the family during her illness and in the aftermath. She raised Dov’s first child like her own, and Dov and Rachela had two children together. At the time of their deaths, the oldest was married, and the two younger were teenagers. Many of the eulogies mentioned how ecstatic they were to become grandparents, only six weeks before their deaths.
Three weeks after their double murder, the Cohens and other families of Ganei Tal were expelled from their homes and destined to spend the coming years in what Ruti refers to as “cardboard” boxes in Yad Binyamin, awaiting the building of their new homes in an area near Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim, named “Ganei Tal” for the original Gush Katif community. Meanwhile, Dov and Rachela’s teenagers, Tamar and Yehonatan, grew up, married and had children of their own.
There are now nine grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews named for them. We too have a granddaughter named Rachel Emuna (“faith”), a grand-niece to Rachela and Dov.
Over the last two years the Ganei Tal homes have steadily been going up in their new location, and the Cohens will also be moving into their new home soon. But just as meaningful to them was the ceremony held the day before the 17th of Tammuz this year, dedicating an exquisite, expansive plaza to the memory of Rachela and Dov. The plaza is bordered by the new synagogue of the rebuilt Ganei Tal, a community center and a memorial room, dedicated to members of the community who fell in wars or by terror.
We were privileged to be at the dedication. And we were overwhelmed to see how the extended Cohen-Mizrachi (Rachela’s maiden name) clan had grown in the last eight years.
The day before the dedication, on Shabbat, Dov and Rachela’s youngest child, Yehonatan, and his wife Ayelet celebrated the brit milah of their first child, whom they named Dov Maayan (“fountain”). Ruti described how Yehonatan first said Kaddish for his parents and then recited “Shema Yisrael” for the brit.
The dedication opened with the unveiling of a large stone set in a new playground at the edge of the plaza, unveiled by Rachela’s mother, Naomi Mizrachi. On it are the words: “Kol Plaza in Memory of Dov and Rachel, may their blood be avenged. They were loving and pleasant, and were murdered by evil ones on Kissufim Road, on their way home from Ganei Tal in Gush Katif, on the eve of 17th of Tammuz, 5765 (2005), may their memory be blessed.”
The men’s choir of Ganei Tal sang, the rav of Ganei Tal spoke, and the evening concluded with a concert given by Hanan Yovel, a beloved Israeli folk singer who told the story of how Hezi Cohen’s father was the Kohen who redeemed his own son at his pidyon haben, 30 days after his birth. He sang a deeply moving song whose lyrics are from the 49th chapter of Psalms: “Do not fear when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased, for when he dies he shall carry nothing away…” Yovel said that the last time he had sung that song was at the azkarah (memorial service) of Hezi’s cousin, who fell in the Yom Kippur War. Years later, the son of that same cousin fell during the war in Lebanon. Yovel said, “I felt that this song was the most appropriate for Dov and Rachela.”
Ruti says, “I hope this plaza will be filled with many joyful occasions. I know that funerals will also leave from here, and this week we held a ceremony for the day of our expulsion from Gush Katif, but I am looking forward to all the smachot that will be here. And every time there is a wedding held here, it will be written on the invitation, “The voice (kol in Hebrew) of joy and celebration will be heard in the Kol Plaza.”
Echoing Ruti’s words are those engraved at the bottom of the plaza’s memorial stone: “For the Lord shall comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins, and He will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found in it, thanksgiving, and the voice of song.” v
The author is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times, the award-winning director of the Raise Your Spirits educational theater, and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.