DEATH AND LIFE OF
JONATHAN BENJAMIN MARCUS - son of Avi ben Mordechai
The Pain of Death and the Joy of Life: Coping with bereavement and some background concerning the Life of Jonathan Benjamin Marcus - March 26, 1985 - September 5, 2009
Shalom from Jerusalem, Israel to each of you receiving this mailing
Today, September 14, 2009 marks the 10th day since the death of my beloved 24-year old son Jonathan Benjamin (Yoni) Marcus.
On Shabbat morning September 5, Yoni was called to the All Eternal One of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His body was found peacefully asleep in his bed. He will be missed terribly by family and friends alike.
To each of you that are receiving this email from me, I deeply wish to thank you for sending your sincere words of strength and encouragement in this time of loss and grief and informing me of your heartfelt prayer support. Additionally, there were a number of people that went beyond all this and financially as able, helped Dina and me bear the not-so-easy costs of the funeral expenses and for this, we are sincerely grateful beyond words.
Death, in whatever language of the world, is a word that we have all come to know intellectually because where life has been given, certainly death is also divinely decreed; the biblical words of Genesis chapter three are painfully true and we all know it; it is a set law of heaven: where there is life, there is also death. When death comes to call on our family and friends and yes, even to us...it naturally leaves within its wake, a sting for the survivors; a pain that throbs and does not easily go away. Consequently, to those who lose loved ones and are the survivors of the heartbreak, we can be sure that we will never be the same. What we once can say that we knew intellectually now becomes something that we know first-hand. Intellectual knowledge turns into experiential knowledge and naturally, this is where the hurt and the pain is the greatest.
I can't even count how many times I've tried to identify with the pain of someone else's loss of a family member or a friend and yet in trying to identify with the person suffering the loss, I always felt that my intellectual knowledge got in the way. My words, sympathies and condolences were always coming up short and were always insufficient because the true experience was not mine. Then after a period of time, perhaps a week or a few weeks or even a month at the most, I would always expect that the one in mourning would no longer be mourning because in truth, time has a way of erasing pain - that is intellectually. However, today, I see things very different because now the bereavement experience is mine; and not just that of a mother or father or brother or sister or husband or wife or some other family member or a friend. No, a 24 year old son that had his whole life in front of him and now he is no more. Now I know precisely the emotions, the feelings, the pain, the sorrow, the loss of what death and bereavement is all about. And I also know how the emotion of anger against YHWH can quietly slip into the mind, if allowed to. But rather than entertain the spirit of anger in the midst of pain, I am trying hard in my pain to see things in a different light. As my son Jonathan said and expressed many times, "if you don't like the outlook of your day or you don't like how you feel, then change your program." Thus, with the pain of bereavement and death we indeed have another program that we can hook up to; that is our biblical hope in the divine decree of resurrection, which is taught in many places of the Tanakh and the Brit HaHadasha. Yes, if we wish to grow beyond the pain that death brings and to go on to survive on many levels - emotional, physical, spiritual - we must not lose hope in the biblical teaching of resurrection; that we, our family, our friends will live again by an eternal and divine decree of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
On this premise, the fact is that death has only temporary power to inflict a sting but in the end, death is merely a temporary pain and it will in the end yield to the hope of eternal life by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh and the eternal Name Ehiyeh Asher Ehiyeh (YHWH = Exodus 3:14). In this, I can, I will, I must rest in what our Father in Heaven has decreed for all of his creation. In time, I hope to learn to accept the earthly finality of Jonathan's passing with the optimism that I will see him again in the future. Of course, the pain of knowing that I will not see him again in this life is still quite real and not easily put away from my mind. And working a lot or keeping my mind busy on other concerns and matters is not going to make the pain subside. The only thing that will cure the pain of my soul is the truth that I tell myself and that truth must be based on the words of the Eternal Torah and in my relationship with YHWH through prayer. This being said, I want to thank each and every one of you that are receiving this mailing for helping Dina and I get through the inevitability and pain of something so difficult, real, and tangible - death and bereavement.
