Some strange events after Arik's death

Two days after Arik was killed I wrote a long letter to the Jewish Chronicle in England, part of it was published. What follows is this letter as well as a slightly subjective account of several strange and interesting things which followed...

(Most of the following was printed by the Jewish Chronicle in July 1994)

File 19a

There was nothing of interest that night on channel 3 or even channel 4 or 18 and so I turned to channel 8. I didn't watch channel 8 usually, in fact I really had only ever seen it once or twice in all of the years since I got the cable.

The program gripped me, the author, talking about his novel, his name eludes me. But it was the excerpts from the story that fascinated. The computer, a parallel to a strange reality that floated by, like the people seen fleetingly outside of the windows and the strange face that appeared inside the screen and looked out from the inside, at the watchers of the screen.

That was how my week began.

I worked frantically that week, at Tiud, to finish the slide presentation for IBM. They changed their minds about their slides for the presentation to Bank Discount every day and the number of slides and their order in the presentation changed like the days of the week. Frantically I tried to keep up with them and in sheer desperation I opened a different folder for the files, on the computer each day IBM5_7, IBM 6_7 and on Thursday IBM7_7.

On Tuesday I had worked till after 22.00 and on Wednesday I left early, finding an excuse to leave the office to go home to paint with my friend Tzvika. I was surprised when he called at 16.00 to say that he would arrive at the usual time of seven. Usually he only called at six and so I waited for him at seven and by the time he arrived an hour late I was already worried. He had been delayed - gone after his exercise class to the beach.

The evening was pleasant and I drew on the computer and he painted - a scene of trees. I thought it was an autumn scene, but he said it was a forest fire.

The next day, Thursday, started frantically, the work piled up and the guys from IBM pressuring for the completion of their slide presentation. I opened a file for 7_7 and at 17.00 the guy arrived with the last of their corrections and the final reorganisation of their files.

We worked carefully, correcting slides on the screen and renaming them and renumbering, sending them to the printer and putting the new file to save in 7_7. The hours passed and finally at 21.00 I breathed a sigh of relief as David Kimche from IBM walked over to the printer to take the print out.

Stretching my back I relaxed at last. The job was almost done and the time table reached. Suddenly David said, "Rebecca, there's a problem with the slide numbers and one is missing!"

My heart skipped a beat, "Oh no, there can't be! I never throw away files during a job" I insisted.

"Well look," he said, "slide 19 is missing." And sure enough he was right.

"No it can't be missing, it must just be misplaced, let me check", I said. "Give me the printout from the last set that should be slide 19."

David sat down and I opened the file manager. I turned to file 6_7 and moved down the list and sure enough there was a file out of place. Amid all of the 6_7-1s and 6_7-2s, etcetera, was 7_7-17, quite lost and out of position.

"But that's the wrong file" disappointed David said.

"No, lets open it David, sometimes one has a surprise", and with that I clicked my mouse over it and the slide opened, revealing the errant no 19. "How did that happen, we were so careful" I complained.

David said, "We'll just rename it 7_7-19 and put it in the right file"
"No" I answered "If we do that we shall lose the wrong file 7_7-19 and that won't do. Let me do this my way". David started to argue and adamant I refused to listen and demanded that he hand me the printout for slide 19 from the previous set and I wrote on it 19. Then turning to the file I renamed and placed it - 7_7-19A.

But then, suddenly, David realised that he was in error and that it should really be 20 and so I renamed the file 20A and opened slide 20 and renamed that 18A and slide 18 now became slide 19 renamed as 19A. The computer prompted me, should it overwrite slide 19A, already existing, and I clicked "yes", slide 19A existing safely, nesting as new slide 20A, was safe.

I renamed 19 as 21A and 20 as 22A and so on and so forth till at last finished, the set numbered an extra one as needed.

