|Visits with Families :|
Eliyahu (Eli) Laham, 21, the eldest of three children, served in the Military Police in Megiddo. He was one month from completing his army service and like many Israelis had plans to travel to Thailand immediately upon his release. The last photograph taken of him was the one used for his newly issued passport. Eli’s father, Motti, tried to dissuade him from his travel plans, saying that there were warnings of terror attacks in Thailand and not to give his mother a “heart attack.” Eli’s answer was: “I can also die tomorrow right here next to the house”. Two days later, on March 5, 2003, a short distance from his house, Eli’s words turned into prophetic tragedy when he became one of 17 people killed in a suicide bombing of an Egged bus in the Carmel section of Haifa. He was on his way to visit his sick grandfather in the Carmel Hospital when he was killed.
Eli’s mother, Nava, 46, is an active participant at the Koby Mandell Foundation’s monthly support group in Haifa and has participated in two of the Foundation’s Mothers Healing retreats. She feels most comfortable being among other women who have gone through a similar life-altering tragedy and never misses an opportunity to participate in Koby Mandell foundation activities.
Already during the shiva, Nava declared, “We knew our souls would not find comfort until Eli would be appropriately memorialized in the most Jewish traditional sense – by building a synagogue and writing a Torah Scroll in his memory. If we could – we would go so far as to build the Holy Temple itself in his memory and wouldn’t spare any amount of sweat and tears in our efforts to do so.”
Alongside their deep grief and excruciating pain over the loss of their son, the Lahems determinedly busied themselves in far-reaching fundraising efforts to fulfill their goal of building a beautiful synagogue that would honor the memory of their beloved first-born. For many years the Carmel area, where the Lahams’ lived, did not have a synagogue.
It took four years to collect the funds and build the synagogue and have a Torah scroll written in Eli’s memory.
On March 29th, 2007, the streets of the secular neighborhood in the Carmel were shut off to make way for a very special Torah scroll procession. A Chassidic band played lively music; dignitaries, rabbis, friends, neighbors and well wishers stood alongside the streets clapping hands and singing while others took part in the short march. Walking beneath the chuppah (canopy), Motti held close the newly written Sefer Torah and made his way to the grand opening of a magnificent synagogue they named “Heichal Eliyahu.”
Nava’s words at the Torah/synagogue ceremony: “ . . . For our family, this is the first time since the terrible tragedy 4 years ago that we are full participants in a joyous occasion, to music that we have all but stopped listening to, song and dance. We believe that Eli’s soul will find a resting place here with the Torah scroll written in his memory and the synagogue that carries his name for eternity and in this we take comfort.”
Nava was 42 years old, when Eli was killed. Aside from her passionate wish to build a synagogue and have a Torah scroll written in her son’s memory, she almost immediately ached for another child.
After a year of trying to get pregnant, Nava and Motti went for in vitro fertilization treatments. It was a long hard road and for 2 years Nava was disappointed time and again, as the treatments weren’t working. At the age of 46, Nava was almost ready to give up. The expensive treatments, the anxiety, the disappointments alongside her deep grief over the loss of her son were becoming too much to bear.
Then Nava had a dream that changed everything. In her dream, she saw her son Eli, who asked her why she wasn’t wearing the “Chai” (life) necklace his father had given her as a present when he was born. In the dream, he instructed her to wear the necklace.
Nava woke up from her dream and frantically searched for the gift necklace that she had never worn. She found the large gold necklace with the words CHAI inscribed upon them still in its box inside her dresser. Nava put the necklace on where it remained next to her heart. A few days later, her doctor called her and said: “I know it’s hard and you’re disheartened but let’s do one more treatment and see what happens.”
Nava confidently went for the treatment. A few days after that her doctor called her to say that she had to throw out all the test tubes because they were no good. Only one egg had fertilized and the doctor tried to persuade her that the odds of getting pregnant by implanting one single fertilized egg were almost zero. Nava told her doctor, “Never mind, go ahead with the process.” A short time later, Nava, to her delight, discovered that she was pregnant. When she went to her doctor for a check up, the doctor calculated the estimated date of birth. To their astonishment, it was the same as Eli’s!
On June 6th, 2007, Nava gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. When he was 8 days old, friends and family gathered at the Heichal Eliyahu synagogue for the baby’s circumcision ceremony. The Lahams named the baby Liad Chaim, meaning “Mine Forever Life”.
A home visit at the Lahams is unlike other home visits to bereaved families. The pictures and memorabilia displayed on the walls showing the slain son are identical but the atmosphere in the home is strikingly different. In the center of the living room, on a plump queen-sized pillow, lies the 8-pound source of newfound happiness. Wiggling his toes, Liad Chaim lets out a huge yawn, oblivious to the positive commotion his arrival has brought into this home of bereavement. With a small sigh, he closes his eyes and falls asleep.
Motti, silver-haired and athletic looking, walks in the door for a lunch break and immediately heads for the baby. He gets on all fours, cell phone and keys spilling out of his pockets and bends over his sleeping baby son. He takes the little hands into his and kisses every finger, then he kisses the closed eyelids, and the sweet pink cheeks and then he goes for the toes, planting a smacking kiss on every one of them. “He thinks the baby is a mezuzah,” Nava says with a tired smile.
The albums that are brought out at this visit are “happy” albums. Albums showing pictures of the Torah and new synagogue celebration, the brit milah albums and the party held afterwards.
While the baby sleeps, Nava
keeps a watchful eye on him while stating that the baby can never be
a replacement for her son who is now dead. At the same time she
is comforted by the thought that Eli’s spirit has intervened on their
behalf so that they will have the comfort of this child to help them
through their pain over losing their first-born son.