Thank you for praying for us. I see your prayers like a natural medication for the soul. YHWH hears you (and hears my prayers too) and in response, He pulls me through the throbbing aches and pains of what the soul is experiencing where no human eye can see. Again, thank you my dear friends and family in the faith. I don't expect the pain to go away tomorrow but I know that tomorrow and next week and next month and next year will slowly form a basis for my healing. Time is a beautiful salve for the soul. Never let us show contempt for it. YHWH created it for our good. Likewise, is it any wonder that YHWH uses time and a lot of mercy as primary ingredients to lead us to repentance; to heal our pains; to fix our broken relationships with others; to make us whole?
Now, for a little background into the short life of my son...
Just days after his 18th birthday in March of 2003, Dina and I took Jonathan with us and made our move from America to Israel. In Hebrew, this is called Aliyah. In December of 2003, Jonathan was inducted into the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and served in an elite unit called Tzanchanim or the Paratroopers, unit 101. Jonathan was intellectually brilliant. His ability to learn and communicate in Russian, Arabic, Hebrew and English was absolutely astounding to me. Jonathan had an awesome mind and a good heart. Of course, in some cases, all of this got him into trouble. He had lots of friends but also made a few enemies along the way. He served in the Israeli army with dignity and dedication.
I recall one very special and tender moment when Jonathan returned home from a couple of difficult weeks in Gaza when his Army unit was deployed by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to help eradicate 9,000 Jewish residents from their homes in a move of "peace" with the Palestinians. Though following orders and performing his duty as a soldier of the IDF, Jonathan was deeply distressed over this whole affair. Upon returning home, I could hear our front door open. I then came out of my office to greet Jonathan. However, he said not a word to me. Instead, with his face streaming with tears, he flung his arms around my neck and shoulders and with a quiet gut-wrenching sobbing; he just clung to me for perhaps five minutes. After calming down, he told me of the horrible things that he had to do by orders of his commanders and what he experienced in that event was nothing short of emotional trauma. This was in August of 2005.
Later, in March of 2006 one of Jonathan's friends and a paratrooper comrade - Yosef Goodman, 20, of Efrat (just south of Jerusalem) died in a parachuting accident. Yosef had saved the life of one of his commanders when their parachute became entangled. The death of Yosef Goodman was very difficult on my son, because they were good friends and were in training together in the IDF; then came July 2006.
Jonathan and his paratroopers unit 101 were deployed to fight in Israel's second Lebanon War. While positioned in a building in the town of Bint Jbeil with his IDF friends and comrades Jonathan Einhorn 22, and Michael Levine 21, a Hezbollah rocket propelled grenade (RPG) came crashing through the wall. The subsequent explosion caused the death of Einhorn and Levine. However, my beloved Jonathan's life was spared, though being violently thrown down with a small concussion and with some temporary hearing loss and shrapnel wounds to his arms. He was airlifted to Haifa's Rambam Hospital where he recovered and was released. In the months that followed, Jonathan went several times to the graves of his friends and comrades Einhorn and Levine, who are buried at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. He would stand over their graves and say to his friends, "Why you and not me?" A friend of our family - Tziki Aud of the Jewish Agency here in Israel, who had helped Jonathan tremendously said in an encounter with Jonathan, "Last Saturday Yonatan came to me after returning from battle in Bint Jbeil. He had a very difficult experience there and said that he didn't want to go back until he said goodbye to all his friends. He was traumatized by what he experienced there."
In December 2006, my Jonathan was honorably discharged from the IDF and tried to enter a normal civilian life within Israeli society. But, he was so emotionally, physically, and spiritually scarred from seeing and participating in the pain and suffering of Israel's political wars; the loss of a number of his personal friends and comrades; the difficulty in trying to understand and make sense of the overall craziness of life in Israel, which is not easy to deal with on a daily basis. With all this and years of going through so much pain here, the balance of 2006 and the whole of 2007 took its toll on my son's mind as he began to show some serious signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I tried (and others tried) to get him some professional help here but he continually refused it, saying he was fine. But, he wasn't fine. He was in deep emotional pain. He left Israel for a few months, taking a short-term managerial job with an Israeli company in the Philippines. Later in mid 2007, he returned to Israel. I put him to work with me doing some video production here and he just had a difficult time staying focused on the work that I had given him to do and was with great difficultly struggling with remaining emotional stable. On the outside he appeared sane and in control but inside, he was a wreck and I could see it as his father; I could see quite clearly that he was in pain and I tried to help on many levels, but to no avail. Meanwhile, his behavior became somewhat estranged from me and erratic over the weeks and months. Nonetheless, I continued to love him and tried to help him but it became clear to me that he needed to find some help; professional help that was beyond my ability to give to him.
