Miriam Peretz was awarded the Israel Prize in Lifetime Achievement for Strengthening the Jewish-Israeli spirit. Each week, she speaks to more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers, the young people of Israel, and the mothers of fallen soldiers in Israel and around the world – Christians and Jews. She tells them how out of a moment of crisis can come incredible growth.
“Only people who have seen the darkness can truly see the light and the hand of God,” Peretz told Breaking Israel News. “In our moment of crisis, we need to choose to continue.”
This is a strong statement coming from a woman who has faced so much tragedy. Peretz’s oldest son, Uriel, was killed in 1998 in Lebanon at the age of 22 while he was leading an elite commando unit, Sayeret Golani, into battle. Shortly thereafter, unable to deal with the loss of his first-born son, Peretz’s husband, Eliezer, died of a heart attack. And then, her second-oldest son, Eliraz – also in Sayeret Golani – was killed in 2010 in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. He was 32.
Peretz immigrated to Israel with her family from Morocco in 1964. She was raised in a poor household; both her parents were illiterate. She said that in Morocco they lived in a one-room hut. She made a small stipend beginning at age 8 by cleaning the home of her school teacher.
“My parents didn’t know Hebrew, just one word,” Peretz recalled. “And every night, my father would talk to us about this word: Jerusalem. He had never seen Jerusalem before. He had never read about Jerusalem. But Jerusalem for my father was the paradise of the Jewish people.”
Peretz’s father told his children of the Holy City, where there were many trees, a land of milk and honey, and lions and sheep and roosters. When the family arrived in the country, Peretz saw her father kneel and kiss the ground of the Holy Land.
“I was 10 and did not understand my father’s behavior,” she said. “Back then, I did not know that I would do the same thing – twice – that I would bury my children and kiss the earth of the Land of Israel that covered their bodies.
“My Jerusalem is stones. And when I walk in this Jerusalem, I feel in every stone the heart of the soldiers that died to let me continue to walk.”
Peretz recalled the day the IDF officers came to her home in Giv’at Ze’ev, an Israeli settlement five kilometers northwest of Jerusalem, to tell her about the death of Eliraz.
“‘Why me?’ I asked God. And I started to reflect on my life,” she said. “Did I do something wrong? And I am a religious Jew. Now, how will I serve God with joy?”
Then she realized that life must continue for and through the spirit of her sons.
When Peretz goes out to speak, she tells her listeners, “The enemies, they killed the bodies of my children, but they never broke the spirit of this nation, and they never will. I am still here, so I can speak about the spirit.”
She continued, “Many people have lost their children and they continue – and I continue – to want to live in this homeland and to be proud that I am here, that the dream of my father about Jerusalem is reality. I have paid so much for this dream. But I prefer all the trouble in the Land of Israel over the flowers in all the world.”
She told Breaking Israel News that when she gets up to Heaven, she will not want to speak with God, but only her two sons, so she can hear them once again call her mother. For her, she said, it will be the miracle of her life.
“If people have children who call them mother, they must say thanks to God for that,” she said.
Recently, Peretz published a book called, “Miriam’s Song.” She said that in the Torah, Miriam sang a song of praise to God when he parted the Red Sea, which was a miracle. But she believes she is a stronger Miriam.
“It is very easy to sing a song to God when we have miracles,” Peretz said. “The question is how you continue to sing a song when you bury your children. This is the meaning of faith in God – it is when you continue to sing songs to God when you are drowning in the sea of sorrow and pain.
Peretz’s question is one that Sharon Katz asked herself in 2001 after two members of the settlement of Efrat, where she has lived for 26 years, were shot dead at point-blank range by a Palestinian terrorist.
“Everyone was not just depressed but horrified and terrified and so downcast,” Katz recalled. “You went to throw out the garbage and you started crying. You would see a friend in line at the supermarket and you started crying.”
Katz said she and several members of the community were trying to think of ways to cheer the community up. Ultimately, Katz started a theater company.
“I founded Raise Your Spirits to raise the spirits of the women of Gush Etzion and Efrat in this difficult time,” Katz said. “On the day of a terror attack, the women would come in crying. And we would hug each other and say Psalms, and then go on – because life must go on.”
Katz was one of the founding mothers 23 years ago of the Givat HaDagan neighborhood of Efrat. While today the Judean community of Efrat has more than 11,000 residents, back then there were only a few hundred. Katz recalled driving into Jerusalem through the Palestinian-populated town of Bethlehem and the Dehaishe refugee camp, “just praying not to be hit by rocks.”
“The women who started Judea and Samaria, they are heroines,” she said.
Katz said there are modern day heroines settling the land, as well. These are the women who move their families to communities either under constant threat of terror or where their homes are in danger of being dismantled.
“You have to be brave to live on a hilltop…in the more isolated parts of Judea and Samaria – our Biblical heartland and homeland, the place where Jewish history in Israel began – surrounded by unfriendly neighbors,” Katz said. “It takes a lot of courage to live there and look to your children like you are a strong mother and it is going to be OK.”
Struck by Faith
Orit Struck is one of these women. While she does not live in an isolated settlement on a hilltop, she does live in Hebron, where the Jewish forefathers and most of the foremothers are buried, and the city that she considers “home to our Jewish roots.” Hebron has been the site of numerous terror incidents.
Struck told Breaking Israel News she, “wants to be a partner in the important historical process of Israel – returning to the land after so many years in Exile. It is a big process. It says in the Torah that it will happen, and now it is happening, and I want to be partners with God in moving this forward.”
Struck served as a member of Knesset from 2013 to 2015. She became a leader through her activism in Hebron, where she established the Israeli non-governmental organization Human Rights Organization of Judea and Samaria, which she headed between 2004 and 2012.
For this mother of 11 children, life has not been easy. One of her children was mildly wounded in an attempted terror attack. Another was jailed for 30 months on what she claims was the false accusation that he attacked a 15-year-old Palestinian boy. And she has paid witness to the murder of countless friends and neighbors.
Nonetheless, Struck said she is happy with her lot.
“In other generations, they have suffered more, living in exile,” Struck told Breaking Israel News. “The pain of the mothers of Israel today are birth pains – we are birthing the redemption.”