Gil Karu, an accomplished chef and restaurant manager, was 47 years old when he suddenly collapsed and died without any apparent cause.
The Karu family is a highly respected and successful family. There were four equally respected and successful sons. Now, unexpectedly and tragically, there were just three.
Gil was well known to my family, as he had been the chef at my 85th birthday party. His sudden and totally unexpected death was a great shock to us, the Karu family, and to their wide array of close friends.
Gil died of a brain hemorrhage. Almost immediately, the family decided to donate this young man’s organs so that other may live.
On Saturday, May 11, 2013, my wife and I departed very early in the morning to join a caravan of seven or eight cars headed for Ixcel, an Arab village near Nazareth. We were invited to meet the man who had received one of Gil Karu’s lungs.
It turned out to be one of the most remarkable days of my life.
The lung’s recipient, a man named Omar Shauan, is a member of the most influential family in this community, located just outside Nazareth. Omar’s family told the Karu family to “bring as many family members and friends you like – we have room for one hundred.” So we were invited, and were part of a group of 40 to 45 visitors.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by a large group of men, who greeted us warmly and ushered us into the second floor of the four-story residence. We were presented with large bowls of fruit, nuts, and fresh vegetables. After a few minutes of awkwardness the barriers came down, and we felt at ease in this beautiful home. There were welcoming speeches and responses and presentations of gifts. Members of the household and their friends made an obvious effort to make us feel at home. The patriarch of the family, Ahmed Shauan, shook my hand whenever I was in his vicinity, gladly posed for pictures, and planted a warm kiss on my cheeks.
During this time Jamal, another Arab Israeli, arrived to join us. He is now being kept alive by Gil’s heart, beating in his chest.
We noticed a film crew hovering around and videotaping just about everything. We learned that they had come to cover a horse show in town, but when they learned that the lung of a Jewish man saved the life of a prominent member of the town, they decided to cover this event instead. The story is scheduled to appear on Israeli TV and other outlets.
The first floor, which covered the whole space under the house, apparently had been cleared and now was filled with tables and chairs. About 75 to 80 people joined in a feast, an endless parade of great varieties of meats, salads, vegetables, and traditional foods.
Next, we were told that before we were to visit the horse show, we were invited for coffee and desert at a cousin’s house.
House? When we reached the top of the mountain we saw a mansion. It was a truly remarkable building both inside and out. Once again, we were invited to make ourselves at home while sweets and dark coffee was offered to us.
Then we were escorted as honored guests to the horse show – actually the national competition, an assembly of the finest Arabian horses in Israel. There were perhaps 4,000 people gathered there. We were ushered into the VIP area and welcomed by the town’s mayor.
When the top prize was awarded, Gil’s parents and brothers were invited to join as our hosts presented the trophy in Gil’s honor. It was a truly moving moment, particularly when the whole crowd applauded.
It was hard to say good-bye. In just a few hours, we had developed a close relationship with the recipient’s family and friends.
Just a week later, a very large crowd gathered at Gil’s graveside to mark the first anniversary of his death. The ceremony was moving, and when I saw Omar, his father, and his family among the many assembled mourners, my eyes filled with tears.
I and surely everyone who attended one of these events walked away asking themselves: “Why can’t we learn to live in peace?”