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No One Left

Eliezer Shulman

In the space of a few deadly minutes, Avivit Schaer of Rechovot was left the sole survivor of her family, after an electrical fire consumed her five sleeping children and overpowered her husband. How does someone go on after her entire world has gone up in flames? “I am shattered to bits inside,” she admits. “But I know that this is a massive test from Hashem, and I will pass it with His help.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

burnt bookMrs. Avivit Schaer takes us to her parents’ home, in Rechovot’s Yemenite Shaarim neighborhood. She wants to show us the spot where the mind-boggling tragedy occurred six months ago. Today, she can finally talk about it.

Three stairs and four floor tiles are all that separate the porch where Avivit stood, from the annex on the other side of the thin plastic door where her children — Eliav, 11; Evyatar, 8; Amitai, 7; Shira, 3; and Itamar, 2 — were sleeping on the night of her personal holocaust. This is the spot where her husband, Guy, entered the shack in the yard, despite the suffocating smoke, in an attempt to save them. Seconds later, he collapsed beside the door carrying three children in his arms; in less than a minute, Avivit Schaer’s entire family was gone — perished in the fire. 

Avivit asks that the interview itself be held in the home of Rabbi Yaakov Mualem — one of the well-known rabbanim of the Yemenite community in Rechovot — who was her husband’s rav, and is now her own spiritual guide. She prefers the support of the Rav and Rabbanit; it’s still difficult for her to speak, to recall that night when her entire world was destroyed.

“Guy and I had an amazing bond, which strengthened over the years until it reached a sort of perfection,” says Mrs. Schaer. “We thought identically about our home and about raising our children. It was clear to both of us that they would learn in talmud Torah, and it was very important to us to teach them yiras Shamayim and simplicity.”

The Schaers had built a villa in Beer Yaakov, where Guy’s parents live and where he ran an optometry business, but they never moved in. Instead, they moved into a shack they constructed in Avivit’s parents’ back yard. “It was important to us that the children learn with someone who would teach them how to daven in the ancient Yemenite nusach, how to read from the Torah, and how to read Chumash with Rashi, based on the Yemenite tradition with which we grew up. We found such a setup in Rechovot, and we decided to live here. We slept in the small annex in my parents’ yard, and spent the days in their home,” says Avivit, who had the fortitude and conviction to sacrifice her family’s physical comfort for spiritual opportunities.

“My children were very comfortable sleeping in the same room,” Avivit continues, the comforting past and unbearable present fusing into sort of a mental muddle. “Whenever we spoke about moving to more comfortable quarters, Eliav would say he would find it hard to sleep alone. They enjoyed the togetherness; it was fun from them. Guy organized the house in such a way that everything had a place. We are not a family that lives with luxury; we did not have any extra belongings. Guy built a bunk bed for Evyatar and Amitai, Shira slept on a toddler bed next to them, Itamar was with us in our room, and Eliav had his own corner.

“A few days before the fire, we closed a deal to sell the villa in Beer Yaakov. We wanted to buy an apartment here. The day of the funerals was the day that we were supposed to meet with the lawyer who was handling the sale of the apartment. So meanwhile, the villa is empty. I still haven’t decided whether or not to sell it.”

The night of the fire was the 8th of Nissan, just a week before Pesach. Avivit describes is as one of the most pressured nights she remembers. In addition to teaching at the Ulpanat Tzvia high school for girls, she’s studying for a master’s degree in educational systems management atBarIlanUniversity, and was busy with coursework. 

“I came home late, around 8:30 — it was a night without bedtime stories. There was pressure from university, work, and of course Erev Pesach. The children knew that we sometimes have such times of pressure, and they didn’t complain. That evening, Evyatar had been reading a book about Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, and Amitai had a book about the Vilna Gaon. Eliav stayed with us in the kitchen to prepare treats for a seudah in his cheder the next day, in honor of the class finishing the third perek of Bava Kama. We were very proud of him; he was becoming a budding little talmid chacham

“Guy and I sat down to eat, with the kitchen door in my parents’ house open and the door to our own apartment also open. That’s how it always was. This way we could constantly keep the children in our view.”



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