Yom Hazikaron

On the occasion of Yom Hazikaron 2017, I found this in my archives, and it brought me back 8 years.  Remembering those who gave their lives for Israel, and getting ready to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut tomorrow.  And looking forward to traveling with a CBJ group next year for Israel’s 70th!


Monday, April 27, 2009

I can’t possibly do justice in words to what I experienced tonight.  Tonight is Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day.  It is a very different day from what we celebrate in the U.S., where Memorial Day to most is the unofficial first day of summer.  Yom HaZikaron is the day when Israel remembers the 22,570 killed since 1860 when Jews first settled outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Tel Aviv held a tekes, a ceremony, in Kikkar Rabin, a large plaza next to the spot where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.  By the time I arrived at the square, a huge crowd had already assembled.


At exactly 8:00 PM, for one minute, a siren sounded. Everybody immediately became silent, standing still, in an act mirrored throughout the country.  Some bent their heads, many stood with vacant looks. Over the thousands gathered in the square, a sliver of moon hovered.  The only sound piercing the silence was the sharp cry of an infant.  When the siren ended, people slowly began moving and resumed conversations.


After a few minutes, more and more people arrived for the tekes.  I made my way around the crowd to the far side from where I had been standing.  Thousands of people were here. I noticed that the vast majority was young- twenties, maybe early thirties. At 9:00 the tekes began.  The emcee spoke words of introduction and a singer took the stage.  She had a beautiful voice, filling the plaza with the pathos of her song.  Large screens projected her image with subtitles of the song’s lyrics.  When she finished, nobody applauded.


The emcee returned to the stage and told of a soldier who had been killed in action. In the corner of the screen, a woman signed his words.  The screen then filled with a picture of the soldier and his dates of birth and death.  He was 21 when he met his end in 2006.  His mother shared memories of him, then his sister did the same, both in taped interviews.  After two minutes, another singer took the stage and sang an equally mournful song.  Looking around at the thousands of spectators, one could see many moist eyes and not a few tears.  For an hour and a half, this continued: songs, brief speeches, stories of those killed.  For an hour and a half, all were rapt, focusing on the singers, the speeches, the stories.  Some in the crowd were singing along, many were holding each other.


Israel’s independence is not as remote as ours.  It is a struggle that plays itself out every day, sometimes more acutely than others, but always in the story.  Sadly, death in the service of one’s country is not remote either.  I could not tell you who knew the soldiers personally.  But I can say that each of their stories touched the members of the gathering personally.


On my short walk back to the hotel, I realized that the people who were in Kikkar Rabin tonight were not spectators at all.  They were participants.  The stories we heard were their stories, and the songs that were sung were their songs.  An Israeli friend once told me that there was a huge difference between Israelis and Diaspora Jews because Israelis served in the army, laying their lives on the line.  Yesterday, I mentioned that making aliyah required a huge commitment, especially if it means committing one’s children to the defense of Israel.  Tonight I understand even more clearly what a huge commitment that can be.

Erev Rosh Hashana 5776 Sermon

My words from Sunday night.

I would like to read for you from one of the most spiritual passages in the Torah. It comes from Parshat Masei. Numbers 33:

These were the marches of the Israelites, who started out from the land of Egypt….Moses recorded the starting points…Their marches, by starting points, were as follows; They set out from Ramses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the month…and encamped at Succoth. They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. They set out from Ethan and turned about toward Pi-hahiroth, which faces Baal-zephon, and they encamped before Midgol. They set out from Pene-hahiroth and passed through the sea….They set out from Mithkah and encamped at Hashmonah. They set out from Hashomonah and encamped at Moseroth…They set out, well, I could go on [show the paper], but I think you get the point.

The people make 12 stops from Rameses to Sinai, 21 stops from Sinai to Kadesh, and 9 stops from Kadesh to Moab: 42 stops in all Israelites made. In the Middle Ages, R. Abraham Saba writes: “The reporting of these marches seems extraneous…  There is nothing in the Torah that seems to be as superfluous as [the recording of] these marches.” Why such mind-numbing detail? The Torah, after all, is generally economical in its language.

