My husband Israel Greenwald was a wonderful husband and father to my two daughters. He loved us, supported us, and was always there for us. I was a young mother who worked only 4 hours a day as a school teacher. I loved to spend lots of time with my two little girls. I read to them, sang with them and played with them every day for hours. I had all the time in the world to teach them how to read and do math and draw. They were bright and eager kids who loved life and always laughed. Every time my daughters had a birthday, I would make the most amazing birthday parties for them with all our friends and relatives. There were magicians and plays that I wrote and acted out for the children. We traveled every summer to Israel and went away to hotels for Passover. We lived in a beautiful house on a quiet block surrounded by good friends and neighbors. Our lives were great with everything that we needed, and most importantly we were a happy family.
It is hard for me to describe the horror that I felt when my husband Israel disappeared. The helplessness, pain, terror and confusion that I went through is something I will never forget. Our life as a family took a 360 degree turn. At first I wasn’t even able to work. I had to leave my job as a teacher. My husband’s disappearance happened at a time when I was just awarded “The Excellent Teachers Award”, a very prestigious award in education, which made my husband very proud. Now I was so stressed that I couldn’t teach any more. Even if I wanted to teach, my income was so low, that it would not even pay 20% of our bills.
I was forced to take a mortgage against our home, just to survive. I felt as if no one was really helping us find out what happened to Israel. I was told by the FBI that there was no reason to believe that any foul play occurred, although I knew that Israel would never abandon his family out of his free will. As time went by I had to work very hard and for very many hours to try and keep up with all the bills that kept creeping up on us. I could never make enough money to pay for the school tuition, food, clothing, mortgage, electricity etc.
Every night when I went to sleep I felt very scared, and had a heavy feeling of sadness and helplessness. My husband was missing, most certainly dead, and we didn’t even have a death certificate. I couldn’t collect widow benefits or life insurance. My relatives couldn’t help us financially because they didn’t have any extra money. I was left to fend for myself and my family. The life we had was long gone. I still loved my daughters but could not spend time with them. In addition, during the first few years after his disappearance, even when we were together I wasn’t myself. I was stressed and worried. Although we didn’t have money for counseling I mustered up a few dollars for family counseling only to be told that we were a “three legged table” with one leg missing. It didn’t help much. There were times when we sat in the dark when we couldn’t pay for our electricity. We ate bread and butter when we had no money for food. We were cold when we did not have any heat. We were forced to take charity from certain organizations in our community which was humiliating since in the past my husband supported these same charities. I kept on trying so hard to keep my home, and keep my children in the same environment that they grew up in so as not to traumatize them any more.
I couldn’t do it and within a few years we lost our home as well. We moved to Brooklyn, and we kept on moving, from place to place. Sometimes we moved because it was hard to keep up with the rent, and sometimes because the owner needed the apartment back. I got up early in the morning and worked until late at night in sales, and anything I could find, only to not even be close to covering our bills.
My daughters lost a father at a very fragile age, and they lost a mother too. They came home from school and I wasn’t there for them. I had no time to play with them or even help them with their school work. Their grades declined dramatically. They went from being smart straight-A students to barely passing. Eventually the schools mercilessly kicked them out because we just could not pay. I wanted to spend more time with my daughters, but I had to pay the bills.
The girls did not always understand why they didn’t have everything that they needed or wanted. They were young and they wanted birthday parties, clothing, and more time with me. My oldest daughter Michal was very angry at me and she blamed me for everything that went wrong in our lives. She went through so much and couldn’t even begin to understand why I couldn’t give her everything that she needed. She took to working various jobs in order to pay for some of her necessities. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t give them what they needed.
My daughters kept on asking me about their ABBA (Father) and why I am not doing enough to find him. The years went by with pain, struggle and great loss. Around twelve years after Israel disappeared, I finally left the company that I worked very hard for, and I had a little break between jobs for the first time. One day I stopped and looked at my beautiful daughters who were now young adults, and I didn’t even see them grow. I was so busy trying to just survive.
My daughters lost their childhood, and I lost out on being a good mom. When my daughters got engaged to wonderful young men, I was very happy, yet very worried about finances again. I had to beg and borrow money to be able to pay for some of the expenses, and even then it did not even begin to cover what was needed to pay for a wedding and dress.
Has this crime affected my ability to perform my work, make a living, run a household, go to school, or enjoy any other activities. Yes, Yes,Yes, for all of the above. I started getting lots of anxiety attacks. I used to go to work feeling so much stress with my head spinning and my heart racing that I sometimes felt like life was ending. I kept on going for the sake of my kids.
My kids who suffered beyond any description or words. I couldn’t date and move on. I was to psychologically damaged for a relationship. I buried myself in work and used the excuse that I had to survive and pay bills.
Who suffered : Everyone from Israel’s parents, who died of a broken heart shortly after his disappearance to my parents and siblings who had to stand by and watch us suffer without any means to help us.
But no one felt the pain like we did. This murder affected my relationship with family members, friends and co-workers. Not only because I wasn’t myself for so long due to the stress, I also didn’t have any time to spend with all my old friends. I neglected many of my good friends, and most of them didn’t go out of their way to keep in touch with me. We were not a real family anymore, and so my friends faded away. The hardest times were always during the holidays, and on the Jewish Shabbat, when we had to sit at the table, alone, without Israel.
We didn’t know where he was for over 19 years. We had no Grave to visit, and cry to. We lived in a fog. The pain is still very strong, but now we that he is finally resting in peace in the land of Israel I pray and hope that we as a family will be able to start to heal. My hope is that all the people who were involved in this horrible crime pay for what they had done. No punishment is good enough and nothing will make up for what was lost, but they must pay for their crimes for they did not just kill one person, they killed a family.