MembersProject: Life Story

A moving endeavor to help each bereaved family commemorate and even celebrate the lives of their lost loved ones.

By Anat Schneider | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Photo: Shutterstock

“Hebrew has failed. There are no words in the language to describe what happened.” This is the sentence that Dana heard from Adva, whose son, Maj. Tal Groshka, fell on October 7, 2023. Dana had come to comfort the family.

“And I’m a writer,” says Dana, “who makes a living from words; and for a moment I said she was right, there are no words to describe what happened.”

Shortly afterward another relative hugged the bereaved mother and said to her: “In the end we will yet come to you to write Tal’s story.”

Dana Ben Shlomi is a writer and literary editor. She says she woke up on October 7th to a “nightmare.” What happened in Israel caused her to freeze, and she stopped functioning for about a week. On the television screens, horrifying new dimensions of the disaster were uncovered every evening. Every evening faces of those newly confirmed to have died were presented on television. Every day the number of those murdered rose higher and higher. And because of the inconceivable number of fatalities, each murdered person did not even get their own “screen time” to memorialize her or his name and who they were, for a moment of respect.

“They put everyone into the ‘cubes’ on television and that’s how they were shown on the broadcasts. But each one of them is a ‘world’ in their own right.” Dana thought, “How can I get them out of these ‘cubes,’ with my solitary efforts?”

This thought refused to leave her, and then she realized what she had to do. Dana published two calls for assistance.

In one, she sent out an open invitation for bereaved families, offering every family who wants to commemorate their loved one by writing a book about them to contact her.

In the second, she sent an invitation to her colleagues, urging all the writers, proofreaders, editors, translators and graphic designers to help with this commemorative project.

It is a gesture for those murdered and killed as part of the “Iron Swords War.” About 100 bereaved families have already approached the group so far; and about 300 professionals have volunteered to take part in the project at no charge. Everything is done voluntarily, outside of everyone’s busy working hours.

The project is called “Life Story”

Due to the traumatic stories and the high sensitivity of the family situations, the volunteers decided to work as teams – both to divide up the work in every story, and to protect themselves from the heaviness. Each team opened a WhatsApp group where they consult, and also talk about this difficult process. Most volunteers come from the therapeutic world with a baseline emotional capacity to do the project – and at the same time to protect themselves from too much pain. But teamwork contributes a lot to this protection.

Some of the stories are agonizingly tragic. One bereaved mother collapsed and asked to postpone the writing interview. In the end, Dana says, the desire of every family to commemorate their loved ones, so they will not be forgotten, so that their “light will continue to illuminate,” overcomes the difficulty.

Dana who had already written quite a few life stories before October 7th, knows that this process is therapeutic. It helps the families go through a healing process. At first, great anger comes out. And then, as they tell vignettes and hear from others regarding their loved ones, they start to connect all the threads. They manage to gain a certain distance from the harshness of death. They are reminded of funny and moving aspects of their loved one’s life. The “dots begin to connect.” They manage to see her or his story from a broader and higher perspective. And some even manage to understand why it happened.

Some of the bereaved families are able to perceive a “last will” that their loved one in some way “commanded” when they left. Some of the bereaved families adopt it as a way of life. A book is also something physical that can be given as a tangible token of memory and connection; and as time goes on, the family just wants their loved one to not be forgotten.

One young widow has three young children who just lost their father in the war. She asked that he be commemorated in a children’s book.

For each family that decides to write the story of their loved one, an online storage space is opened for everyone who has material, pictures, words, videos. Some of the content comes from former commanders and subordinates bringing to light things the family did not always know about their loved one. Through everything collected, together with the family story, the professional team finds the narrative and theme through which the story will be written. This is a comprehensive and thorough endeavor. And since the books will also have many pictures, internet links, and such — the book design is also very in-depth.

Despite the knowledge that everyone eventually dies, the pain is unimaginable. Especially when the death was cruel. Especially when it was a young person who died. Yet Dana says that this project reconnected her to life. On October 7, 2023 she felt a loss of trust, of confidence. She wrestled with the question of how could it have happened? And this project helped her regain a confidence in her fellow man, when she saw others volunteering to help and coming together. She believes once again that things will work out for the good. “This humane atmosphere here today, means more than anything.”

The act of publishing a book is called in Hebrew, literally, “bringing to light.” And Dana emphasizes that here in the Hebrew language she again sees all the essence. The “light” of each person killed got “snuffed out.” Now by bringing the life story of each one of them “to light,” these books will help their stories live on, like a flickering memorial candle.

May their memories be a blessing.

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One response to “Project: Life Story”

  1. Disciple 1978 says:

    The Marxist, Josef Stalin said losing an individual was a tragedy but losing a million was a statistic. The legacy of the industrial slaughter of the 20th Century is still with us. It’s capitalised on by the Palestinians in their genocidal intent against the Jews. The US coined the phrase “collateral damage” to describe civilian casualties of war. The callous social democratic attitude to loss comes from its Marxist ideology. Neither Russia, Cambodia, Rwanda, nor any other UN nation have memorialised their losses in this way. Israel values all life, not just its military.

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