I was honoured when the Israeli Consul General DJ Schneiweiss invited me to participate in last night’s community-wide Yom HaZikaron Commemorative Service. This is the fourth time in less than a year that Rabbi Frydman-Kohl, Rabbi Korobkin, and I have stood together for such somber occasions. First, when the three teenagers, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, were abducted. Second, when we learned they were gone. Third, after the terror attack in France. And now Yom HaZikaron, to mourn the 23,320 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of wars and terror attacks since the establishment of the State of Israel. The three rabbis have agreed: we need to stop meeting like this.
And yet, it always feels right to come together at such moments. A Jew is not meant to mourn alone. It is right to meditate on the significance of these moments, to do so publicly and together, with the grace of song, prayer, and poetry. The most moving moment of last night’s ceremonies was when our Shinshinim sang the song, “20,000 Brothers,” written about Sean Carmeli’s funeral. When the Lone Soldier from Texas was killed during the most recent Gaza War, his family feared they’d be alone at the graveside. Twenty thousand Israelis came to stand with them, saying, “There is no such thing as a lone soldier of Israel.” Here is the original melody. (Click here to watch.)
And here are the words I offered.
Even the ordinary soldier
Whose blood fell upon the ancient path
That the splendour of Mountains,
The silvery treetops,
And the glittering dome
Are the outer gold
Of the song of Solomon and of David’s tear.
Each soldier lives, knowing that she is in some real way contributing to the unfolding of Jewish history. Through her the song of Solomon is heard again in our own time. Every solider who dies, we pray, dies knowing that he has in some real way given shape to the never-ending story of the Jewish People. Through him David’s tear and David’s glory are known again in our own time.
And while a solider of Israel has the unique honour and the unique burden of creating Jewish history with each mission, we who live chutz la’Aretz are duty-bound to join them somehow, to play our part in the mission. While talented and bright young men make the ultimate sacrifice, what role can we possibly play from across an ocean?
I hesitate to oversimplify the answer, but Moshe Dayan did not hesitate. It may be surprising that such an answer came from a secular kibbutznik and a military man. When North American leadership asked Moshe Dayan what could Diaspora Jewry do to help Israel, he answered simply: “Just be Jewish….Jews know what to do when Jews are in trouble.”
Yom HaZikaron is for remembering the fallen soldiers of Israel. We remember them. We mourn them. However, in Judaism memory must propel action and mourning must serve a purpose. So let this Yom HaZikaron, this Day of Remembering, demand something more of us. Let us ask ourselves: What contribution am I making to the unfolding of Jewish history? Let us ask ourselves: Are we raising our children and grandchildren to “be Jewish” to be the kind of Jews who “know what to do when Jews are in trouble”? Whether we are Canadian-born or Israeli-born now choosing to make a life in Canada, do we remember to attach ourselves to the Jewish community? Do we remember to embrace Jewish learning? Do we remember to mark Jewish time with Shabbat and Festivals? Do we remember to give? Do we remember to remember the God of Israel, the God of all humanity?
May this Yom HaZikaron remind us to construct a life as disciplined and as dedicated as a solider of Israel. There is none finer.