These last 2 days have been a whirlwind of activities, ceremonies and emotions. I will try to share some of my thoughts with you. Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day is nothing at all like Memorial Day in the U.S. I am sure that it is a very serious day for some families but for most in the U.S. it is not. It is a day off, barbecues, family gatherings and it is the day that women start to wear their white shoes (guys-ask your wives!). In Israel the day is so intense and serious that you can feel it as you walk the streets. There is no one in Israel that does not have some personal experience with terror. Every community has its list of people killed in combat, in the line of duty or by terror. No place is immune.
On Yom Hazikaron here in Efrat I went to the tekes (ceremony) in our community center. I want to share with you the story that the chief rabbi (Rabbi Riskin) shared. In 1973 in the middle of the Yom Kippur war Golda Meir went to visit the troops in the Golan at a place called Kuneitra which became known as the “Emek haBacha-valley of tears” for the numerous heroic soldiers killed there holding off the Syrian advance. A soldier came up to Golda and said the following: “Golda, my father was killed in the 1948 war, my uncle in 1956 and my brother lost his hand in 1967. I have already lost my best friend in this war. Tell me, is it worth it? What are we doing here? Is this all worth it?” Golda replied, “I have not slept for weeks because I too have been asking myself the same question. So much sacrifice, so much pain and suffering—is it all worth it? I thought to myself that if we were fighting for ourselves then it probably would not be worth it. But we are fighting for the Jew who gave their lives in the Holocaust; we are fighting for the Jews who have been bounced from country to country for the last 2000 years. We are not only fighting for the past but we are also fighting for the future. We are fighting for generations of Jews who are not yet born. We are fighting for am yisrael (the nation of Israel), we are fighting for medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) and for that it is worth it.” Rabbi Riskin, when he finished the story, then turned to the family members of those killed from Efrat who were sitting in the front row and said: “I thank you. The State of Israel thanks you. The people of Israel from the past, present and future also thank you.” He then sat down. It was dramatic, powerful and moving.
When I lived in the Diaspora I did not sufficiently appreciate the global importance of the State of Israel and her military. Young boys and girls give the best years of their lives to protect the State. Not only do they protect the State, they protect every Jew in the world wherever they may be. A Jew can live in Miami, NY, Paris or wherever and know that if Gd forbid the day would ever come when they started rounding up Jews again there would be a place to go, there would be someone to defend you. If the economy completely melts down in the U.S. there is a place you can go that you can be a citizen the moment your plane touches down. While to some these words may seem overly dramatic, they aren’t. The world can change in a heartbeat.
At the tekes (ceremony) they asked Mordechai Goodman, the father of Yosef Goodman to come forward to recite the Kaddish (prayer for the dead). Mordechai Goodman moved to Israel from NY in the 1980’s and he owns the local pizza shop here. His son Yosef was part of an elite unit in the army and was jumping from a plane in a difficult jump with his commander. His feet got caught in his commander’s parachute and he could not free himself. He took out his knife and cut himself loose allowing his commander to live and he fell to his death. He was too low to the ground for his emergency parachute to open. Yosef has 3 others brothers and by law since their sibling was killed they do not have to serve in the army nevertheless all 3 are serving or have served in elite units with their parent’s permission. I buy my pizza from a heroic family. Who do you buy your pizza from? Such is the land of Israel. Every single aspect, and I mean every aspect is saturated with meaning.
As night descended on Monday the day shifted from mourning and melancholy to rejoicing and celebration as we completed the 62nd year and inaugurated the 63rd year of the State of Israel’s existence. The juxtaposition of these 2 days is perhaps one of the most profound statements on our calendar. “Our future is our past” was a slogan for the UJA many years ago. To celebrate Israel requires a deep appreciation of the past, the sacrifice and the heroism.
We sat outside in Efrat’s largest park surrounded by a lot of people sitting on the grass facing a big stage. There was music, speeches, dances by the kids, an adult choir, high school bands and finally fireworks. They had a torch lighting ceremony representing the various countries from which many of Efrat’s residents originate. It was moving. Despite the various countries, cultures and languages what we have in common now is that we all speak Hebrew.
My kids speak Hebrew, the language of the Torah and the Jewish people. If Moses were alive today my kids could have a conversation with him. That is unbelievable. Even my 3 year old daughter could understand him! I listen to my 7 year old and 5 year old have full conversations with our neighbors who do not speak a word of English. I swell with pride when I read them stories at night and they translate words for me that I do not know. “Ki Mitzion taytzay Torah—Out of Zion will come Torah”—we see this prophecy being fulfilled in our day.
Today we took our kids and met our cousins for a hike not far from our home. Most of Israel is outdoors on this day. Another unique feature of Israelis is the attachment to the land-not just in a spiritual sense but literally as well. Israelis love to hike and experience the physical beauty of our Gd given land. Avraham was told to go and walk the land. Walking the land develops an appreciation for the land. Our Sages tell us that every step you take in Israel is a mitzvah (good deed). I told this to my boys as we were hiking and they made sure to take small steps so they would get even more mitzvoth!
When you think about Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) it is really a miracle. I do not believe that it is actually possible to fathom or understand the depth of the miracle. As much as you think you can, you can’t. I don’t care how smart you are or how smart you think you are. It is just too extraordinary to get your head around. No nation of the world has been exiled from its homeland TWICE and returned. No nation of the ancient world survives. No language from the ancient world survives. We were thrown out of the land nearly 2000 years ago and did not forget for one second were we wanted to return. If you just do a little research about these last few facts it is utterly astounding. Living in the land of Israel means living a miraculous existence. As Ben Gurion once said, “To be a realist in Israel you have to believe in miracles.” You have to believe in Gd who controls history. There is just no other way to believe that we are actually living here.
Judaism is made of three parts and like a three legged stool, if one leg is missing it will topple. Am Yisrael, B’eretz Yisrael al pi Torat Yisrael-The People of Israel, In the Land of Israel, According to the Torah of Israel.