Finally, in early 2008, Yoni came to me and said that he was going to return to the USA, to live with some family that I have in New York. I gave him a big fatherly hug and some traveling cash and told him not to become a stranger to us and that I wanted to see him again soon and that I would be here for him anytime that he needed me. Yoni told me and Dina that he was leaving Israel to get some peace of mind and to get his life put back together and to find some emotional stability.
As a father, I had so much wanted to stay closely in contact with him but I felt that I had to refrain from this and give him the emotional space that he needed in order to help him find his meaning and purpose in life and to put his life in order. It was a deep struggle within me; should I continue communication with my son while I was in Israel and he was in New York or should I leave him a space of time to find healing and to just know that I was here in the background if he needed me? I did however, stay abreast of some of his activities through family members. In the end, my decision was to give him the space of time that he needed to find meaning and purpose in life and to remain quietly and lovingly in the background. Nonetheless, I prayed fervently and regularly for him to find YHWH, His Torah, happiness, success and all good in life. In not contacting him for quite some time I had to come to accept that perhaps it would be a couple of years or more before he might be ready to reestablish communication and a relationship with me. To me, I was hoping for an outcome that resembles Yeshua's parable of the prodigal son and I had hopes that Yoni would return to meet me half way in life before I would get too old and that I would have the opportunity to embrace him in a restoration at some point in the near future.
This kind of thing did in fact happen once before at the festival of Yom Teruah ("Rosh HaShanah") 2004, after another temporary strained time in our relationship. Yoni came home from the Army and on the festival of Yom Teruah, he called me aside and face-to-face, he looked me in the eyes closely and deeply apologized for all of our father/son miscommunications and issues and told me how much he loved me and appreciated me for bringing him to Israel the year prior and for all the good that Dina and I had done for him. With tears in his eyes and in mine, we were together wonderfully moved to heal the things that we had between us. This, I must say, was the best day of my life here in Israel.
I attended his paratrooper's induction at the Jerusalem Kotel (Western Wall), the celebration of his 90 km masa tishim (basic training mountain hike) and finally, his military graduation from paratrooper training. Between 2004 and 2005, life was good for Yoni, between us, his friends, his family and he seemed to appreciate all that he had in the way of meaning and purpose in life. But in late 2005 and all of 2006, in the years of Israel's intense political wars, military and societal upheavals, Yoni began to deteriorate and show signs of becoming worn down emotionally because the secular state of Israel is a very difficult place to live. As a sidebar, this is one of those "Giants in the Land" metaphorically and without a firm focus on and in YHWH as our King, our Protector, our Hope, our Master of Heaven and Earth, our Savior, our Direction, our Life - this land can be a source of consternation and distress that devours its inhabitants. I've seen it happen many times. However, with a focus and trust on and in YHWH, I have also seen that we can overcome these "giants" but it takes a personal measure of internal faith and fortitude, which is why Dina and I appreciate all your prayer support on a regular basis. And furthermore, this is why you must know that if you wish to move to and live in Israel, it is highly important that you allow yourself to be faithful to YHWH and you must desire to keep and obey His eternal Torah otherwise, you may not survive this harsh environment. I'm not saying that you must be perfect in your faith and Torah obedience. What I am saying is that this land has plenty of giants in a metaphoric sense and it is a land where light and darkness collide on a daily basis. One must stay focused on divine truth with the help of YHWH.
