In a war there are all kinds of casualties. We are familiar with those who die in battle, their guns and tanks blazing. We have become all too familiar with those who die as victims to the brutality of aggressors. But then there is the third kind of casualty in such a war as this, the tragedy of Chaim Ben Aryeh.
Chaim was the legendary bus driver whose vehicle ferried the inhabitants of the Gaza Envelope settlements from place to place. Everyone knew him and loved him. His big smile, the way he bent down to talk to every little kid who got on his bus, asking their names, what grades they were in, how they were doing. A ride on his bus was more than transportation: it was a joy ride.
He had begun his work inside the Gaza Strip, in the Jewish Gush Katif settlements. , When in 2005 Gush Katif was uprooted by an Israeli government decision to haul off every Jew in what was called the “disengagement,” Chaim went too, leaving behind with regret the beautiful, peaceful communities, synagogues, schools, and thriving businesses, farms and hothouses. In due course, every inch of the Gaza Strip was handed over to Palestinians, who blew up the synagogues, destroyed the hothouses and elected a hate-filled terror organization bent on genocide to rule them.
A happy, resilient man, he stayed nearby, taking up the same work in the Gaza Envelope.
On the evening of October 7, that horrible day of infamy, Chaim was asked to bring his bus to Be’eri to pick up the children that the army had managed to rescue, and transport them safety. Bullets were still flying, but he got behind the wheel and drove into the maelstrom. When he entered Be’eri one can only imagine what this kind, loving man, father of eight, must have experienced at the sight the of the violence and destruction visited upon his beloved neighbors and friends.
But the worst thing of all, according to his wife Irit, was the condition of the little children and babies taken out of the Be’eri that night making their way under fire to his bus, his happy, merry, bus. “They weren’t even crying. Not even the babies,” he told Irit, brokenhearted. “Their eyes were hollow.”
He had seen many things in his life, Chaim Ben Aryeh. Terror attacks. Wars. Expulsions engineered by his own government, but this was something else. “He blamed himself that he hadn’t been able to save them, and all the others who never made it to his bus.”
He didn’t want to bring that sorrow back home, to his happy family, to scar and ravage them as he had been scarred, so he refused to talk about what he’d seen. Instead, he continued to smile, continued to drive his bus, take care of his family, to visit the synagogue for morning prayers. But yesterday, when he didn’t come home after his usual prayer minyan, Irit went looking for him. She found him inside his bus. Lifeless.
The article in Ynet that described this terrible tragedy, ended with a call for people not to keep inside all that has happened during this terrible war, to seek out psychological help. How I wish he had!
Chaim Ben Aryeh is one more victim of Hamas. They took this good man’s kind, generous, loving life from him as surely as if they had sliced out his heart, instead, of shattering it with the depth of the depravities they visited upon his beloved children.
I expect there are many in Israel right now at that point. Please God that we find some way to help them before it is too late.
May his memory be blessed.