Yom HaZikaron 5779 – So Much to Think About

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Yom HaZikaron is upon us again. It’s fitting that Yom HaZikaron fall out on Parshas Kedoshim. Every year we pray that there will be no more kedoshim, no holy individuals who are killed in the name of hate and terror. It’s not always easy to get into the proper state of mind for the day when one is in the diaspora. These are the things and the people I try to keep in mind today to do just that:

I think of Zachary Baumol, whose family, after 37 long years, now has his remains back. He was able to be buried among heroes rather than languish forever abroad. The families of Ron Arad, Yehuda Katz, Guy Chever, Oron Shaul, and Hadar Goldin are hopeful for a similar yeshua for their loved ones missing in action to give them some sort of closure.

I think of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Tzoref, first official victim of “terror” who was killed in 1851 as he set out for vasikin. A builder of the Churva shul after it had been destroyed in 1721, he never lived to see the second iteration of this synagogue be completed in 1864. He was left for dead in the streets, and although he was returned home alive, he died three months after the attack.

I think of Rabbi Yaakov and Netanel Littman, murdered as they drove to the Shabbat Chatan of their new son-in-law/brother-in-law. An exciting weekend was transformed into one of immeasurable sadness.

I think of Yoni Netanyahu, who fell while on the Entebbe mission, on July 4, 1976, as Americans celebrated the bicentennial. When the Torah describes the plague of the death of the firstborn, it states that there was no house in Egypt that was spared from the carnage. The same can be said of Israeli society. His family is a prominent one, yet the terrorists could not care less of who is contained in our lineage, as long as they are Bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

I think of Amiad Yisrael Ish-Ran, and his incredible parents Shira and Amichai. Amiad was born prematurely after his parents were attacked by a terrorist. Although he fought valiantly to stay alive, it was not meant to be. The picture of his funeral, his tiny body wrapped in a tallis being held in someone’s single arm is an image that is burned into my memory, one that I never want to see again.

I think of Gilad Shalit who united the Jewish people. We were shocked when he was returned alive. I’ll never forget the feeling of watching on television from Birmingham, Alabama where I was with a delegation of students there for Simchas Torah.

I also think of Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, the three boys, whose capture also brought the entire Jewish people together. I’ll also never forget standing in a department store in Cleveland when we found out that their bodies had been found, dashing our hopes for a safe return and hammering home the painful notion that sometimes, Hashem says no.

I think of Rav Ari Fuld, my rabbi and teacher in yeshiva, one of the strongest people I’ve ever met in my life. I heard of his death via our yeshiva WhatsApp group while at my grandfather’s 90th birthday party. Trying to keep a smile for the entire celebration was so difficult.

I think of the Chevron massacre of 1929. Women were raped. Children were decapitated. The Arab police were among perpetrators of this heinous slaughter, like something out of the Holocaust, only decades earlier and not in Europe. 67 were murdered, including 24 students of the Chevron Yeshiva, which later relocated to Jerusalem after the melee.

Or the Kfar Etzion massacre in 1948, just two days before David Ben Gurion declared independence. You can visit the Kfar Etzion museum and vividly learn about how 129 were killed, some even after they had surrendered. Or the convoy of 35, the Lamed Hei, who were sent by the Haganah to bring supplies to Kfar Etzion. There were originally 38 deployed, but three returned back after one sprained his ankle. The Lamed Hei were discovered and murdered, and when their bodies were finally sent back to Israel, only 23 were identifiable. This rendered Rabbi Aryeh Levin to do a goral haGra to determine the identities of the other 12 victims.

I think of Rav Moshe Twersky, Rav Kalman Levine, Rav Avraham Kupinsky, Rav Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, and Rav Chaim Yechiel Rothman who were cut down, some clad in their tallis and tefillin, early in the morning in Har Nof. These individuals were kedoshim in life and in death, like the thousands of others who died in the name of terror.

I also think of Zidan Sayif, the valiant Druze police officer who died while trying to neutralize that terrorist. I also think about the Christians, Druze, and Muslims killed by terrorists bullets, rockets, and bombs by being mistaken for Jews or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I think of those who survived the hell on earth wrought by the Nazis, yemach shemam vezichram, and later move to Israel and try to rebuild their lives from the ashes, only to fall in the war for Israel’s independence.

I think of the Fogel family, savagely butchered in their home on a Friday night.

I think of Michael Levin, arguably the most famous lone soldier. Michael was on leave in America when the war in Lebanon broke out in 2006 and came back to lead his platoon. In the aftermath of his death, his family and loved ones created a center for lone soldiers that now bears his name. His motto was “You can’t fulfill your dream unless our dare to risk it all.” When I was on Ramah Seminar that summer, the Philadelphia kids from Ramah Poconos were beside themselves. We all were.

I think of Ezra Schwartz, a regular 18-year-old just like any teenager from your community or any other, who was killed as he and his yeshiva were coming back from doing chessed. A nightmare scenario for us in the diaspora, something that didn’t seem like it could ever happen. But it did. The others in that van, like other survivors and families, may never be the same.

I think of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, which was and should be famous for perpetuating the esteemed legacy of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook. It’s now almost as famous for the terrorist who mowed down holy yeshiva students while they were studying on Rosh Chodesh Adar II. Our yeshiva went to learn night seder there a few days later. Marbin b’simcha was extremely challenging.

I think of the Yom Kippur war, how Jews on the holiest day of the year replaced their kittels with their madim (fatigues). With the fasting and repentance, Yom Kippur is an exhausting experience in itself. We beseech the Almighty every year on to be inscribed in the book of life. It must’ve felt so much more real then to literally be fighting for your life.

I think of Hallel Ariel who wasn’t even safe from a bloodthirsty terrorist while tucked in her own bed.

I think of 29 year-old Avigdor Kahalani, who miraculously led his unit and staved off some 50,000 Syrian troops and 1,200 tanks. He survived the ordeal and eventually became a politician after receiving the highest military honor for his valiant stand in what was later referred to Emek Habacha, the valley of tears.

I think of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin who were killed in front of their children in their car. Rav Eitam has such beautiful volumes of Torah that many people, myself included, only discovered because he and his wife were murdered.

I think of the terrified mother whose children were nowhere to be found when the rocket alarm sounded. She later found them standing at attention as they thought the siren was in commemoration of Yom HaShoah, which happened just a few days earlier.

I think of the Solomon family, who on the same night celebrated a Shalom Zachar and lost three members of their family. Watch the video of that baby’s bris and try not to cry.

I think of the parents who bring their children to be inducted into the army. I can see them in my head surrounding their smiling children with their huge Kal Gav backpacks. The excitement and pride coupled with fear and dread, only stopping to catch their breath when their children make it home safely.

Finally, I think of the twice bereft Iris Eden, whose first husband was killed tragically in the 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster (when two Sikorsky S-65-C-3 Ya’asur 2000 helicopters collided and killed all 73 on board) and lost her partner, Moshe Feder, just this week when his car was pummeled by a rocket launched from Gaza.

These are only a few snapshots of the 23,000+ stories. We are so thankful to the Almighty for the gift that is the State of Israel. But we cannot bask in the glory and holiness of Eretz Yisrael if we do not recognize and remember those who gave everything so we could have it. May it be God’s will that the most recent victim of terror will be the last.

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