Our Rishonim, the primary medieval commentators explain this in various ways. To Rashi, this was a symbol of God’s kindness, since 22 of the marches are either in the first or last year of the wandering, so the Israelites only had to move 20 times in 38 years. Rambam and Ramban see the listing of these places as ensuring that future generations would understand how great the miracle was that God kept the Israelites alive in the wilderness. Regardless, it must have been most stressful. After all, how do you feel when you don’t know where you’re going?

The reason I introduced this passage as spiritual is because the interpretation of this passage that I love comes from a contemporary Rabbi, Shai Held, who teaches: The text serves to remind us that even seemingly inconsequential stops on our journey can be powerful opportunities for serving God. As the people are cast on a journey over which they have no control, there is the opportunity to make their stops holy, to generate divine sparks.

And this brings me to a text that I have been marinating in for awhile. It comes from the man we know as the Rav, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. The Rav would have been a great Rabbi to discuss on Ruth Shapiro’s Shabbat. His view of the world saw people oscillating between 2 poles. On the one hand, we possess power, ability, and creativity; on the other hand, we are helpless creatures, suspended over the abyss.

This year, that abyss has seemed to gape. Iran. Settler violence in the West Bank. Murder in Paris. Death to the Jews marches in Europe. A refugee crisis of unfathomable proportions. Strife between the religious and non-religious in Israel. The ever-present threat of rockets pointed at our Jewish homeland. BDS. Many losses in our own congregation. People not listening to each other when they disagree passionately. The intensification of the OTHER.

I want to look at the other side of our oscillation. In the Shiva books, there is a beautiful responsive reading. It paraphrases so closely the Rav, as it enunciates God’s gifts to us: The power to create, the will to perfect, the ability to dream, the capacity to love. Even in a world where so much is out of our hands, we have great abilities.

The Israelites of the Torah took a journey that God laid out for them, and within that journey, with all its unknowns laid the abyss. But what they did when they got to each place, the holiness that they lived their lives by- that defined them. When they got to the Land of Israel, they had the power in their hands to create a just society.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote a lovely drash this week, in which he channels Maimonides: “None of us, as individuals, can end global warming, bring peace to the Middle East, or bring justice and compassion to the international arena. But we can, quietly, develop the strengths of character that will make a difference not only to our own lives but to those around us.”

We don’t have much say in Iran policy, but we can debate and discuss with respect. We frequently can’t control how others demonize Israel (after all, not a lot of credit for treating the Hamas leaders’ families), but we can help educate young farmers; we can take care of those who are the most vulnerable members of society.

I had the privilege this year of travelling with 2 CBJ groups to Israel. That meant that I got to make 2 visits to the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT) and Aleh Negev. AICAT and Aleh Negev are two projects of the JNF that we as a congregation have been, or will be intimately involved in. And both of these incredibly special places drove home the two poles of the Rav- that which we can control and that which we can’t.

Both are vibrant examples that we have the power to create, the will to perfect, the ability to dream, the capacity to love.

Many of us were born into privileged circumstances. We are not subsistence farmers. A roof over our heads; three meals a day; clothing; space in which to live. Visiting AICAT reminds that most of the world lives differently. 1200 students from Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Indonesia study agriculture and business. Ethiopian young women study to create their own businesses to empower women in Ethiopia. Here’s our group with some Vietnamese students, and let me relate a Vietnamese girl’s story.

And of course, Aleh Negev, which you’ve heard so much about. When we visited in March, a little girl named Liane darted past me and climbed up a play structure. As she is fairly hard to forget, I remembered that I had seen her the previous June, and she had not yet been walking. When we went again this past June, we met Liane again, and you can see her here with Isabella. Liane was born at 24 weeks, and has lived at Aleh Negev her entire life. The staff expects that she will follow her roommate, Rachma, home soon and will be on the road to a more mainstream life. Liane and Rachma are Bedouin children.

