On the Seam Line

“Yom HaZikaron” – Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims National Day of Remembrance 2023

As far as the secular Jew in Israel is concerned, the holiest day of the year is not “Yom Kippur” (the Day of Atonement) or any other day mentioned in the Torah, but “Yom HaZikaron”. This year it fell on April 24th.

More than 24,000 soldiers have been killed since Israel declared its independence in 1948. This number does not include the hundreds of victims of terror, the shell-shocked who suffer from PTSD, causing them to relive the battles they fought in all over again every day, every night. And of course, it does not include the myriad of those wounded. In a small nation, with mandatory IDF service for all girls and boys once they finish high school, that means that each person knows someone who was killed. In many homes this is a father, a son, a daughter.

Mere hours before the day began two days ago, I heard 4 or 5 shots outside my window, followed by the sound of loud sirens. A 39 years old man (father of 5 from Beit Safafa, an Arab village south of Jerusalem), sped through the street parallel to mine. When he reached the cross walk he veered,left the straight path,and aimed his car at pedestrians crossing the road. He physically wounded 8 – one is still fighting for his life – and several others were treated for anxiety attacks brought on a result of his act. An armed civilian, who happened to walk by, shot and killed him before he could harm anyone else.

I use this same crosswalk countless times each week. Whenever I need to cross the narrow alleys where I live to run any errand, get to the train station, or on my way to some meeting, I pass that exact spot.

A few hours after the attack I went to the Old City. Images of memorial candles and a rolling list with thousands of names of the fallen soldiers were displayed on the wall. Men gathered spontaneously at its base to say “Kaddish” over these names.

When the evening siren went off to mark the beginning of the Memorial Day, Soldiers saluted. Everyone stood still and lowered their heads. Arab passersby, however, continued to walk. For them this is not a holy day at all. The contrast was stark. Painful.

Saying “Kaddish” while names of the fallen are displayed on the wall

To some extent, there really is something holy and sacred about this day. Holy in the sense of separate, different. Israelis are the masters of vocal arguments on any subject. Yet, during this day most of us manage to put aside our differences and generate a common array of emotions. Compassion and sorrow, mourning and determination. And a sobering understanding that we have no choice but to keep fighting, as we have no other land.

In our foolishness, we did try to assimilate among the nations and cease from being the chosen (and persecuted) people. At the end of the 19th century, many Jews in Europe considered converting to Christianity, not because they believed in Yeshua, but in order to rid themselves of their Jewishness. Some even did. That didn’t help, as we well know.

Among them was one, Theodore (Binyamin) Ze’ev Herzl. He argued that all Jews should be forced to convert, and was even planning on following through with it. He truly believed this would exempt us from the burden of anti-Semitism.

But then came the Dreyfus Affair. As a journalist, Herzl was sent to cover the court case. This is when he realized that anti-Semitism had deeper roots, and that the solution must include a separate state, not assimilation or a change of religion. Thus was born his vision for the establishment of the Jewish state.

But with all due respect to Herzl’s vision, God had talked about it centuries before. The biblical prophets had spoken about it time and again. Yes, God did punish His chosen people for our sins, and among other things even expelled us from our own Land, which will stood desolate for centuries, but when the day came, He did (and is continuing to) restore us back to it. In it.

Herzl passed away in 1904. Three decades later Europe began vomitting its Jews in the throes of some extreme bellyaches.

Here we are. Still surrounded by those who don’t think this is our place. Thank God, this time we have a well-armed fleshly arm(y) that can protect the Land. But sadly, most of us keep ignoring the Right Arm who created our nation for good deeds, and chose us to fulfill a unique destiny – shine His light to all nations.

Yesterday morning, as the two-minute siren was heard once more throughout the country, and ceremonies were held in all military cemeteries throughout Israel, I sought to enter a spot in the heart of my nation as we remember our dead. I wanted to linger within myself in that space in my heart, where I carry the widowhood of my nation. I focused on the seam line in our collective existence. On one side of this seam line lies a deep certainty that we must protect ourselves when needed. On the other side lies our unique calling to carry something from God to all people groups of the world, including (and perhaps especially) those who live among us.

This seam line is not sewn with colorful threads. It bleeds. And its shape is that of a cross.

Israel, my beloved, lift up your eyes to the One who found you in the field, washed your impurity, dressed you in fine clothing and called you to be a light for His creation (Ezekiel 16). Expand the pegs of your tent, stretch out the curtains of your dwelling place and do not hold back. Lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. God already promised that you will break forth to the right and to the left, and that your offspring will inherit nations and inhabit desolate cities. The days are coming when you will no longer be treated as a shamed virgin or a widow who is despised. For your Maker will reveal Himself as your husband, as the Lord of Hosts. You will then realize that your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. He is the one who called you when you were a forsaken and sorrowful woman, a wife of youth who was rejected. In a moment of anger He indeed forsook you, but in great mercy He is gathering us – your children. In His wrath He concealed from us the true Face and identity of the Jewish Messiah, but in eternal mercy He will show His compassion on us and redeem us (Isaiah 54:2-8).

Dear Israel, it is indeed permissible for us to cling to the memory of the fallen. We should definitely remember those who gave their lives for our protection. But as we do that, as we shed our tears and go through a powerful long day of solidarity, I pray that that we will be able to pick into His heart. That we will find the courage to adjust the rhythm of our yearnings and sadness to His, and that in His embrace we will find the seam – that spot that can enable us to be restored WHILE we take our place as a mother-nation, helping other people groups find their eternal identity and purpose.

I am longing for the day when we do not see only threats surrounding us, but succeed to create a bosom in which even Arabs from Beit Safafa can find the true answers and the straight path.

Ultimate Goodness and the Nazi Camps

My father, Yona, was a holocaust survivor. The holocaust was an unwanted, silent shadow in my family. It was always there, floating in mid air – though we all pretended it did not exist.

Growing up I tried to avoid immersing myself in books and movies on the topic. It’s not an easy feat here in Israel, as the “ghost” of the holocaust is hovering everywhere, including the public education system. But where I had the option to choose, I steered clear of it. Not because I thought it not worthy of my time. We work closely with several survivors on an ongoing basis, and hearing them is a gift I do not take lightly! But reading books and watching movies took an emotional toll that was hard to bear.

This year, for the first time in my life, I thought I am ready to face it. Ready to be exposed to more stories, ready to open my heart and look evil straight in the eye. So when I was asked to escort a group of Israeli youth on a journey to Poland, I dove straight into the center of hell – the biggest extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Something happened to me there. I still struggle to find the accurate words to describe it. I find inside me a new level of awe for accuracy. I don’t want to just use big adjectives or familiar words to describe it. I am not even sure I am supposed to describe it. I just let whatever surfaces float within my soul and spirit, until eventually it will find rest or make some sense.

Since I came back, I have moments of confusion and some raw new emotions. I have anger, mingled with deep sadness, and I am not always sure towards whom. I find myself dealing with thoughts that never bothered me before. I may share some of them here later. But at this point, as we commemorate the annual Holocaust Memorial Day here in Israel, I’d like to share with you a short video I recorded together with my friend Rachel Smilovich, who translates me here into Spanish for her friends and relatives.