For my son Yoni with his struggling faith, it was hard enough for him to find YHWH and His Torah here in the Land, which to this day, remains a common problem for our young men and women in these end times and what is more truthful is that it is even more of a fight for our sons and daughters of the exile to find faith and hope in YHWH and His Torah in lands that are not Eretz Israel. As a result, my heart goes out to each of you that have strained relationships with your sons and daughters over issues that are so common to the Exile; issues that have a tendency to pull you and them in directions that are contrary to what the Torah teaches. This is why it is important to practice what the Torah teaches in exile (to the best of your knowledge and ability) so that when you arrive here in the land where spiritual light and darkness violently collide, you will hopefully remain steadfast and unmovable to the powers that run wildly free, to and fro in this land - powers that are both unseen and seen.
Though my beloved Jonathan was struggling here in the land on many levels, his faith in YHWH and in His Torah was clouded over at times; yet at other times, he was so incredibly spiritual and trusting in the Name and I could see his internal struggle. Sometimes, my son could tell you the secrets of the universe and at other times, he was not sure of anything. But, one thing he was sure of: he hated the religion of the Arabs, not the Arabs themselves. He saw them as very troubled. Regardless, Yoni loved YHWH in his own intellectual and emotional way and loved Israel deep down and I know that he loved his people - the Jewish people. By his own admission, Jonathan said that he wanted to return to Israel, settle down and raise children on a Moshav here and that his experiences with the IDF was all good, despite all his complaining about it for three years. I know that his heart was good even though life here was difficult for him. For reasons known only to YHWH, Yoni's heart stopped beating in his sleep on September 5, 2009 while a resident at a special homeless shelter in Westchester County, New York.
I suppose if I could turn back the hands of time and return to stories about when he was a boy and then a young man and tell you of all the events and experiences that we had as a family, it would be pages and pages of material and I would actually very much enjoy doing this not just for your reading and understanding but also for my own sake of helping me to deal with his loss. But at this point, I am going to bring all this to a close because I feel that I have made the salient points that I wanted to make in this mailing. Suffice to say, I am blessed to have had a son like Jonathan and I'm blessed to have a mind to be able to recall so much of my son's life and the memories that we made together with his mother and sister in the 1980's and 90's. We did so much as a family and I can still see my son's inquisitive mind racing for answers to life's most difficult questions and his keen ability to be able to give you a conversation worth listening to.
In truth, my fondest memory of him was in making Aliyah to Israel in 2003. I so much wanted him to live in Israel and find himself here but it is clear now that this was not the will of YHWH. In retrospect, I hope and trust that in the great resurrection, he will return to this Land in all its future glory, along with all of you who yearn for the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings - the Tanakh and the Brit HaHadasha.
Indeed, I could go on and on extolling the life of my son Jonathan Benjamin Marcus and go on writing profusely about all that he did and said from childhood to adulthood but at this point, I am going to end this missive to you and let his sweet memories settle into my soul. To each of you reading this mail, I want to say THANK YOU - TODA RABA L'CHEM, for your love, your kindnesses, your generosity, your concerns, your prayers, for all that you have said and done for Dina and me. I am deeply honored, though I feel unworthy. I am deeply moved and touched with so much love and compassion, though feeling incredibly overwhelmed emotionally and spiritually. In the meantime, I am going to simply tuck Yoni's memories away into my heart and mind and I must try to learn to accept the fact that as I grow old and grey, I will not ever see him again in this life; but I have a hope that I will see him in the life of the world to come. This is my expectation and my prayer to YHWH.
May each of you that have also had to bury family members and loved ones find solace and comfort in your pain of loss and may you too find hope in knowing that we don't have to be angry because YHWH is Ehiyeh Asher Ehiyeh - the GREAT I AM, that WAS, that IS, that WILL BE FOREVER. He is in full control of all things both seen and unseen to the human eye. May our hearts together be knit as one in the Name YHWH and in His Anointed Prophet like Moshe -- Yeshua ben Yosef, ben David, ben Yah.
Take care and Shalom from Jerusalem
B'shem YHWH, Elohei Avraham, v'Yitzchak v'Ya'acov
Avinoam ben Mordechai Marcus
City of the Great King, Forever.
Please pray for the Family... Death hurts so very badly- I always tell everyone who take so very much for granted in their relationships- never waste a moment...
Blessed are those that Mourn they will be comforted...
51Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?