It was late as I left, and the lift didn't work so I ran down the four flights of stairs, my tear gas canister at the ready in my hand, passing a man ascending as I ran. The car park was deserted and the highway empty as I sped in my car toward Givat Shmuel, my home. The news on the car radio at 22.00 was painful - the burial of a soldier killed in the Lebanon bringing thoughts of my Arik, down in the South, driving his tank. And a girl of 17 had been killed by terrorists outside Hebron as gunfire strafed the car in which she was going home.

I reached my home, parking behind the house and entering from the back, through the glass door I saw the orchard opposite and a man staring in, who quickly, seeing me, moved off, startling me. I entered the house and sat down to open my mail, Micha, my flatmate sat opposite, a strange expression on his face. I was just about to ask him what had happened when there was a knock at the door. Micha rose to answer it and through the open door entered a tall soldier,with long silver hair, the rank of a captain on his shoulders.

"Rebecca Frankenthal", he queried? Ice froze up my spine, the name, last heard many years before, when I was married, shattering my peace.

"No, no" I screamed, "Not my Arik!"

Hours later I lay on my bed, besides me slept my cousin Berenice, who did not want to leave me alone. In the darkness I tried to comprehend the incomprehensible, my sweet Arik, only 19, a year older than I had been when I left Manchester to come out here to the land of my fathers, kidnapped and murdered by terrorists, outside Rammallah.

In the darkness I tried to understand, to reach out to Arik. Arik the tall, the redheaded, the believer in peace. Arik who had always said that he lived his life to the full, as he had no time. Angering me with his words, that he would die in the army.

My life, with all of it's pain, my divorce, so that my husband could marry his second wife, whose husband lay dead in the Lebanon, killed weeks before at Sultan Yaacub, in 1982, has brought me face to face with my scepticism. And now in the darkness I wondered.

Arik, I thought, is this the end? Have you gone forever to nowhere? If you had to go and you are somewhere I cannot hold you back but perhaps somewhere, somehow you can send me a note, a sign, something, anything, to hold on to, to get me through.

I lay there, remembering the previous month, the stones thrown on my bedroom window at 3.00 in the morning and Arik, laughing below, with his little girl friend and the midnight feast of popcorn and tuna from the can. The smiles, the jokes, the laughter. Remembering too, the last film we saw together, Kevin Costner as he lay riddled with bullets, and the small child crying, stunned, as he watched his friend, senselessly shot.

And then in the darkness it came to me, the last note from Arik, the last message in a bottle. They had asked me if he was 20 or only 19 and out of the darkness it came to me - file 19A, file 20A and so on , and Kimche saying "Now lets delete the doubles" as I finished correcting our mistake, and my reply:
"I never delete the doubles till the show is over. If you do you will always lose one - Murphy's Law".

Now I remember my father's grandmother, Rebecca too, in Jerusalem sixty or seventy years ago, and her son Arik, like mine, my grandfather, Tzvi Arieh (Dear Lion), who had wanted to avenge the massacre of the Jews of Hebron, a hot headed ginger boxer, whom she had sent to England so that he would not get himself killed.

Where are you Arik, what file did I lose you in! Perhaps you are in 6_7-17 somewhere else, on someone else's computer under a different name! And maybe now you are just one foot away from me in a parallel dimension, so close and so far?

Shutting my eyes on the way to the graveyard, I did not want to see the road. Something forced me to open them and in front of my eyes I saw a sign on the traffic island. Out of half a football popped a tiger and above it the words "Chai Kef" (live fun), and beyond, briefly, a flash of a ghost of your smile Arik. In a flash, my dream of the previous week returned to me, a winter landscape, snow, a lake lit with a strange light of another world and an animal, so strange and wonderful and awesome, like a large whiter tiger in the snow. Afraid, I led the tiger in front of me as one leads a large dog, pulled by it rather than leading. And then I knew that I was leading it to a kind of zoo. At first I was sad, such a creature had to be free, but then I realised that it was in danger and that the zoo was a safari park and it would be safer there and free. When I awoke I felt very strange, as if the white tiger had become a part of me.

You were not there today at Cholon, when they lowered that box into the sand of the "holy land". As we left the graveyard and passed a large area, Tzvika, my friend, asked our driver, "What is there, is it a safari park, is there a car park there?"

