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Standing Together: Reflections from CCAR Israel Solidarity Mission

These past five days have been dizzying, both in terms of places we’ve visited and people we’ve met.  More than being filled with a much greater understanding of this very complex, and tragic war, I have been emotionally drained.

Let me offer one highlight from this morning. Our group of 13 rabbis visited Mount Herzl Cemetery. This is where some of Israel’s greatest pioneers and leaders are buried, along with those men and woman who gave their lives in battle, protecting the State of Israel. Unfortunately, with the mounting number of IDF soldier killed in battle in the current war, there were some fresh burial sites.

Each of us took some private time paying our respects at the graves of these brave young men. We then walked down the steps of the terraced cemetery, to find some shade and in hushed tones, together, recited El Malei Rachamin, the special Memorial prayer for fallen soldiers and the Mourner’s Kaddish. That we could be present in this place, rabbis who came to Mount Herzl from America, to create a minyan at this devastating time, was itself quite remarkable. Each of us was touched.

Just as we concluded, I noticed a soldier ascending the stairs to the graves from which we just came. I was moved to follow this young soldier up the stairs. I watched him slowly approach the graves, overflowing with fresh-flowered wreaths of mourning, and kneel beside his comrades. Sensitive to the soldier’s grief, I unobtrusively captured this scene with my camera. I proceeded to quietly walk next to this young man, still kneeling, and offered a hand to hold, which he accepted. He gently turned his head to me, eyes met for a brief second, clenched one another’s hand, as we exchanged a tear. I placed my hand on his shoulder, on the strap from which his rifle hung, gave him a loving squeeze, and moved on.   I travelled to Israel to stand with my brothers and sisters. Indeed, this morning, on the hallowed, sacred ground of Mount Herzl, two brothers embraced.

 Rabbi John Linder is the rabbi of Temple Solel in Paradise Valley, AZ.