This week’s Kosher Bookworm features an excerpt from an essay by the distinguished writer and thinker Michal Horowitz which will serve as the introduction to a series of review essays focusing on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem and Chevron.
Horowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College, teaches Judaic studies to adults of all ages, with a focus on the weekly Torah readings, Jewish holidays, prayer, and Jewish thought. She is a lecturer for Yeshiva University, including as a featured speaker at the annual YU RIETS Shavuot Yarchei Kallah program. A resident of Cedarhurst, she teaches weekly at many shuls, schools and homes in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway. A selection of her recorded lectures and shiurim can be found on YUTorah.org and TorahAnytime.com
By Michal Horowitz
Yom Ha’Zikaron (Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism)
Yom Hazikaron is the national remembrance day for those who have fallen since 1860, when Jews were first allowed to live in Eretz Yisrael outside of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. As of May 2016 that number was at 23,447.
On living and choosing life after losing two of her sons in battle, Uriel (1976-1998), hy”d, to Hezbollah in the North and Eliraz (1978-2010), hy”d, to Hamas in Gaza, Miriam Peretz reflects:
“In my own eyes, I’m no hero at all. But if a hero is someone who chooses life — then yes, I’ve chosen. If a hero is someone who continues to love the Land of Israel and the Jewish people — then yes, I love them. And if a hero is someone who wants to give and do good — then yes, I’m a hero. This double death has strengthened me. My two graves have taught me to pursue values of giving and lovingkindness, love for the Land of Israel and Torah; they’ve made me sensitive to every individual. Sometimes I place my hand on my heart and I wonder how that organ continues to function. Every knock on the door shrunk my heart. Every death notice shattered me to smithereens. But in the five years since Eliraz was killed, my heart has grown larger and wider. I shouldn’t have kept on living — from my point of view, it’s a miracle I’m still here. It’s Divine Providence, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Every day I thank G-d in Heaven for continuing to believe in me, for continuing to bless me with life.”
Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day)
In the aftermath of destruction, in the shadows of the death camps, with numbers still fresh on their arms and memories of their families lost seared in the memories, the Land was rebuilt.
Prior to 1948, a ban had been put into effect by the British, forbidding the Jews to blow shofar at the Kotel. And every Yom Kippur, a group of brave and pious Jews would pray at the Wall on the holiest day of the year, and as they concluded their Yom Kippur prayers, they would blow Shofar, defying the British ban. And every year, there would be consequences to their courageous actions — most notably, beatings at the wall by British soldiers.
Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun, decided the Jews had to respond, and in 1944, the Irgun published pamphlets ten days before Yom Kippur, warning the British that any officer who disrupted the services at the Wall would be punished accordingly.
The holy day arrived. The congregation of Jews praying at the wall reached the Ne’ilah service — in the deepening twilight, facing the gigantic shadowy blocks of ancient stones, the ba’al Tefilah chanted “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokainu, Hashem Echad,” and the congregation affirmed this declaration. And then, three times, “Baruch Shem Kevod malchuso l’olam v’ed,” and with passionate confirmation the people responded. And finally, with trembling fervor, the cantor intoned “Hashem Hu haElokim” seven times, and the people responded.
The British policemen looked on, edgy and tense. And as the cantor concluded the tefilos with the final words of Kaddish, the shofar sounded. A boy, the ba’al tokay’ah that year, blew a sustained, robust, soaring, exalted, single blast, reaching to the heights of pure perfection — and not a policeman stirred. L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim habenuyah. The people cried and danced.
The following day, 11 Tishrei, Begin wrote in his underground paper: “Our ancient stones are not silent. They speak of the House that once stood here, of kings who once knelt here in prayer, of prophets and seers who declaimed their message here, of heroes who fell here, dying; and of how the great flame, at once destructive and illuminating, was kindled here. This House and this Land, with its prophets and kings and fighters, were ours long before the British were ever a nation.”
Miriam Peretz relates that “when Uriel was killed in 1998, his fellow soldiers brought me a stone from the spot where it happened. This stone was charred totally black from the fire that followed the explosion. Over the years, whenever I felt the memory of Uriel slipping away from me, I would put that stone on my heart.
“In 2006, Eliraz was also in Lebanon, and he went back to the spot where Uriel was killed. He took a stone and brought it back to me. This stone was white and clean, and Eliraz told me, ‘Ima, put away the black stone. You see, the rain has fallen and washed away the blood, and the sun has shined and made that site blossom again.’ I understood that this is the story of our family – we are always between the engulfing flames and between the rejuvenation. This, too, is the story of the Jewish people.
“Yesterday, the soldiers who served with Eliraz came to visit, and I asked them to bring me a stone from the spot where he was killed. And when, G-d willing, the Holy Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, I will bring these stones to help form the foundation.”
May we merit it speedily and in our days, amen v’amen.
• • •
The hopes that were reflected in the violent struggles to protect the state were historically and liturgically balanced by the prayers and hopes for peace, an eternal peace that would and will be provided as providential protection of the Jewish People for an eternity as reflected in Psalm 122 in which we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, a peace for all time:
A song of Ascents. Of David
I rejoiced when people said to me,
“Let us go up to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet now stand within your gates, Jerusalem:
Jerusalem built as a city joined together.
There the tribes went up,
the tribes of the L-rd—
as a testimony to Israel—
to give thanks to the name of the L-rd.
For there the thrones of judgment are set,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you prosper.
May there be peace within your ramparts,
tranquility in your citadels.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I shall say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the L-rd our G-d,
I shall seek your good.
(From The Koren Siddur)