Book Review

Expecting My Child: A Mother’s Longing by Bat-Galim Shaer

“As I write this we mark three years without Gil-ad, may Hashem avenge his blood. We lost our only son among five daughters. The loss caused me the most extreme emotional upheaval; our world became dark.”

On Thursday evening, June 13th 2014, Gil-ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach were kidnapped and murdered; for 18 (chai) days their parents suffered through the unimaginable pain and anxiety of yearning for news of their sons and their safe return. Bat-Galim Shaer was preparing for Shabbos and awaiting her son’s return from yeshivah; her maternal instincts were on alert as she realized Gil-ad was late arriving home. Amazingly, she recalls those 18 days of unabated anxiety as ‘chai’ days, days of life.

She chronicles those “chai” days and the aftermath in this book- a mother’s diary of hope, desperation, fearfulness, more hope, and ultimately an abundance of love for her missing son and her daughters. She notes the “care and concern” of Am Yisrael, writing that “[s]uch love exists in this nation. We discover more and more of it each day.” As she prays for her son’s safe return, Am Yisrael prays with her- prayers that extend over oceans and continents, among the devout and non-observant, among those who daven regularly and those who define prayer in other ways. Her husband Ofir notes that a client of his asked him “one day, ‘I think about you all the time- is that praying?’” She recognizes with deep appreciation the enormous efforts of the Israeli army and government to find the missing boys; the chai days ended with the discovery of their bodies, lives that were brutally cut short, ironically at the beginning of those 18 days of hope and chai.

In the aftermath of the shiva week and the sholoshim, Bat-Galim Shaer continues to relate her personal journey as an invited speaker at national events, as a devoted mother to her beautiful daughters, as a reluctant participant in a group of families devastated by terrorist actions. She learns that, at a United Hatzolah memorial event for the boys, three motorcycles donated as emergency vehicles in the boys’ memory are used in “amazing life-saving events…including births, accidents, terrorist attacks, and injuries….the motorcycle donated in Gil-ad’s name meant that he, Gil-ad, is memorialized through the preservation and protection of life.” 

Interspersed among the heart-rending pages are pictures of Gil-ad and the Shaer family- a smiling baby, a smiling bar-mitzvah boy, a family on vacation; concluding the book are excerpts from Gil-ad’s diary, burnt at the edges and water damaged from an inconceivable atrocity. On Monday, 17 Adar 1 5774, this amazing young man wrote the following: “There’s been a lot of talk in my grade recently about how bad people have it…and everything’s a ‘waste of time.’ But things are like that only because of that talk! The general atmosphere is what sets the tone. If people start saying everything’s great, and the atmosphere’s good…we can rise to higher levels. Bottom line, it all depends on the atmosphere. Each one of us has an impact.”

As I read Bat-Galim Shaer’s journey through the “chai days,” as she describes them, through the devastating months of loss that follow, through her daughters’ simchas, through her own prayers and devotion to Hashem, I was reminded to treasure each moment with my family, to delight in the photo albums of times past and present, and to marvel at this woman’s courage in relating her story and the story of her amazing son. She and her son indeed have “an impact.” May his memory continue to be for a blessing.