Today, as you read these words, the entire Jewish population of Eretz Yisroel is in a somber and reflective and most noticeably: mournful mood.
Today the State of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole remember and mourn the 23,477 individuals who have been killed for wanting to live as Jews in Eretz Yisroel.
It is because of them that you and I can go there today to learn and to live.
These 23,477 individuals who fell include Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and those who died while serving in the pre-State underground militias and the Jewish Brigade in the British Army.
They also include almost 3,000 civilians who were murdered in brutal and cowardly terror attacks.
Of these men, women and children who were murdered, some were young people and some were elderly; some were rich and some were poor; some were educated and some were not; some were religious and others non-religious; yet, they all had one thing in common: they were killed for being Jews who wanted and insisted in living in the land promised to us by Hashem Himself.
While so many of the soldiers were killed in active combat, the civilian victims of terror were killed in cold blood.
Many were killed while doing mitzvohs and learning Torah or davening; others were killed while mundanely walking the streets of the holy land.
There is hardly a family in Israel who does not know someone or is not related to someone who is being mourned on this somber and mournful Memorial Day.
For me and my family, we too mourn today.
I mourn for the soldiers who have fallen while helping to establish a viable and growing and stable Jewish community in the Land of Israel.
They helped create an environment where Jews can live and visit and Israel and learn Torah in a manner unmatched since the time of the Second Beis HaMikdash.
I also mourn for those killed in terror attacks who were killed unarmed and in cold blood; they too created the “facts on the ground” that Jews have the G-d given right to live in the land of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yakov.
I personally mourn for a Jew who was brutally attacked by a knife wielding Arab on a quiet street in the walled city of Yerushalayim while he made his way in the pre-dawn hours to daven Vasikin.
That Jew, who was mortally wounded in the attack, succumbed to his injuries on the 19th of Elul 1851.
He is considered the first victim of terror in the ‘modern era.’ His name appears first on the Wall of Names of Victims of Terror in the military cemetery at Har Herzl in Yerushalayim.
His name was Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref and he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about him on Yom HaZikaron in 2012:
“The name of the first terror victim is here on the Wall of Names, Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref.
Rabbi Avraham was one of the most prominent figures of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. One day, in the summer of 1851, while on his daily walk to synagogue for his morning prayer, he was attacked from behind by Arab rioters who hit him on his head and fatally wounded him. He fought for his life for three months before he succumbed.
But his death did not stop his legacy or the settling of the country, which his family continued. You have, no doubt, heard of this man’s grandson. He was the renowned Yoel Moshe Salomon, one of the founders of Petach-Tikva, where my mother was born.
Six of his offspring fell in Israeli wars, sacrificing their own lives to ensure the continuity of the Jewish nation. Eventually, his descendants filled major positions in Israel’s economy and in our public sector.”
Indeed, many of his descendants do fill major positions in Israel; I have thousands of relatives in Israel in all walks of life.
Rav Avrohom Zalman Tzoref life’s work was to rebuild the famed Churva Shul in the Old City. The reason he was specifically targeted for assassination was because of the leadership role he assumed as the head of the Jewish community’s efforts to ‘redeem’ the land where the Shul was and begin the rebuilding of the famed Mikdash Me’at (Synagogue).
He never lived to see that day as we killed while still in the midst of his efforts to secure the necessary funds and permits. The fact that his life was cut short while attempting to build a Shul for the Jewish community of Yerushalayim is a source of sadness and pride for me and my family.
That being said, even more meaningful for me is that today Memorial Day/Yom HaZikaron. the day when I remember my great-great-great-great-grandfather, and the day when 23,447 families remember their loved ones- I am also comforted.
I am comforted by the fact that on this same morning when I mourn my great-great-great-great-grandfather- a man who never lived to see his life’s work. the building of the Churva Shul completed, his great-great-great-great-great-grandson (My son Meir) davened Shacharis in that very Shul!
Rav Avrohom Zalman Tzoref and his Rebbetzin are buried at the foot of Har HaZeisim. Every morning, his descendants (my son and my grandchildren) pass his Kever (grave) on the way to Shul and on the way to school- every single day he sees them.
We are sad today, we are mournful today…indeed, I am personally mourning and I am personally pained; however, I am simultaneously comforted, as I also know that tomorrow the sun will shine brighter.
I know that Hashem has not forsaken His people.
I know that my antecedent Rav Shlomo Zalman Tzoref did not die in vain… for his death- as painful and tragic as it was- it helped pave the way for his descendant’s to live, learn Torah and thrive in our homeland; it helped set in motion the events which allowed my son Meir and his sons to learn Torah in the very place that their holy Zaide gave his life for.“
[And Hashem said], And I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you, ‘With your blood you shall live,’ and I said to you, ‘With your blood you shall live.’” (Yechezkel 16:6)