"It is the "Chai Kef" he answered.

The next day Edna, my other flatmate, read this story. "I still have last weeks television program," she said "shall we see who the author of the television story was?"

We looked, it had been Douglas Adams talking about his new book and his famous best seller "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".
My Arik was kidnapped hitchhiking from Jerusalem to Gimzo, to the Galaxy.

(Most of this was published - what follows has not been published before)

It was in the days that followed, as I sat "shiva", the Jewish traditional mourning, that Arik's friends started to bring me his letters and the poetry I had never known that he wrote. Together with birthday greetings that he wrote to many of his friends was a small note sent to Oshra, his friend and correspondent of nine years, saying that he was wishing her a happy birthday, six months in advance, as he was not sure that in six months time he would have leave to do so.

Many people came to my house that week, people whom I had not seen in all of the years since I left the village where I had lived with Arik's father, and amongst them some who had harmed me greatly. It crossed my mind that Arik would have been amused by the procession if he were able to sit, perhaps, up on the window and observe them. It was then that I saw the beetle on the curtain, a large black scarab, of a type I have never seen here before. Jesting, I told a visiting friend that in Egyptian mythology the scarab symbolises the dying young god who journeys through the night and is reborn to the life after death with the rising of the sun.

It was during those days too, that another friend of Arik's came, and as we talked she told me that she had just come from Arik's graveside where she had gone to finish a conversation she had been having with him. As she left she had felt the urge to put a packet of the Camel cigarettes, that he had recently taken to smoking, before he was killed, on the grave. Fearing ridicule from people nearby she had put the traditional stone instead and come to visit me. I remembered then those times that I had pulled the cigarettes from Arik's mouth.

Remembering his reply that as he would die in the army he wanted to enjoy life to the full first, I decided myself to put a packet of Camels there on the last day of the shiva when it is traditional to go to the grave for a ceremony. Let people think I was mad, my ex-husband did anyway.

When I got home from the ceremony I heard strange noises from the corner of my salon and discovered that my Persian cat had given birth to one white kitten in between my oil canvases. This reminded me of the day that I got my divorce, the day, too, that my white Arab horse lay dead in my neighbour's persimmon grove and the white cat which I had bought in Jerusalem gave birth to four white kittens and one ginger one.

Alas the kitten was premature and very weak.

When the pandemonium of resettling the kitten into a suitable box had subsided I sat down and opened the paper. There in front of me was a large advertising picture for camel cigarettes which I had never seen before - it would take a thousand words to describe this picture so I shall make it short and instead perhaps later include a picture instead. The picture was of a man, Joe Camel, with a camel head, dressed in a suit , smiling and with a cigarette at the corner of his mouth, just at the angle Arik always had his cigarette and holding a box of cigarettes upon which were written "You will never catch me without fire" (in Hebrew this also means gunshot!)

The camel's eyes shone out from behind dark glasses and his smile brought Arik strikingly to mind.

The next night sadly the kitten died despite the efforts of it's mother to nurse it and my attempts to help her. At four in the morning when I finished feeding it with a dropper and replaced it in it's box, the mother cat took it in her mouth and put it at my feet, after a minute she again picked it up and vanished with it behind the sofa where she stayed till it died. The next day I took it out to bury in the garden.

Aviva, my neighbour called over the fence and offered me a plant for the garden and we talked a few words about Arik and my younger son Chananel. I took the plant from her and planted it over the grave of the kitten. She told me it was a climber and I asked her what it was? "Passion flower" she replied.

The appropriateness of the plant struck me immediately. "Do you know that that is the flower which symbolises the crucifixion of Christ?" I asked her.
Of course she did not, not many Jewish people would, but I had studied art history.

It was a month later that I met the camel again. The evening before I had been at the graveside again for the stonesetting. Afterwards I found myself once again in the village, at my old farm. This time so that my ex-husband could ceremoniously present a "Torah", the book of the law, in the synagogue there, in Arik's memory.

