Fields of Life, Part 4: CCAR Solidarity Mission to Israel

Aug 1, 2014 by

Fields of Life, Part 4: CCAR Solidarity Mission to Israel

From Day Three of the CCAR Israel Solidarity Mission 

“May God bless and keep you always, may your wishes all come true. May you always do for others and let others do for you May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung. May you stay forever young. Forever young, forever young, may you stay forever young.” (Bob Dylan, 1973)

I’ve made the pilgrimage to Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem many times to pay tribute to the presidents and prime ministers of the State of Israel. I’ve stood silently and reflectively at prominent monuments, and felt the pride of a nation that is my second home.

This morning we entered into quiet of the Cemetery and sat in the shade, listening.

Shema Yisrael, Listen Israel… 

We listened to the wind breathing through the trees.

We listened to the yeshiva children dancing along the stone paths, conscious of this sober place yet unrestrained in their childhood.

And we listened to a mother’s story of her first-born son, Guni Harnik, killed in the Lebanese War in June, 1982. “Guni was not killed because he hated Arabs, or because he wanted to be a hero. He was killed because of his love for this beautiful land … He wanted there to be peace upon you and all of Israel. And if one day there is peace, and no more wars, then the story of Guni will be like a fairytale … something you remember like a teddy-bear or a song…”

Of Guni, Rabbi David Forman wrote that “he was the paradigmatic example of a Jewish hero: selfless and devoted.”

He was a Jewish hero because it wasn’t his death that this young soldier Guni Harnik gave to us. He gave his life – his love, his devotion, his energy and dedication. He offered up his heart and soul.

Guni Harnik wasn’t a martyr. He fought in war to save lives. He was a life-giver.

“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true. May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. May you stay forever young. Forever young, forever young, may you stay forever young.”

FrishmanBlog2We rose from our places and walked along paths graced by tall cedars. We climbed steps, our eyes grazing the ground for small stones to carry with us. We came out onto a plateau, a cemetery set apart from the monuments of leaders. The military cemetery for the young soldiers.

The gravesites are beds. They are raised and set in a frame of Jerusalem stone, blanketed in rosemary and lavender. The pillow is their gentle attribute, words engraved in gold sharing name and lifespan and combat unit. This one we stood before was Yoni Netanyahu, older brother of Bibi Netanyahu, commander of an elite Israeli army commando unit and the only Israeli soldier killed during during Operation Entebbe in Uganda on July 4, 1976. He was thirty years old. We all knew his story, but we listened to it again. A deeply righteous young man who wanted only to save lives, of hostages, of his own team. He gave his life so others would live. And through memory – though it is not nearly enough — Yoni lives. And though memory, a dream lives on.

FrishmanBlog4We stood quietly by the gravesite of Michael Levin whose story we had heard the day before visiting the Lone Soldier organization. We listened to his life again. We Jews remember by becoming more righteous. We remember influence, purpose, hopes and dreams. This is how life carries on with meaning.

We walked from there to another section, covered by a vast canopy, a sukkah of sorts to protect us from the sun. All who stand there feel so vulnerable.

These graves are decorated with photos of young men and women in their prime, beaming in their uniforms. Athletic badges lined the borders of one, a Sponge-Bob balloon bobbed over another, little rocks with favorite sayings and tiny toys rested. And flowers… fake flowers, real flowers, color everywhere. Life.

IMG_2135And a few rows further: mounds of sandy earth covered in wreaths of flowers, red, yellow, green, orange… Mounds of earth piled high over fresh graves, the newest losses.

Four fresh mounds of earth.

And three young men sitting over the sites, mourners, psalms in hand, tears in eyes, bodies davening in the pain of loss. Back and forth back and forth, lips moving quietly, open and close open and close, tears trailing down down …

And next to these raw, fresh graves at the edge of this new line was the grave of Max Steinberg, a lone soldier, age 24 from Woodland Hills, California. 30,000 people attended his funeral last week.

FrishmanBlog5We wondered how his site had been completed so quickly – the walls raised, the blanket of rosemary sown, the pillow resting with its gold engraving. Someone suggested that it was hurried along so that his family would still be here and know that their son’s burial site was whole. That when they returned to California, they’d carry in their hearts the picture of his body protected, his resting place secure.

Then Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr realized that where we were standing was the spot where the next graves would be…

And we knew this would be soon.

And since this morning, four more soldiers have been killed in a booby-trapped UNWRA building leading into a Hamas tunnel.

These are the names of the 56 Israelis soldiers who died since July 8 in this war to preserve life.