The power to create, the will to perfect, the ability to dream, the capacity to love. No tribalism, no judgment, No labeling as OTHER. People with unique needs who had no control over their conditions cared for. That is Aleh Negev.

And that is AICAT. In April, the abyss appeared. The devastating earthquake that hit Nepal destroyed the homes of all 160 students studying at AICAT, and took the lives of relatives and friends. AICAT became their home, and JNF gave support to each of their families. In the middle of the desert, just like the Israelites of the Torah, in previously inconsequential places, and in the midst of the abyss, we can use our power to create, will to perfect, ability to dream, and capacity to love. Shana Tova.

Day 12 from Israel (the last day!)- Guest bloggers Ray Girouard and Sheila Zelinger

Day 11 – Mountains and Mystics

It’s been 11 mystical days in Israel – how fitting to spend our last day in Tzfat, a center for the mystical Jewish traditions that go back 500 years. After breakfast at the Ramat Resort, we said goodbyes to Maddie and David Arfin and headed to Tzfat.  On the way, we have a lively discussion about the Israeli elections and the somewhat surprising victory by the Likud Party and Netanyahu….so much for the election polls.


Mysticism began as early as the 1500’s.  The essence of mysticism is to experience things beyond the 5 senses of taste, smell, feel, touch and hear.  Perhaps a little known fact – the Mystics gave us the traditions of the Shabbat Queen and the song Lecha Dodi in Tzfat. We visited an Askenazy synagogue, spoke with the Kabbalistic artist, Avraham Lowenthal (Detroit born), and then explored and shopped on our own in the town.


Several of us found this most delightful restaurant, the Geffen Courtyard, with some truly delightful Israeli wines.


We did a late afternoon drive back to Tel Aviv to drop off Bill, Dottie, Sue and Jeff…and then to the airport for the rest of us.

A big thank you to Bill, Danny and Shlomo (our driver) for an incredibly unique Israeli experience….and to everyone one on the trip who made it so memorable!

Day 11 from Israel- Guest Blogger Joe Gruber

Usually on Wed morning I am at CBJ morning prayers.

Today I am with fellow congregants having a spectacular day in Israel.
The highlights of today’s excursion are:

1.Being on the Syrian Border

2. Being on the Lebanan Border
3.The Tel Dan Reserve walk
4.Our meeting with the representative of kibbutz Misgav-am
5.Our meeting with Israel Defence Forces
We started our day heading toward the border of Syria.
During the 1967 War we were able to push Syria back and gained 15 miles
We were impressed with how close we were to the Syrian border.
We were told about the Golan Heights.
There is wine country and free range cattle and wheat. There are also minefields.
In the area there are 18,000 Druze and 25,000 Jews
There are 22 to 23 jewish communities. We also observed the Army presence.
As we were driving we could see Mt. Hermon and the snow caps. As we were driving we could also see the Hula
valley and the Lebanon border.
David and Maddy joined us on this Tour. They are here in Israel till some time this summer.
Then we toured the Tel Dan Reserve.
Seeing the rushing waters, the birds and the trees and the fauna were magnificent.DSC02784DSC02791
We talked about the gates and how they related to our history.
After King Saul died his son became King. People were dissatisfied with his rule and many of the tribes broke away to
follow someone else. They believed that worship could be done anywhere not just in Jerusalem.
We looked at the Gates and the elders that may have sat inside the Gates doing business and maybe even deciding
We had lunch in Kiryat Shemona.
As we continued we got close to the border of Lebanon.
Then we entered the Army base that patrols the border with Lebanon.
We met with a number of Druze soldiers and also with a representative of Kibutz Misgav-am.
The fellow from the kibbutz was Betzalel. He told us of his background.
He also introduced us to the soldiers,
We as a group had prepared gifts of food, chocolates, candies and even gear from the S.F. Giants.
We spent some time talking to the soldiers.
It can be very exciting and also lonely for the young soldiers who constantly have to be on the alert.
Although the area seemed quiet we were told some of their outfit had participated in a skirmish not long ago.
The soldiers thanked us for the visit and told us it had brightened an otherwise tough day.
We learned about their lives and how often they get to go home.
DSC02823DSC02819 DSC02814
We continued to drive to Tiberias. We said goodby to Jon and Reva.
They were going home a day early.
Some of us walked around Tiberias and then we all had dinner together.
Tomorrow is our last day for this CBJ trip to Israel.

