It was dusk by the time we reached Leora Hason's cafe in Naama, and many of us had been on the road since before dawn. The cafe was to be our last stop before heading home, and it was nice that it looked like a warm sort of place, simple, but inviting. After we had our cups of tea or coffee, Leora came out from behind her counter and began talking. "This isn't actually a cafe: it's a memorial", she began, and a total hush descended.
Her son Guy opened the place, along with his girlfriend, on June 1st 2006. By mid-July he was climbing the wall as Hisballah shot rockets at civilians all over northern Israel but he wasn't mobilized. By early August he finally was, and by mid August he was dead.
"The first year was surreal. Obviously someone had made a mistake, and he'd call any moment and laugh away the confusion. The second was worse, because he wasn't ever going to come back. The third year was worse than the second. Then, in 2009, an elderly woman told me she envied me. What is there possibly to envy? That her son, killed in the Yom Kippur war, is gone and forgotten, a mere name on a list whom no-one remembers anymore; Guy is still a living memory. So I've re-opened his cafe, and I tell about him, and about how we've got to make life in this country worth dying for. And that's what I do, here in this cafe he built which still stands exactly as he built it".
By the time we wandered out it was dark. We milled around for a few minutes, until the last stragglers got back to the bus. I found myself standing near one of the six or seven Arabs of our group, who was pacing nervously back and forth. Curious to hear how he'd responded to the event, but not knowing how to ask, we began by chatting about his town in the Galilee, where two local Arab women were killed that summer by Hisballah rockets. But that wasn't what he wanted to talk about. "You know, I lost a 16-year-old son, a bit more than 14 months ago, in a traffic accident. That's why when she talked about how it keeps getting harder and harder, it was like a flame in my stomach. I haven't been able to get back to normality, and don't know when I ever will".
We were joined by another man, a 40-something, bald man with glasses and a ponytail. "Eventually, it will get better. I lost my brother in the Yom Kippur war, and for a long time the pain was unbearable. Then I came across a comment by Rashi, our 11th century scholar. He says that the reason Jacob never managed to get over his grief about the loss of Joseph was because Joseph wasn't really dead. The dead, you see, eventually do get forgotten from our hearts (mishtakchim min halev). Then I finally knew it was permissible for me to let go. Someday it will get better,believe me".
As I turned to get on the bus, the bereaved Arab father was discussing the impossibility of his ever forgetting his dead son with the bereaved brother from a long-past war. Leora was clearing up Guy's cafe and shutting down for the day.