It was with great pain and even anger that I saw him dance with the book of the law, as King David of old. It should have been with my son and not an old parchment that he danced beneath that bridal canopy. Later I sat outside the synagogue with Adina, mother of the soldier Sefi, killed in '82. Sefi's widow had married my ex-husband.

Adina always carried a cloud of grief about her, never overcoming her grief, I did not want to be like that.

"You do not yet understand what has happened," she told me. "You only really feel the pain later. My Sefi used to telephone me every day and come each week. I still listen for the phone, and watch the door even today," she explained.

For a moment I felt envy, Arik had phoned me only at odd intervals often teasing me as he did so that he was the income tax, or some other disaster, faking a strange voice. Arik had so loved to tease me. Arik had come like the whirlwind whenever the urge took him, usually catching me as I sat and painted in the evenings with Tzvika and then he would treat us both to a dose of his art criticism. But then it struck me that Adina was watching the door and listening for the telephone, even if Sefi wanted to reach out to her if this was possible, she could never hear him. Sefi would never again ring a physical phone or open a physical door, but maybe there was another type of phone, some other door?

I entered the synagogue for the speeches, they droned on and after several hours my attention started to wander. It was just then that I noticed the eternal light over the ark. It was brassy and modern and I didn't like it, "Besides", I thought, "The light is not even visible". Just at that very moment the hall was plunged into darkness and the loudspeakers failed, cutting off the eulogy of one of Arik's past teachers. Above the ark the light spiralled upwards from the eternal light, the only light in the hall not to have failed. As the power was bought back on the halogen lamps in the hall returned one by one every few minutes, and people joked that it was Arik up to his old tricks.

The next day I opened the paper, Joe Camel was back, he held out a phone in his paw, "It's for you!" the caption read!

The weeks passed and I visited friends from England in Tel-Aviv. When I returned there was a message on my answer-phone from the army. They had caught the terrorists who killed my Arik. The papers wanted to know my reactions. What could I say, no revenge would ever return to me the one thing I wanted most.

I read the papers that Friday in my car as I waited before my exercise class. The articles on my son's murderer hit me. Iman abu Chalil, a Hamas fanatic, he too was the son of divorced parents, but there the similarity vanished. A fanatic, he hated music as Islam forbade it, and even his friends rarely saw him smile. He was Arik in reverse, Arik who was the very spirit of humour and the smile. Arik who loved music, Naamah Navon, daughter of past President Navon of Israel, had loved Arik, and she had told reporters that he still had her guitar in his house and that she did not have the heart to go to take it back.

Arik the questioner, whose poems reflected his relentless search for truth and who had written in his letter to G-d:

Letter to G-d

I will not say to you that which is on my heart
I will not sacrifice to you sacrifices which do not come from my very being
I will not request requests which are beyond my strength
Are you to me a tool? Are you my way to myself ?

I never learned the meaning of prayer
And of my own free will I never opened a Siddur or ordinary prayer book
Each day for me is all of the festivals!
Atonements, rejoicings, blowing of horns, the readings of judgement.

I learned to talk my L-rd
And afterwards I learned to say only that which was far from my heart -
In conversation with people and later with You.
One in the mouth, another in the heart - Is this Your way?

and also:

Every man is Moses
And each Moses has a land of Israel
To see
To see and not to touch.

Each man wants to be like Moses
If not to touch,
Then at least the people,
Arrive - touch.

and Arik, angered by cries of fanatics after a terrorist attack, to kill Arabs, wrote:

"Go You" - a letter to Abraham.

"This poem was written after shouts of death to the Arabs which bother me."

Go for you Abraham,
Go for you from your land,
From the land where you were born
To a new land.

Yes - go for you, this is for you
Not that the sun, nor the moon, and also not the stars
Yes - they are not the gods
The idols are broken - this is the time for a new life.

"Holy cows" - there already were in your generation
And you - you thought for yourself and this is your greatness
Your aim was to be a blessing
Not blessed - and think on this - the greatness
Only to grant a blessing.

