Inbal Freund is the Director of Mavoi Satum (Dead End) a Jerusalem-based organization that advocates on behalf of Agunot. She wrote this as her 60bloggers.com post for Yom Hazikaron – Israel Memorial day on behalf of those who fell defending the State of Israel. I thought I’d share it with you.
In – memory of Noam Mayerson, my step cousin who fell in the recent Lebanon war, my cousin Chani Dikshtein , her husband Yossi and their child, Shuvael who were shot to death on their way to spending Shabbat with friends. This is also in memory of older loved ones: Shlomo Gabriel Freund, my father’s brother who gave his life while defending Gush Etzion in 1948 and of my grandmothers’ brother, David Metal who fell while commanding his troops in the south on the same year. Further I would like to commemorate my grandfather’s siblings and parents who perished in the holocaust. May their memories be blessed and guide us to meaningful growth and much joy of life in our present and future days.
A. My father.
My father has good eyes, which have seen a lot. He has grey hair that sometimes sneak out in mischievously boyish wisps from under his kippa. He has wrinkled hands with blessed old age stains, which treat every flower in his garden with great gentleness.
On Rosh Hashana, my father’s big hands open the Torah scroll at the synagogue. Full of emotion, his voice trembles above the crowd, reading from Jeremiah, chapter 31-the consolation prophecy describing the return to Zion. Embedded in that glory lays our foremother Rachel’s great agony for her lost sons- the ones who perished during the journey to Israel, and never made it to the Promised Land. When the reading is over, the cantor blesses Yonatan son of Rachel and Moshe. My father’s good eyes are lit with splendor and laughter as he steps quietly down from the Bimah back into the crowd.
In the army, my father’s role was taking care of the dead. His job was to bring them to a dignified Jewish burial. He never tells us anything of his past actions; he is not a man of many words. Until today, whenever somebody passes away in my old home town, my father vanishes for a few hours to help treat the dead. It’s called “Chesed Shel Emet” â€“the benevolence of righteousness. Unlike his parents’ generation who built the institutions of our country and set up its main structures, his Chesed is quiet and responsive to the events which happen around him.
Sometimes I wonder how my quiet father can carry all that weight on his shoulders.
B. Masoret- tradition.
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assemblyâ€¦
The generations which came before us are embedded within us. They escort us as we celebrate our holidays â€“ on Yom Kippur or University graduation, their eyes are watching, examining our actions, giving advice and meaning to mundane life. We are expected to relate to them. The glory of their memories commands us to better the world. To improve what they have given us. To carry their greatness to our inheritance. To create the next part of the chain, day by day.
I study what my forefathers studied. I study what my foremothers did not always have access to. I have the freedom to wonder around beloved texts, I have the freedom to walk in ancient pathways. I live in a world which reinvents itself with every passing day, where technology dictates an ever growing pace of life. I live in the liminal space between old and new as I try to make my own way forward.
C. National Memorial Day 2007
A frantic rush. It is 10:30 am and I’m running up the mountain. It’s hot and I feel heavy. I’m running to be there on time for the ceremony, to stand next to my father when the siren that traditionally marks Memorial Day will begin to pierce our ears with memories.
It’s crowded and hot. The cemetery is flooded with people swarming in from every direction. They are dressed in blue and white; some wear only one color: black.
I run. I smile with gratitude at teenagers who wear their youth movements’ uniform as they hand me flowers to put on a grave. However, I refuse their offer, as well as the water bottles that soldiers provide for the vast crowd. For now, I run forward with the crowds.
It feels just like before a big pilgrimage. I see visions of a white river of people who are rushing towards the Wailing Wall to read the Book of Ruth on the holiday of Shavuot. Before dawn kisses the sky which lays above it, darkness is broken with a new light.
I stop. I got too high. From this standpoint, I can see my family members trying to find their way to each other. They move in the crowd, not aware of how close they really are to each other. The focal point is Noam’s grave. I witness the strong quiet presence of his parents and some of his siblings. They are all standing, ready for the ceremony. I see familiar heads everywhere. The only islands in the crowd are the graves.
I locate my father. He is standing down there, trying to gently push his way forward. I can imagine his debate with himself; whether to further protect his head from the burning sun, as I see him put his funny-looking hat over his kippa. It’s 11:00 am. My father’s big hand freezes in the air as the siren blows.
We stand and stare at the ground. New beloved ones have been buried here this year. In my mind I try to remember each of my family members who are commemorated today in the short two minutes period. I’m left overwhelmed.
The ceremony is over. We unite under the big tree we have come to know in the past year on our visits here. Our tribe members gather. My cousin’s wife, Hadassah, is 15 days late in her pregnancy; both her beautiful blond-haired daughters run around. We all hug and kiss and fill each other in on latest news. I take Noa, Noam’s new niece in my arms. She is a beautiful two-month-old baby. She is life. I say shalom to Noam’s fiancÃ©, not really knowing what to say to her lovely enigmatic smile.
A man who rescued Noam’s body from the tank is standing between us all. Wrapped in our family, he is telling of the rescue efforts. The children run around and we are hiding from the sun behind a tree, behind sunglasses, all attuned to his story. We are embraced by the tree’s shade; we are embraced by this man’s story. We embrace him back.
The clock is ticking and we start to depart. People are going to Noam’s parent’s house to be together. With my father and others the ascent up the mountain begins. We make our way to the next ceremony, which should be taking place at 1:00 pm, on top of the mountain. My father sneaks apples to our handbags; the day is hot and long. We are all encouraging each other to drink. The sun beats down on our heads; there is still much to be done.
There is heavy security on the way to the terror victim’s ceremony. The main speaker is the Prime Minister. We wander on and on in a labyrinth of blue plastic cloth, passing through different guard points to get in to the central ceremony. Our agony is our passport on this journey. We mourn for my cousin Chani, her husband Yossi and their child Shuvael, who were shot five years ago. It’s 12:45 pm and we are afraid of being late. We start running again in the roads that lead up, passing by the tombs of Herzl’s children as we go further on our way to be with Chani’s nine living orphans.
The Talmud says, “Everyone who visits takes away one-sixtieth of the illness.” My father runs to support my cousins, to take his part.
We get there; see our family members in the distance, by the stage. We listen to the cantor crying a prayer of mourning, “El Male Rachamim,” once more and then withdraw back down the mountain to make it to the next ceremony; the hour of 1:30 pm is drawing near.
I run. I try to locate the shortest and quickest way to go down this mountain, to the Gush Etzion ceremony. To show my father the way. His brother is buried there, Rachel’s son who never made it to the Promised Land. It has been exactly 59 years of independence and loss for my father. I stand with him at the mass grave, nodding my head to greet more of the elders of our family. I kiss my twin brother, who was named after our fallen uncle. The memorial service begins. El Male Rachamim again. We stand on both sides of our father. We embrace him as his body leans towards the earth.
D. Independence Day
The sad, heavy, choking, patched blanket of ceremonies is lifted. We can never really take some pieces back as we return to our homes to prepare for our Independence Day. The shift is so dramatic. Like a transformation from a long fast to the festive joy of Purim. Like a great light that blinds eyes which dwelled in much darkness. By the evening, the sky is lit with fireworks. My head is still pounding from the sun. From the distance the fireworks sound like shots, and I have to look up to remember that this is an expression of joy which is not taken for granted. It’s an expression of freedom.
My forefathers are looking down at us, seeing good old stained hands caress our heads. My father’s soft eyes are full of light.