The Mandel family of Alon Shvut may not need to prepare a salt-water simulation of tears when they dip their traditional karpas greens at the Passover seder tonight. But even though they will have to set one less place at the table, they will still conduct a family seder at home, as they had planned.
"What I always said is that bad things happen, and it's what you make of it that determines you," said Cheryl Mandel yesterday afternoon as she eulogized her son Daniel, a 24-year-old Nahal officer who died during an exchange of gunfire in an IDF search for militants in Nablus around dawn yesterday. "We're going to make something good of this."
Cheryl and David Mandel emigrated from Toronto 15 years ago with their daughter Nicole and sons Yonah, Daniel, Gabriel - who entered the army about a month ago - and Shlomo, now 18. They knew it might be difficult but were confident they were making the right move.
"When you went into the army, we knew, we accepted there might be a price," said Cheryl, deputy director of the Etzion Judaica Center in Alon Shvut. "I guess the time has come, and we're paying the price."
Speaking in front of hundreds of relatives, friends and soldiers in the Gush Etzion settlement, Cheryl expressed support for the IDF, saying the soldiers knew what they were doing and that the operation in which her son died went well. "We brought you here because this is the place for Jews to live; we brought you here because this is our homeland," she said.
The fact that the Mandels chose to live in a religious Zionist community over the Green Line is one reflection of their Zionism, said a longtime resident and community leader of Alon Shvut who declined to be named. Living in Gush Etzion can be tough because friends and family members often refuse to visit or participate in celebrations out of fear for their safety, she said.
Another neighbor commented that one of the children's grandmothers rarely made the trip from Canada for precisely that reason.
All the Mandels are involved in communal life, neighbors said. Cheryl used to be on the Alon Shvut committee and works at a community shop. David, a psychiatrist, addresses mental-health concerns without charge when the need arises and attends Jewish law classes taught by the rabbi.
Neighbors gathered together yesterday to supply the Mandels with some holiday food (including one of Cheryl's favorites, salmon), to do the family's laundry and to cover up their mirrors, a custom demonstrating that vanity is set aside for the mourning period. However, the traditional seven days of mourning are superseded in this case by Passover, meaning that the official mourning will only take place until this afternoon.
Before the funeral, family friends crowded the Mandels' lawn and a busload of soldiers from Daniel's unit pulled up. Visitors streamed in and out of the house to express condolences to the family members sitting in the living room, not far from the piano Daniel used to play.
Friends and family said Daniel's musical talents were intertwined with his leadership ability and his charisma. Elisha Medan, a childhood friend of Daniel's who spoke at the funeral, said that Daniel, who also played the guitar, held together the band in which they played but led it with characteristic modesty.
"It was clear... that if you weren't playing with us, it wouldn't happen," said Medan. But he added, "you knew how to do it so tactfully, without making anyone feel he was less important."
Daniel was also the backbone of his family, said his brother Yonah, 26, at the funeral. "I tried to think about how you would have reacted" to a death in the family, Yonah said. "You would definitely have been like mom and dad, [saying] we have to be strong and optimistic. But it's not clear how long we'll manage, because you were really one of the roots of the family, and of happiness and goodness and the ability to flow with life."
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