fbpx
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Youngest Victim

Enjoying this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

For Olga and Yevgeny Pesachovitch, it was as if their son, Grisha, died three times. The 15-year-old Russian immigrant boy was the youngest of the 13 Israeli civilians killed by the twin suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market last Wednesday. His body was so mangled that the pathologists had to do blood tests before they could identify him.

But that was only the beginning of the family’s anguish. The father, Yevgeny, is Jewish. The mother, Olga, is not. As it happens, the couple is divorced. When they settled in Israel two years ago, the mother and son were registered as Christians, though they lived as secular Jews in Russia and came here under the Law of Return. The father, who immigrated shortly afterward, lives separately.

The religious authorities refused to bury Grisha in a Jewish cemetery. Since the mother was not Jewish, nor, according to Jewish law, was the son. Innocently believing that Israel honored its martyrs of Arab terror, Olga offered to have him buried in a secular ceremony. The trouble is that there is no secular graveyard in Jerusalem.

A sympathetic official recommended quiet, nondenominational burial in a Christian cemetery he knew of on the Mount of Olives. The family agreed, and a small, sad congregation of Russian Israelis followed the casket to the grave.

To the family’s horror, a black-robed Greek Orthodox priest asked permission to start the ceremony. Olga burst into tears. “No, no priest,” she wailed. “My son, Grisha, lived as a Jew in the Land of Israel. He was not a Christian. I am not ready to let him be buried as a Christian.”

The priest replied that if the Pesachovitches wouldn’t accept the funeral rites of the church, Grisha could not be buried in the Greek Orthodox cemetery. As reported by Ma’ariv, a distraught Yevgeny demanded a spade and offered to dig a grave with his own hands. But the priest would not yield, and the casket had to be reloaded on the hearse.

At City Hall, officials tried desperately to find a kibbutz or a secular cemetery where Grisha could at last be laid to rest. Either they had no one to prepare the ground on a Friday afternoon, or they were too far from Jerusalem. Olga, a high school science teacher, wanted to be able to mourn at her only son’s grave.

The Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Yuli Edelstein, heard about the saga of misery on Israel Radio and rushed to help. “It was an absurd, tragic spectacle that doesn’t dignify the State of Israel,” said Edelstein, a kippah-wearing Russian immigrant whose own parents converted to Christianity. “I was ashamed. When I met Grisha’s parents, I didn’t know what to tell them. It was a desecration which profaned the dignity of the deceased.”

From his car in the City Hall parking lot, Edelstein telephoned various religious officials in the hope of finding a civilized solution. This was not the first such case with which he had dealt. The religious authorities had previously agreed to bury people whose Jewish identity was in doubt in separate areas of Jewish cemeteries, divided not by the traditional wall but by a simple path. In fact, it transpires that nothing has been implemented.

Eventually, Edelstein reached the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, who promised to arrange for Grisha to be buried on Sunday in an area set aside for “questionable” Jews in the city’s main cemetery at Givat Shaul.

Decency, it seemed, was prevailing. But the Pesachovitches’ humiliation was not yet over. The chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Yitzhak Koolitz, barred them from even a “questionable” Jew’s grave. Grisha was not Jewish at all, and there could be no concession, the rabbi determined.

In the end, the youngest victim of the Mahane Yehuda bombers was laid to rest in a vacant lot, belonging to the Bahai faith, adjacent to the Jewish cemetery.

Olga declined this week to talk to reporters. She had applied for Orthodox conversion before Grisha’s death, and she didn’t want to jeopardize her chances. The rest, as a more liberal-minded Jewish sage once said, is commentary.

Previous articleA Sephardic Celebration
Next articleA Family Doctor

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

Massachusetts Man Arrested for Allegedly Vandalizing Synagogue, JCC

He's also accused of yelling at parents and children at a JCC.

Israel Will Be Happy With President Biden

It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  

More Than 120 Jewish and Pro-Israel Organizations Call on Facebook to Adopt IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

"We cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Home Shalom Monday Message #20

Home Shalom promotes healthy relationships and facilitates the creation of judgement free, safe spaces in the Jewish community. Home Shalom is a program of...

Elton John Says He and Husband Signed Letter Condemning Racism, Anti-Semitism

"There is no room for any kind of prejudice in music, or in society as a whole."

Jewish Congressional Candidate Alex Morse Faces Allegations of Inappropriate Relationships

He argued that his relationships were consensual but acknowledged that he has "to be cognizant of my position of power."

What Midrash Can Teach Us About Our Current Social and Political Turmoil

There is a lot to be learned from the margins, and from the spaces and silences between words and sentences.

Israeli Protesters in L.A. Call on Netanyahu to Resign

45 Israeli Americans gathered outside the Israeli consulate building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.

Culture

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Elton John Says He and Husband Signed Letter Condemning Racism, Anti-Semitism

"There is no room for any kind of prejudice in music, or in society as a whole."

Former Major League Player Cody Decker Says Anti-Semitism Is ‘Rampant’ in Pro Baseball

"I hate every half-measure response Major League Baseball always makes.”

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Virtual Theater: ‘Fugu’ Tells Little-Known Holocaust Story

"Fugu" is based on the little-known history of how Japan sheltered 6,000 Lithuanian Jewish refugees in the city of Kobe, to protect them from the Nazis.

Latest Articles
Latest

Massachusetts Man Arrested for Allegedly Vandalizing Synagogue, JCC

He's also accused of yelling at parents and children at a JCC.

Israel Will Be Happy With President Biden

It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  

More Than 120 Jewish and Pro-Israel Organizations Call on Facebook to Adopt IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

"We cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Hollywood

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

Podcasts

The Bagel Report: An American Pickle? Sounds Crazy, No?

Erin and Esther dive right into the barrel and pickle their minds in the majestic, artisanal brine that is Seth Rogen's "An American Pickle,"...

Shlomo Fischer: The Jerusalem Protests

Shlomo Fischer and Shmuel Rosner discuss the almost daily protests aking place in Jerusalem. Who are the protesters? Why are they protesting? And how...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x