A mother's blessing breaks our heart
Reviewed by Ellis Shulman, September 4, 2003

Koby Mandell's murder in a desert cave was one of the most horrific of the Intifada; his mother gives us an uplifting poem of life in his memory.

Koby Mandell, 13, and his friend Yosef Ishran, 14, skipped school on May 8, 2001 , and instead hiked into the rocky countryside near their homes in Tekoa, southeast of Jerusalem . Inside a large cave in the valley, the two were bludgeoned to death with stones the size of bowling balls. The double murder in the cave was one of the most horrific of the Intifada; the terrorists have not yet been apprehended.

"A cave is a place of constriction, of darkness, of fear," Koby's mother Sherri Mandell writes in the recently released The Blessings of a Broken Heart (Toby Press, July 2003). "Moses and Shimon Bar Yochai and Eliyahu all dwelled in caves, and encountered God from the clefts in the rock... My thirteen-year-old Koby entered the cave - but he did not emerge. I thought my family and I would be lost in a cave of grief, forever wandering in a labyrinth so dark you can't even see your own hand, but have to trust that when you step, the ground will still be under you."

In the darkness of her grief, Sherri Mandell "didn't know how to cope with the pain and the evil." She began questioning her role as Koby's mother, asking herself if there had been some way she could have prevented her son's death. And, she began questioning her faith.

"How could God decide to kill the boys in such a cruel way?" Mandell cries out. "How can we live with such a gruesome death?"

"He is not gone," one woman comforts her, visiting Mandell during the seven days of shiva (traditional mourning period). "He will live inside of you now."

Instead of dying with her son, the author makes a conscious decision to live. As much as she knew Koby, her firstborn, while alive, Mandell grows even closer to him following his death. She learns of his many talents, and his faults as well. And instead of abandoning her faith, she finds consolation and guidance in Jewish traditions.

"What do we do with the pain?" Sherri's husband, Seth, asks a rabbi who lost a child in a bus accident. The rabbi answers: "You must use it to grow."

Sherri Mandell not only grows, but learns to deal with her pain, her horrific loss. This is more than just a detailed description of the stages of grieving; it is a true monument to the soul's ability to recover, live and love.

"Many of us live with broken hearts," Mandell writes. "But when you touch broken hearts together, a new heart emerges, one that is more open and compassio nat e, able to touch others, a heart that seeks God."

Readers of this book will be appreciative of Sherri Mandell's strength to recover from her tragedy and her ability to relate the deeply painful, yet strangely beautiful tale in such a way that readers cannot help but be comforted and changed for the better.

Sherri Mandell was born in New York and graduated from Cornell University in 1977. She taught writing at the University of Maryland and at Penn Sate. She moved to Israel in 1996, where she lives in Tekoa with her family and is now director of The Koby Mandell Foundation Mothers' Healing Retreats for Bereaved Mothers and Widows.