Latest update: April 25th, 2013
I close my eyes and am transported back to Israel, where I spent the past six weeks.
For me, Israel always feels like home, and even six weeks is not enough time to do all I would like and to see family and old friends as often as I wish.
Pesach is a beautiful time in Israel. It’s springtime and everything is in bloom. During the weeks leading up to the holiday people are busy selling their chametz, kashering their pots and pans, etc. This year things were a little more complicated for us Jerusalemites as President Obama picked an inconvenient time to visit, necessitating the closing of main thoroughfares for hours on end. But finally the holiday arrived, bringing a feeling of joyous thanksgiving.
I was privileged to hear the Priestly blessing on the second day of Chol HaMoed at the Kotel and felt enveloped in holiness. I was delighted to see the signs on buses wishing all a Chag Pesach Sameach. But one of my best “Only in Israel” stories was told to me by my friend Tzviya.
Supermarkets all over Israel sell their chametz and cover over all the shelves that have chametz on them. My friend was in a supermarket on Chol HaMoed when a woman somehow reached behind the covering and took out a box of chametz. The cashier made several attempts to enter the item on her cash register, but each time the words “Chametz – Not For Sale” came up. Finally the cashier told the customer she was unable to sell this to her this week and to please put it back.
The holiday passed all too quickly and then wherever one looked, the beautiful blue and white flag of Israel could be seen blowing in the wind. The country was getting ready to celebrate 65 years of independence. I bought a flag and proudly hung it on my car window.
The most moving experience of all for me took place on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its fallen soldiers. It takes place a day before Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. For those of us who grew up and live in the U.S., memorial day in Israel is vastly different from what we are used to. It is sad and solemn; theaters are closed, as are many restaurants and stores. A siren sounds in the evening to usher in the day and again in the morning for two minutes of silence.
Aside from the public ceremonies, many people visit the cemeteries. Every year my son Dovid drives from his home in Ginot Shomron to the military cemetery on Har Herzl to visit the grave of his teacher Shlomo Aumann, Hy”d, who was killed defending Israel in the 1982 Lebanon war.
The year the war broke out Dovid was a young boy of 14, about to graduate 8th grade in the Chorev School. Shlomo Aumann , the eldest son of Nobel Laureate Professor Robert (Yisrael) Aumann, was the students’ favorite teacher. His death was a major blow to the entire class but Dovid took it particularly hard. He has never forgotten him and now, so many years later, he brings his children with him.
It is hard to describe the feeling one gets walking past thousands of graves of young men and women – 18, 19, 20 years old. We finally came to Shlomo’s grave. He was 25 when he was killed, leaving behind a two-year-old son and a pregnant wife ( a girl was born a few months after his death). Some family members were already there. Dovid spoke about his teacher and then my granddaughter Elisheva began to play her violin. There is something about the violin that touches the soul as no other instrument can. She played “V’Zakaynee L’Gadel Banim” and Shlomo’s sister told us her brother’s two children are a wonderful credit to his memory. At the sound of the violin, people visiting other graves came over sing with us.
From there we went to the section in memory of Chana Senesh, the heroine who rescued Jews in Europe during World War II before being caught and tortured to death. A group of schoolchildren and their teacher were there and when Elisheva played “Kayli Kayli,” one of the songs Chana Senesh wrote, the entire class sang along. Once again, at the sound of the violin people came from all over to stand alongside us.
Our next stop was the grave of a classmate of Dovid’s, Gadi Shemesh, who was killed along with his wife in a terrorist bombing. This time it was my younger granddaughter, 10-year-old, Talia, who played her violin. From there we went to stand alongside the grave of Michael Levin, who came from Philadelphia to Israel and joined the army without any family here – what Israelis call a “lone soldier.” He was actually on leave visiting his parents in Pennsylvania when the Second Lebanon war started in July 2006. Although he wasn’t called, he rushed back to join his unit to defend Israel. He fell in that battle. Talia played there as well.
When we went to the grave of Roi Klein, the soldier who threw back a grenade and, though he was killed, saved his whole unit, Elisheva played one of the most poignant songs associated with Yom HaZikaron – “Ma Avarech.” In this song a little boy is born and the angels ask what he should be blessed with. And God blesses him with feet to run and dance and hands to feel, etc. As the song nears the end this young man is now an angel himself, and it closes with the wish that he’d have been blessed with longer life. From all around people again came to sing along.
Our last stop was at the grave of Yoni Netanyahu, brother of the prime minister, who was killed during the 1976 Entebbe raid. The large group standing there was comprised mainly of tourists. Dovid spoke about the bravery of Yoni, and Elisheva played a song written about Entebbe and Yoni. The few people who knew it sang along. The tourists seemed overwhelmed.
As we were leaving, an older man was standing alone at the grave of his son and screaming out the Kaddish. I looked at the age of the young man when he was killed: 21.
I passed mothers and fathers crying and praying silently at the graves of their sons, each one a whole world to someone, and I thought that if everyone would walk through this cemetery it wouldn’t be so easy to talk about giving up our land or to skip the prayer for the soldiers on Shabbos.
The closing ceremonies for Yom HaZikaron took place on Har Herzl. The main speaker was Yuli Edelstein. He had been a Prisoner of Zion in his native Russia and here he was, the new speaker of the Knesset, delivering his words with great emotion.
Special prayers heralded the beginning of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, more meaningful to me than ever after the day I spent at the cemetery. Of course there were also fireworks and singing and dancing in the streets. My joy now was as great as my sorrow had been earlier and I thank Hashem that my children and grandchildren understand and appreciate the zechus, the privilege, of living in Israel.
About the Author: Naomi Klass Mauer is associate publisher of The Jewish Press.
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