Twenty years ago, when I was a month shy of my tenth birthday, my father gave me what was to be his last hug. He was going off to work, as he usually did on Monday mornings, and I was standing outside waiting for my school bus. Just as he was about to leave, he turned around and saw me standing there. He then put his briefcase down and hugged me tightly.
I can still feel that hug today.
You heard a bit about the man my father was from my mother. My father was a good man, a kind man, a G-d fearing man, a generous and charitable man, a respected man. But at the end of the day, as far as my sister and I are concerned, he was our daddy. Our security, our supporter, our lifeline, our flesh and blood, our daddy.
We loved our daddy and having him disappear into thin air with no explanation was something I would not wish upon my worst enemy. No one should have to experience the torture of having someone you love and depend on just disappear. Do you know what that does to you when you are only a child, not able to fully comprehend the horror of your situation?
But the horror of our lives quickly sunk in. Mostly because losing him led to a series of events that completely impacted our very existence.
Do you know what it’s like to be told your father is kidnapped, but will soon be found? Can you imagine the fear of just that?
Do you know what it’s like to have to be asked hundreds of times throughout your life, “what happened to your father” and to not have an answer?
Do you know what it feels like to not have money for basic necessities like a winter coat or a school trip? To have had everything and more your whole life only to lose it all in an instant. To literally go from riches to rags?
To have your community, your friends, kids you grew up with, treat you differently, with a mixture of pity and fear. To be kicked out of three different schools, simply because your grades were poor and you were on scholarship, so you don’t count? Do you know what this can do to your self esteem, your self worth, your pride?
Can you imagine watching from your window as your mother’s only car and means to get to work is being repossessed? Can you imagine hiding in fear with your family in a bedroom, while your home is being robbed because you couldn’t even afford to fix your broken alarm?
Do you now what it felt like to leave the home you love so much, the last connection you have to your father, because you just couldn’t pay the mortgage anymore.
Do you know what it feels like to visit a friend who recently lost a loved one and to be envious of them because they have a grave? Envious of a grave…
And all the while experiencing the same grief that anyone experiences when they lose a loved one, but with no end to our pain since there is no closure.
And all the while experiencing the same fears and nightmares that victims of crimes go through, but without the emotional & financial support that victim’s are entitled to, because officially we were not considered victims.
I started writing in a diary 2 months after my father disappeared. I guess I felt that something significant and unique was happening, and though I did not understand it, I knew I had to record it. Here is an excerpt from when I was 14, Dec.92’: ”I’m learning in school aboutJob and how he lost so much so fast. He lost his 10 children, his money, his servants, his animals. Well in a period of 4 years I lost my father, my money, my mother in a way because she’s always off working, my pet, my house, my friends. I’m so used to losing things. It’s like nothing is real. I miss my old life. My childhood was taken from me like that.”
My sister and I would often turn to G-d, begging him to find our Daddy and bring him home. Begging him to let us know what happened so we can try to heal. Begging him to punish the evil people who did this to him. Eventually we accepted our fate.
And now, by the grace of G-d, I stand here before the two people responsible for the living nightmare we lived.
You took away our Daddy and by doing that you took away our childhood. You took away our mother. You stole our innocence. You filled our nights with nightmares and our days with torture. We survived and certainly thrived despite all this, but not without scars that will never leave us. Not without the pain and loss that will forever be part of our souls.
You deprived my father of a life, a future, but in the end it was us who had to live with the consequences. You stole him away from us and you cruelly hid him for almost two decades, knowing that our torture would be magnified by a thousand fold.
And you did all this for what? For 30,000 dollars. 30,000 dollars. That was what my father’s life, as well as my family’s lives was worth to you.
You thought that you could get away with it and you almost did. You made sure this story would stay hidden and forgotten. And it was. But you strongly underestimated the power of a child’s innocent prayer.
G-d answered our prayer and our Daddy came home, nineteen years later. Finally being able to bury him was something we will forever be grateful for and will never forget.
And so, I stand hear today with a new prayer. A prayer that you two get what you deserve. You must be made to pay for the evil crimes you committed against me and my family and the other poor families who lived through their own nightmares because of your actions.
No punishment could ever compare to what you put us through, but so long as you are alive, you must pay for what you did to my father that day in 1986. You must pay for what you stole from us and what we will never ever get back:
A father. A husband. A son. A brother. A friend.
My flesh and blood.
Israel Asher Greenwald.
May he finally rest in peace.