Yesterday three brutal murders rocked our community. Two were from Efrat. Sarah Blaustein, 53 was shot to death while on the way with her family and some hitchhikers picked up in Efrat, to the funeral of Gilad Zar, a civilian security specialist whose job was to travel the roads of Judea and Samaria and to report security infringements. Gilad had been ambushed and shot to death that morning while he was riding the roads and protecting our families.

The Blaustein family had moved to Efrat from New York only eight months ago to fulfill their dream of living in the Land of Israel. Sarah’s brother, a resident of Efrat was one of the influencing factors of their moving to Efrat. Sarah’s daughter, Atara is my thirteen year old daughter, Leora’s classmate. Later in the evening we learned the name of the young woman who was murdered in the car. Leora was on the way to console her friend Atara when she heard on the Israel radionews that the young woman who was travelling with Atara’s mother, twenty year old Esther Elvan, had died in Hadassah Hospital from the wounds that she suffered in that drive-by attack.

Esther was Leora’s youth counselor.

Of all our children, Leora has said the least about “the situation”.

It is difficult to know what is going on in her head. Leora is our only “A” student, sweet, kind, loving, with an immense love of animals, and an innate goodness about her Leora’a paintings decorate our living room.

There is one painting of Leora’s of which I am particularly fond of and it always makes me smile. It is a painting of our family all wearing big smiles on our faces. She painted it when she was eleven years old.

When I look at it I think “all is well in Leora’s world”.

Today, all is no longer well in Leora’s world. Today she will be attending two funerals. One for her classmate’s mother and the other of her most beloved youth counselor, of whom Leora had tearfully told me last night that she had always thought what a beautiful life Esther would have because she is such a good person and makes everybody feel so good about ourselves. “I can’t believe that I’ll never see her again”, she said crying inconsolably.

As a parent it breaks my heart to see the loss of innocence and normal childhood that our children are experiencing. Our oldest daughter, Rivka, had been a babysitter for our friend’s son, Koby Mandell, who was brutally stoned to death together with his friend Yossi.

Their faces and bodies were mutilated beyond recognition. Among the many who came to the funerals were hundreds of children. We are groping in the dark trying to make sense of this catastrophe that has befallen us.

I used to wonder how Jews in Europe continued living where they did after the Nazis rose to power in 1933 when everyday brought more tragedy into their lives. I no longer wonder.

Every Jew in Israel lives in the shadow of an official death sentence that the new Palestinian Authority has pronounced for every Jew.

For that reason, you have heard nary a word of condemnation at any time in the Arabic media of the Palestinian Authority for the brutal murder of any Jew during the eight years of what has been called a “peace process”

Yet the State of Israel was created so that Jews would have a safe haven from the anti- semitism of the world which almost succeeded in the genocide of the Jewish people.

Fifty three years after the establishment of the State of Israel we are now in the position of apologizing for wanting to defend ourselves against a ruthless aversary who train their children from infancy to hate and to celebrate the murder of innocent people for the glory of Palestine.

Over the past eight months we have grown accustomed to horrific realities that would have been intolerable in any other country.

Today, we witness daily murders of people whom we have loved. Our children go to school with orphans whose parents have been killed. Our children have teachers whose spouses have been murdered or return to class to find an empty seat of a classmate who will no longer return to occupy the seat. Our children have attended more funerals than most people attend during an entire lifetime.

We live in Efrat, a fifteen minute drive from Jerusalem and situated between Bethlehem and Hebron. Efrat is a town with lush parks and gardens, beautiful homes, excellent schools, with a population of over 7000 residents consisting of many professionals and people working in the education field. The city of Efrat was purchased legally for a dear price by local Arab landlords in 1983. Contrary to what many people would like to believe, Efrat does not rest on land stolen from Arabs, nor do any of the 144 Jewish settlement communities throughout the West Bank and Gaza strip. All the land in these communities lie on land purchased at full price from Arab landlords or they were constructed on government land (no man’s land that did not have any ownership rights to them).

Not everyone living in Efrat moved there for ideological reasons. Many people have moved to Efrat because of a sense of community here, which seemed until recently to be an idyllic place place to raise a family.

When we moved here in 1985 with two small children and one on the way, we never imagined we would be living in a war zone situation. We are now the parents of six children ranging from 19 months to 19 years. Our three eldest dorm during the week at their schools which are situated in various places in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. Since September we have equipped them with cell-phones so that we can verify their safe arrival to school. All three have been exposed to shootings on the road from the relative safety of the bullet-proof buses they travel in.

My daughter, Rivka, who goes to high school in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, tells me that she and her friends traveling on their school buses have adopted the odd custom of sitting on their legs when they pass these Arab villages “so as to arrive with our legs on”. This custom came about following the deliberate bombing of the Israeli children’s bullet-proof school bus in Kfar Darom (the Gaza Strip) in which two teachers were killed and three children from the same family had their lower limbs blown off.

The first time I saw my neighbor, a lawyer who works in Jerusalem, walk out of his house in the morning carrying his briefcase and wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet, I laughed and saluted. The picture was so surreal. Since then, since twenty people from our communities have been murdered on the roads while traveling in their non bullet -proof cars, the sight of people sporting this new fashion has become more understandable

We have somehow become accustomed to this most outrageous form of existence.

We have become used to hearing the sound of shooting in the air.

Last Thursday, to the sounds of a gunshot battle (that was taking place in the Dagan – Efrat’s furthest northern neighborhood) I was reading to my six year old daughter, Meira, a story from Dr. Seuss. As the shooting became louder, I looked outside my daughter’s window to see what was happening.

From the window I watched the local Yeshiva high school boys carry on with their basketball game. The commercial center was teeming with children out for pizza or just hanging out with their friends. People were visiting the video store, and everyone was carrying out their middle class suburban life style, business as usual, totally oblivious to the sound of loud machine gun fire.

Meira, like many children these days, is having nightmares. Every night when she says her nightly prayers she asks God not to let her have any bad dreams. She has become clingy and though prior to the current situation she had never come into our bed at night, now, she often does. Everyday she asks us if “somebody got killed today”. She worries constantly for her father who travels the roads daily to work to and from Jerusalem.

When it is night time and her father isn’t home yet, she calls him on the cell phone to see if he is all right.

Israel’s Defense Minister, Benjamin Eliezer, was asked yesterday whether Israel’s one-sided cease-fire will continue. “Yes it will”, he answered.

“Until when?”, he was asked. “Until the Nation Of Israel screams out ‘no more’. Open your ears, Benjamin Eliezer. The people of Israel scream of “No More”.

In a seminal tractate of the Talmud known as “Ethics of the Fathers”, we learn that he who has destroyed a single life is rendered as if he has destroyed an entire world. Article written on May 30, 2001, following the murders of Sara Blaustein, Esther Elvan and Gilad Zar

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Noam Bedein is a director of the Sderot Media Center. It is a media advocacy center which portrays the human face of Sderot and southern Israel under siege, to the international media and public. Noam, a native of Tzfat, grew up in Efrat, Israel. After finishing the Beit El Yeshiva High School, Noam learned at a pre-Army training program in the Jordan Valley and then served for three years as an IDF sergeant for an artillery scout unit along the Lebanese border. After the army, Noam served as an emissary for The Jewish Agency in Boston, Massachusetts and then traveled for a year in the Far East.

Upon his return to Israel, Noam relocated to Sderot and pioneered the “Sderot Media Center for the Western Negev Ltd", which has spawned the Sderot Media Center. In this position, Noam is a photojournalist, lecturer and gives briefings to foreign government officials, embassies, foreign press and student groups from around the world.

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