Go to your land
And I - I feel as go you in your land - my land
Wandering here and there and on the land the sign of Cain?
Happily will I go into the furnace
But before that I will break the idols
And I will shout - not the sun, nor the moon, not the stars
They are not the gods.
And I will try to be a blessing!"

The man who, like Cain, murdered Arik was sure that he and he alone knew G-d and what G-d would want of man. Arik knew that Arik knew no such thing.

In another part of the paper Joe Camel, his cigarette at an angle, playing the piano!

The weeks have gone by now, it is September, soon I shall go to Italy to paint for a few weeks and to try to dull my pain. It is Friday and Joe Camel has just made his reappearance and I was disappointed. It seemed to have no link. There he sat on his motorbike this time, wearing a leather jacket and with the cigarette at the same jaunty angle. I studied the picture, thinking of all the things that camels mean to me, and believe me, if your name is Rebecca and your ex-husband was called Isaac, camels do mean something to you!

I remembered my childhood hero Biggles from the novels by W.E. Johns, he too had smoked camels and also the recalcitrant camel at the biblical zoo in Jerusalem who had tried to throw me off in 1969, on my first visit here from England as a girl, and my friend Shula who had been less fortunate and had caused my first bit of fame here when she was almost killed a few moments later by the same camel.

We had ended up in the Shaare Zedek hospital and the local papers. And then I looked at the small print, noticed with a laugh that the graphics were done by Elazar Advertisers. The only difference between Elazar and Eliezer, who accompanied Rebecca to Izaac with his camels, was a Hebrew "Y" or yod, the name of G-d in Hebrew mysticism. Mystics regard such differences in words as referring to the presence or absence of the Divinity.

I put the paper down and opened the magazine which I had felt the urge to buy that day, despite the price which was way above my modest budget. I had felt a strong desire to read the interview with Robert Redford. I used to tease Arik so about his striking resemblance to my screen hero. Where he got those blue eyes and blond gold hair is perhaps not so much a mystery, they do run in my grandmother's family and perhaps it was the similarity of Robert's nose to my father's that made me adore it so and Arik's was alike. In fact Arik joked about it, too, and certainly it was no handicap with the girls, who, fell at his feet.

And there he was, my hero, seated on a motor bike, posed just like Joe Camel.

Later that week a song on the radio - familiar from many years - caught my ears
"In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight
A wimer wep..."
but wait, what has happened to the words???
"In the space ship, the silver space ship, the lion sleeps tonight,
Hush my baby, be still my baby, the lion's on the phone,
the words were strange, unfamiliar and since not heard again. Arik's name means Lion Dear - Arieh Tzvi, and as the song ended the silver space ship went far far away to some distant galaxy.

It was many weeks later that I came home one evening, missing Arik so much that as I drove home my thoughts were "If only something more of Arik's could turn up, some letter, some remembrance" and with this longing in my heart I opened my post box. A paper was lodged in the box, a newspaper in a cellophane wrap. I withdrew it and saw to my disappointment that it was addressed to a Moshe Kanaph.

There is no Moshe Kanaph in my building, nor to my knowledge on my street and I was just about to place the paper on top of the post boxes, our normal practice with misplaced post when the title of the paper caught my eye "Meymad" - hadn't Arik belonged to Meymad - the religious peace movement - I thought. Then feeling that perhaps to read something of a movement dear to my departed Arik's heart would perhaps bring him near to me I took the paper into the house.

That evening I was so busy that I had no time to read the paper and it lay beside my computer. The next evening I picked it up and as I skimmed the pages I thought of Arik, so deep in thought of him that as I turned to page seven and his face came out of the page to meet me I almost thought that it was a figment of my own imagination. There on the page he stood in all his magnificence and I could not believe my eyes, the two page article about him brought tears to my eyes.

Later I wondered if perhaps someone had purposely put the paper into my box so that I should see the article and then it came to me - the true nature of the coincidence or perhaps the wing of Arik's spirit itself.

I have a neighbour -Moshe Rantz and in Hebrew Rantz is very similar to Kanaph which means "wing". When written by hand the two words are often completely similar!!!

