Toward the beginning of the high school year, we were given an appointment with the school nurse. It was the summer of 1967, after the war, and my mother and I went to “Ironit A”, as they called this highly regarded school then. We were all excited. I remember the graffiti that greeted us: it was a curse against the teacher smeared across the wall. This teacher later committed suicide by jumping off an office building.
The nurse wore a headscarf and a green nurse’s dress. She pulled the file from a stack on her desk and began to read it. She asked about childhood diseases and tooth brushing habits and then, without warning, the blow came: "I understand that there was an older brother," she said suddenly. The room was thrown into a deadly silence. My mother looked at the floor and I did not understand anything. It lasted an eternity. Finally my mother muttered: "Yes, he had a brother, and he died."
Then we went home in silence. In the evening, after father returned from work, the hatch opened – opened and immediately closed. My parents told me that they are sorry they had not told me all those years, but that indeed, before I was born they had had another son. They called him Dan. He was six weeks old when he died, so they told me. He died of an illness. They even brought him home from the hospital, probably the Dajani Hospital in Jaffa, later named Tzahalon, where we were born, I and my younger brother. They told me which disease he died from, but I do not remember now what it was, perhaps jaundice.
What I remember well was the explanation for why he had no grave: My parents told me that Dan was sick and therefore he was not circumcised and therefore he had no grave. This is how Jewish Law works, said my father, who never knew the difference between Passover and Purim. Since then I knew I had a brother and that he had no grave.
“An uncircumcised baby has no grave?” I asked the Rabbi Benny Lau yesterday. "Absolute nonsense," said the rabbi. "No such thing”. And what about a child who is not yet one year old? (I know someone whose parents said his dead brother had no grave because he was under one when he died) "That’s even greater nonsense," said the rabbi.
We did not mention my dead brother ever again. What bothered me was the thought of what would have happened if he had not died, if I would have come into the world, when and how if at all, but Dan was returned to the family's closeted skeletons, from which he was forcefully taken out for a brief moment, and was returned immediately and the door was closed on him. We never mentioned him again at home. Like many other issues in our parents' generation: They did not tell and we did not ask.
Is it possible that Dan's fate did not hover like a black cloud over their lives to their very end? Could it be that they did not ask themselves why he had no grave? Just like that they accepted, with an unbearable ease, the false explanation given to them, without appealing it and without asking questions? And above all, did the thought ever cross their minds that Dan is alive and well somewhere in the world? My parents closed Dan’s file with a metal chain. After what they went through in life, as holocaust survivors, they probably could not deal with these questions. Or maybe they couldn’t sleep at night, and thoughts of Dan would not leave them? And maybe we were never told because that’s how things went back then? Sadly, there is no one to ask.
With the series of article which my colleague Ofer Aderet has published these recent days in the newspaper Haaretz, about the disappearance of the children, I began to ask myself, Where are you Dan? Are you alive, Dan? Are you dead? If you live, please make a sound. Your name now is surely not Dan, or maybe yes. Born in the early '50s, perhaps you live on the same street? And perhaps in another city? In another country?
Tom, our son, who died at the age of one in 1988, is buried in the children's plot in Kiryat Shaul cemetery. Dozens of rusty metal poles are stuck in the ground all around marking the tiny graves of anonymous children.
Two years ago, some paved over this children’s plot with a concrete floor, and the rusty poles were replaced by marble slabs, abruptly placed on the graves, without sticking them in the ground. Names were carved on these standard-sized stone tablets, often only last names, without any further information, no date, and no parents' names. Some of them have already been damaged.
The thought used to cross my mind that my big brother Dan is interred there next to my little son Tom. Now I'm starting to doubt this, too.
We named our son Dan. He is already 30 years old.