David Hatuel has known more than his share of family tragedies. But 13 years after his wife and four daughters were murdered in Gaza by Palestinian gunfire, he has rebuilt his life, started a new family, and is spreading an inspiring message of resilience.
“There is a need to continue and overcome and find a way to grow from the tragedy,” said his friend, Dror Vanunu, translating Hatuel’s Hebrew in a telephone interview from the Lachish region near Beit Guvrin.
With Vanunu acting as his interpreter, Hatuel will deliver that message on Aug. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Union County Torah Center in Westfield.
In 2004, the year of the attack, he was the principal of an elementary school in Ashkelon, where he commuted from his home in the Gaza Strip settlement of Gush Katif.
The attack on his family happened near the Gazan village of Kissufim. Terrorists opened fire on the car, killing his wife, Tali, 34, who was in the ninth month of her pregnancy, and their four daughters, ages 10, 8, 6, and 2. The shots also wounded two Israeli soldiers and a civilian who tried the thwart the assault.
The tragedy led Hatuel to develop closer relationships with teachers and kids than he had previously. “Even though he was in a big stress because of what he went through, he wanted to continue to give love and hope to the kids in the school he was in charge of,” said Vanunu.
After his family was murdered, Hatuel became a rabbi at a high school in Beersheva. For the past 18 months, he has been a supervisor in Israel’s Ministry of Education, overseeing operations at 100 elementary and high schools, and another 600 kindergartens.
In 2005, a year after the attack, the government of the late-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Jews of Gaza evacuated from their homes and Hatuel was faced with rebuilding his life once again.
Along with other displaced residents of Gush Katif, he, his second wife Limor, their four sons, and one daughter are living in a trailer while they are in the process of building a house near Beit Guvrin in the Lachish region in central Israel. Vanunu said that the people who lived Gush Katif are starting a pioneer community there.
Hatuel is also engaged in building a synagogue that will be dedicated to the memories of the people in his family.
At the Union County Torah Center in Westfield, Hatuel will urge audience members to learn from his experiences. “The fact that he was surrounded by family in Israel and from abroad helped David feel he is not alone,” said Vanunu. “The lesson is that everyone should support each other.”