It was as I wrote this that I also realised something very strange, that Meymad means dimension, and I remembered the strange dimensions of the television story, the week before Arik's death.
Perhaps at this very spot several dimensions meet -
the physical, the Cyberspace and perhaps another stranger dimension yet,
a dimension that supersedes life itself.
So I put here some special links, blank links, to missing files, files perhaps in a place beyond
and a special place, a place to click upon a star...

Time has gone by now - two years from that fateful day in July 1994, time does not dull the pain of missing you Arik but one learns to live and continue and one tries to make some meaning of the days without you.

Today is a very hard day for me - the 6th of July, the day started ordinarily enough, I worked for a while on the computer - it is a Saturday, and I can stay home and catch up with the pile of mail for the Ark and put the new people who have enrolled up. Next month there will be a big article in the AT magazine in Israel about this. But meanwhile I have to get through the 6th of July.

It is mid-day and I remembered an article I saw a couple of weeks ago in the "Ha-ir" paper - it was about a little tiger cub that was brought up in a flat on Rehov Sheinkin. A little tiger cub born at the Chai Kef, but what caught my eye was the name of the tiger's father - Arik!!! No it couldn't be, it probably is Erik or something else - you remember what I dreamed about the week before you were killed Arik?

At last my curiousity got the better of me - curiosity killed the cat - I hope it won't kill me. I called the Chai Kef - "What is your tiger called" I asked? "Arik" came the reply. Now why would you call a tiger Arik (Arieh, which is the name that Arik comes from, means Lion). Strange... Well perhaps I shall go to the graveyard in Holon where you are buried later today, the Chai Kef is only next door so perhaps I shall go to see a Tiger called Arik after that!!!

Many years have gone by and it is now July 2008
I live in London now and last week I watched sadly on TV as the last strand of hope was cut for the two families of the two kidnapped soldiers. I was at least spared that long and painful wait when my son Arik Frankenthal was kidnapped and murdered by the Hamas in 1994, and I too know just how hard it is to carry on after such a loss.

In 1994, on the evening that my son Arik was killed, I sat at home in Israel painting quietly. The next day my world fell apart when I was told that Arik was dead. I could not paint again for over twelve years and only in 2006 did I attempt to lift a paint brush once more.

At first it was agonizing, each brush stroke evoked memories of Arik. The many times he had popped in to watch me paint. His joking art criticisms. His laughter. Gradually, after a year or so it started to get easier to paint. As I painted I would feel him close to me. Sometimes it was almost as if he was there in the room with me. Arik had a very strong premonition of his death in the army, and when I told him that it would kill me as well, he had told me that I would live, be happy and have a good life.

Last week the strangest thing happened. I had seen on the Internet that there was an art society at the Mall Gallery in London, with a life drawing class. I wanted to join and was told to bring a portfolio of my work. I did so with some trepidation, not at all sure that I would be accepted. My portfolio was looked at and to my great delight I was allowed to join the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society, which is part of the Federation of British Artists.

Then to my utter amazement I was told that the Society would be having its annual exhibition in a couple of weeks and that I should submit a painting.

That evening I called my younger son Nano, in Israel and told him my news. He was delighted and we talked about my painting and I decided to submit a picture I had made of two elderly ladies making lace, a painting which I call "Patience".

At the end of our conversation I asked Nano when the annual memorial for Arik would take place, because the Hebrew lunar calendar varies each year and the 26th of Tamuz falls at different times. Nano told me that the "yortzeit" (Arik's memorial day) would fall on the 29th of July this year.

I took my painting to the Mall gallery the next day. As I left Trafalgar Square and entered the Mall on my way to the Gallery I passed a war memorial with beautiful plaques which stands just outside the gallery door. Then I handed over my picture and realised that the public exhibition opens on the 29th of July - Arik's yortzeit!

You can see some of my paintings now on

Rebecca (Bat-Raphael) Wittler
Mother of Arik Frankenthal, kidnapped and killed by the Hamas in July 1994
Copyright © Rebecca Bat-Raphael