  • Sergeant Daniel Kedmi, 18.
  • Sergeant Barkey Ishai Shor, 21.
  • Sergeant Sagi Erez, 19.
  • Sergeant Dor Dery, 18.
  • Staff Sergeant Eliav Eliyahu Haim Kahlon, 22.
  • Corporal Meidan Maymon Biton, 20.
  • Corporal Niran Cohen, 20.
  • Staff Sergeant Adi Briga, 23.
  • Staff Sergeant Moshe Davino, 20, served in the Combat Engineering Corps.
  • Sergeant First Class (res.) Barak Refael Degorker, 27.
  • Chief Warrant Officer Rami Chalon, 39, served in the Paratroopers Corps
  • Captain Liad Lavi, 22, served as an infantry soldier.
  • Staff Sergeant Avraham Grintzvaig, 21.
  • Staff Sergeant Gal Bason, 21, served in the Combat Engineering Corps.
  • Second Lieutenant Roy Peles, 21, served in the Paratroopers Corps.
  • Staff Sergeant Amit Yeori, 20, served in the Combat Engineering Corps.
  • Staff Sergeant Guy Boyland, 21, served as a combat engineer in the 7th Armored Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Guy Levy, 21, served in the Armored Corps.
  • Sergeant Oron Shaul, 21, was a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade, killed in action.
  • Master Sergeant Yair Ashkenazi, 36.
  • Lieutenant Paz Elyahu​, 22, served as a combat soldier in the Paratroopers Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Li Mat, 19, served as a combat soldier in the Paratroopers Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Shahar Dauber, 20, served as a combat soldier in the Paratroopers Brigade.
  • Captain Dmitri Levitas, 26, served as a company commander in the Armored Corps.
  • Captain Natan Cohen, 23, served as a company commander in the Armored Corps. He was posthumously promoted from the rank of First Lieutenant.
  • Staff Sergeant Avitar Moshe Torjamin, 20, served as a combat soldier in the Paratroopers Brigade.
  • Master Sergeant Ohad Shemesh, 27.
  • Sergeant First Class Oded Ben Sira, 22, served as a combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Dolev Keidar, 38, served as the Commander of the Geffen Battalion of the Bahad 1 officer training base.
  • Sergeant Major Bayhesain Kshaun, 39, served in the Northern Brigade of the Gaza Division.
  • Second Lieutenant Yuval Haiman, 21, served at the Bahad 1 officer training base.
  • Sergeant Nadav Goldmacher, 23, served at the Bahad 1 officer training base
  • Staff Sergeant Tal Ifrach, 21, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Yuval Dagan, 22, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade
  • Sergeant Shon Mondshine, 19, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Jordan Bensemhoun, 22, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Moshe Malko, 20, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Sergeant Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, served as a lone soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Sergeant Oz Mendelovich, 21, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Sergeant Gilad Rozenthal Yacoby, 21, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Captain Tsvi Kaplan, 28, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade and was set to become a company commander.
  • Major Tzafrir Bar-Or, 32, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Max Steinberg, 24, of Woodland Hills, California, served as a lone soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Shachar Tase, 20, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Daniel Pomerantz, 20, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Sergeant Ben Itzhak Oanounou, 19, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Oren Simcha Noach, 22, served as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Bnaya Rubel, 20, served as a combat soldier in the 101st Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade
  • Second Lieutenant Bar Rahav, 21, served in the Combat Engineering Corps.
  • Sergeant Adar Barsano, 20, served in the Armored Corps.
  • Major (res.) Amotz Greenberg, 45.
  • Staff Sergeant Eitan Barak, 20, served as a combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade.
  • Staff Sergeant Matan Gotlib, 21, of Rishon LeZion, a combat soldier in the elite Maglan unit.
  • Staff Sergeant Omer Hey, 21, of Savion, served as a combat soldier in the elite Maglan unit.
  • Staff Sergeant Guy Elgranati, 20, of Tel Aviv, served as a combat soldier in the elite Maglan unit.
  • St.-Sgt. Guy Algranati, 20, of Tel Aviv was killed in a booby-trapped tunnel shaft in southern Gaza on July 30. He served in the elite Maglan infantry unit.
  • St.-Sgt. Omer Hay, 21, of Savyon was killed in a booby-trapped tunnel shaft in southern Gaza on July 30. He served in the elite Maglan infantry unit.
  • St.-Sgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, of Rishon Lezion was killed in a booby-trapped tunnel shaft in southern Gaza on July 30. He served in the elite Maglan infantry unit.

We walked silently down steps, and stood in a circle to reflect together, to offer Kaddish, sanctifying the gift of Life.

I thought about our stories.

I thought about our young B’nai Mitzvah students, standing with the Torah in their arms.

To each of them, I say, “As you hold this Torah, not only does it become part of you, but your story becomes part of the Torah – and of us. Your story deepens and changes us. You hold this Torah in your arms. And you hold us. As the Torah will support you, so will we. Our stories are shared.”

Our stories are shared. Our stories last. Our stories live. When we listen. 

Shema Yisrael. What will be our destiny? Our purpose? Our influence? Who will be loved?

Who will live longer because we cared enough to give all that we could?

“May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift, may you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift. May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung. May you stay forever young. Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young.” (Bob Dylan, 1973)

 Rabbi Elyse Frishman is the rabbi of Barnert Temple, in Franklin Lakes, NJ.  She is also the editor of Mishkan T’filah, the Reform siddur. 

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