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Korban Pesach

Rachel Ginsberg

Tamar and Itzik Viflic don’t consider themselves heroes, and don’t even pretend to be brave. They are just being human, struggling to make sense of the tragic death of their only son, killed when terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the school bus he was riding in. This week marks the shloshim of sixteen-year-old Daniel Viflic, the special, elevated soul who — in the ten days he clung to life — united the entire Jewish world in intense prayer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What started as a visit to relatives during bein hazmanim turned into a nightmare for the Viflic family of Ramat Beit Shemesh. Yet sixteen-year-old Daniel Viflic, who died of his wounds ten days after he was hit by an anti-tank missile, did the impossible during those 240 hours that he held onto life: he united the entire Jewish world in nonstop prayer.

This week marks the shloshim of Daniel Aryeh ben Yitzchak (you might have been davening for Refael Daniel Aryeh ben Tamar), thirty days since Hamas terrorists took his life as they aimed their missile at a bus full of children in the Negev. But with just a few hours of shivah on Erev Pesach after a midnight burial, his parents — Itzik and Tamar Viflic — consider any visitor who wants to talk about their special son as a shivah caller.

Daniel was a second-year talmid at Yeshivah Ketanah Heichal HaTorah (the yeshivah of the Toras Eliyahu network) in Moshav Machsiyah outside Beit Shemesh — and he was the Viflics’ only son. They have one remaining daughter, Adina, who is thirteen.

“I’m still in denial,” says Tamar. “The pain of facing this thing is still too raw, too massive. Sometimes I feel like he’s on vacation and will be home soon. When I go to sleep at night I think, ‘This will be over in the morning,’ but then I wake up and go to his room and he hasn’t come back.”

It was Tuesday, Rosh Chodesh Nisan, April 5. Itzik Viflic’s elderly mother, who lives on the staunchly secular Kibbutz Ruhama in the Negev, wanted the company of her grandson for a few days of his pre-Pesach vacation. The Viflics debated. Daniel had never gone to the kibbutz alone, unaccompanied by the fortification of his religious parents. In the end, the elder Mrs. Viflic’s wishes, together with Daniel’s strong spiritual character, won out. Daniel packed up his tefillin, siddur, and Gemara, and his parents dropped him off. They would be back Friday to pick him up.

At 3 p.m. on Thursday, they got the call that every Israeli parent dreads. A terrorist attack. Daniel had taken a ride with kibbutz bus driver Tzion Yemini, a close family friend, as Tzion made his afternoon rounds shuttling children from the regional schools to their various communities. The final stop before returning to the kibbutz was Nachal Oz, three kilometers (less than two miles) from the Gaza border, where the last of the children got off. Minutes later, as Tzion headed back on the road to neighboring Kibbutz Saad, Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the almost-empty school bus; the missile’s trajectory locked onto the heat of the bus engine, and seconds later, the back of the bus was blown apart, shrapnel shards entering the back of Daniel’s head.

Daniel was helicoptered to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva, where doctors whisked him into neurosurgery, but didn’t give him much of a chance.

“We had ten days to be with him, to part from him,” says Tamar. “Every day the rabbis from his yeshivah would come and talk to him, and his friends would sing to him. He was in a coma, but we could see him responding by his blood pressure and other monitoring devices. He looked like an angel. The shrapnel entered his brain but, unlike the horrible disfigurement typical of so many terrorist attacks, there wasn’t a scratch on the rest of his body. He was like a pure korban.

“When the media first stuck their microphones in our faces, we thought they were nudnikim,” says Itzik Viflic. “At first I didn’t want to talk to them. I didn’t want to be exposed. But then they became Daniel’s best ally. Because after a few days, we realized that we needed to ask the nation to pray. We needed a huge miracle.”

Television stations around the world showed a thoughtful yet pessimistic Professor Shaul Sofer, chief of the pediatric ICU at Soroka, explaining how comatose Daniel’s chances were near zero, followed by Itzik Viflic — poised, controlled, reminding his anonymous audience that prayer can turn around the most severe decree.

“The doctors aren’t optimistic, but we’re not giving up,” he stated to the public, and added that although the doctors had tried everything at their disposal, “We are giving him koach that is beyond medical.”

And somehow, Daniel’s name made its way onto every prayer list around the world. Refael Daniel Aryeh ben Tamar galvanized massive spiritual energy from Jews across the globe.

A ponytailed, jean-clad student from Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva spent his mornings outside Daniel’s room in prayer. Confrontational right-wing commentator Debbie Schlussel called for prayers for Daniel on her popular international blog.

The doctors talked about brain-death, while the Viflics were begging for prayers. “We didn’t want the world to stop davening, so we pleaded with the doctors not to mention that phrase. Talk about cerebral function, cognitive responses, anything — just not that term,” Itzkik continues. “His heart was still working, and we couldn’t afford for people to stop their tefillos.”

But sometimes G-d says no.

On the hot, sticky Sunday night after bedikas chometz, thousands converged on the tree-lined cemetery outside Beit Shemesh to escort Daniel to his final rest.

“The midnight levayah was the perfect metaphor for the shrouds of uncertainly that envelope our attempts to understand the ways of the Divine,” expressed Rabbi Karmi Gross, an international educational consultant who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh. “Even so, as I walked to the kever, I tried to find something. Something I could take to the Seder twenty-four hours later…

“I did not walk alone. I looked around me and saw … every type of kippah, knitted and black. I saw hats and uncovered heads. I saw sheitels, tichels, skirts, pants, young and old. I saw the whole range of a splintered people, who sometimes can be so divided, yet who looked at the latest, and hopefully last, sacrifice, and decided to bring this Korban Pesach together, as one people.”


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