Karnit Goldwasser, who will speak at the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly on October 1, easily could talk about politics.
She lived through two years of torment, knowing that her husband — formally known as Ehud but whom she and everyone else called Udi — the love of her life, had been captured by terrorists, but not knowing whether he still was alive. In 2008 she and his family — and the rest of the world — learned that Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, another IDF reservist who had been kidnapped along with Udi, were dead.
The two men had been dead all along, almost from the beginning. Hezbollah strung the families along as they maintained hope, lived in a complex emotional stew of dreams and despair, and mobilized support around the world — including in Bergen County and the rest of the New York metropolitan area — with rallies and speeches in Jewish organizations and in front of the United Nations.
Now, though, Ms. Goldwasser is not going to talk about politics. “People will come to hear a story, and there is a story, and I will talk about what the families went through all those years,” she said. “But every person, in his own life, has a moment that he will need to take all his strength to get through. By the end of my talk, when people go home, they will think to themselves that I didn’t just hear a unique story, but I will get motivated.
“I understand that I have inside me what I need to deal with a bad situation. Everyone does.” Some situations clearly are worse than others, she added; next to the waking nightmare situation in which she found herself, smaller, more predictable problems might seem less important. But to each one of us, the problems we face loom, at times seemingly insurmountably, and we rarely get to see them as insignificant because other people have bigger ones. Life doesn’t work that way.
“I will talk about coping with life,” Ms. Goldwasser said. “We have to realize that everything we do is a choice. We have the ability to choose what to do — and even to choose not to do anything is to make a choice.
“It’s not a spiritual thing,” she continued “It’s very reasonable.”
When Mr. Goldwasser was taken, “Both of us we getting our second degrees,” masters’ degrees, “at the Technion,” Israel’s premiere technical university, its MIT, Ms. Goldwasser said. Both were studying environmental engineering. They were both very smart and highly rational. But although that ability to reason dispassionately helped her, it would not have been enough to see her through, she said.
“It doesn’t matter that you are in a bad situation,” she said. “Every night, when you are going to sleep, you have to think about whether you used all the opportunities that the day gave you.
“During those years, I couldn’t know if Udi was alive or not, I didn’t know if he was okay, but most nights I did feel that I did everything I possibly could have done that day. When I didn’t feel that I had done by best, it was very bad for me. I needed to change that.”
Once she finally knew that Udi was dead — probably had been dead for some time, and she hoped that he had died quickly rather than having to suffer torture first — “it wasn’t a happy moment, but I realized that we had finished the story. We had finished the journey we had to go through.
“We went through a marathon in 2006. It wasn’t 26.3 miles; it was an ultramarathon. And it was a kind of marathon where you didn’t know how long it would be.
“I have run a marathon since then — but it’s different when you know when it will end,” she said.
Now her life has changed — but she is changed too. “Udi is still my husband,” Ms. Goldwasser said. “I have a new partner, and a 10-month-old baby, but his family is still my family.” During the years-long wait, it was Udi’s father who urged his daughter-in-law to be sure to finish her master’s degree. “He asked me to finish writing my thesis,” she said. “He pushed me. I finished it a month before Udi’s body was brought back.”
It has been many years since Udi and Karnit Goldwasser were together. She has endured, and even celebrated, many landmarks, births, natural deaths, other lifecycle events, and birthdays — his and hers both — since then. “The second time isn’t easier than the first — but at least you know exactly how it will feel,” she said.
Ms. Goldwasser now is a consultant, working with local authorities and organizations on environmental issues. “It is interesting and important work,” she said.
She also tours and talks about Udi, his life, his death, and the painful lessons that she has learned. There is a chance for growth and even some pleasure in sharing them, she has discovered, and it is that hope that she would like to share.