Day 8 from Israel- Guest Bloggers Stephanie Rosekind and Wendy Segal

Another very full and fascinating day in Jerusalem, and beyond to Judean/West Bank settlements.

What a politically filled day. We started out with a presentation by Khaled Abu Toameh. He was formerly a Senior Correspondent for the Jerusalem Post for 26 years, and for Al-Fajr which he describes as a mouthpiece for the PLO. He has paid a very high price for his honesty for representing the facts he presents. He describes himself as a Muslim Israeli Palestinian Arab.

Khaled explained about Arafat’s corrupt dictatorship up to the current powerless and ineffective Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas; describing the failed peace processes and the reasons why we are unable to move forward towards peace. Khaled is a moderate who lives within the safety of Jerusalem, allowing him to speak freely. He explained that without a true partner in peace and a government willing to negotiate rather than demand the annihilation of the Jewish State, we will go nowhere. There is no Palestinian leader willing to stand up and say that they must be willing to compromise and that the bloodshed of their own people must end. Instead they lie to the western media and then in Arabic, say something completely different, continuing to spew Jewish hatred to their own people. This perpetuates the narrative of Palestinian victimization by Israel. According to Khaled, if Israel were to withdraw to the pre ’67 borders, the PLO would collapse and Hamas would take over. He believes that Arabs are doomed if Islamic radicalization, the hijacking of Islam and the Koran, is not stopped. And this must happen from within the Muslim community itself. Western influence will not help.

According to Khaled, the media has promoted anti-antisemitism in Europe and the world with lies and fabrications about Israel to the point of excusing the Holocaust by promoting an image of how bad the Jews are.

Khaled illustrated to us how world media is at fault, ” has committed crimes against Israel”, in informing public opinion, with lies and fabrications fitting their narrative. “No Jews, no news…”
The bottom line, according to Khaled, is that settlements, checkpoints, etc., can be negotiated. It is not about this, or economics…  It’s about Israel’s existence.

He is also very concerned about the “pro-Palestinians” on U.S. campuses, who he describes as not really promoting anything pro Palestinian, but rather demonize Jews and delegitimize Israel..
A lot of info….

And our terrific, knowledgeable guide Danny continues the teaching.
We are learning a lot about modern Israel history…

On to happier things, we visited Yad LaKashish. What an amazing  and productive senior adult day center founded 50 years ago. They employ over 300 seniors from the former Soviet Union Ethiopia, and elsewhere.


People spend the morning creating all sorts of crafts, which are sold in their gift shop.  They eat a hot lunch there, receive a monthly stipend, a bus pass, and seem to enjoy a fruitful day. We mingled amongst them, and then did some serious shopping, of their handmade and beautiful items, many of which we watched them making – jewelry, judaica of silk, metal, ceramic, paper mâché…. Some of us are coming home with beautiful new tallits.

Onward to The Judean hills – West Bank settlements of Efrat and the Gush Etzion area.FullSizeRender-3

We listened to Danny tell us about his hometown of Efrat, a hill town of 9500 people, 30 synagogues…

From there, a short way to Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, where we were told of the community of 260  people murdered, and their entire development destroyed in 1948.


A remarkable and difficult thing to describe, finding ourselves standing on the very spot where this happened. This kibbutz was rebuilt after 1967… Jews could not live on this land between 1948-1967. We’re continually marveling at the experience of standing where so much history has taken place.

Riding along in the bus between these settlements and small towns, cars, pedestrians, bus stops, normal life… Danny told us it was here the three boys were kidnapped from a bus stop this summer. Here, not somewhere remote… Devastating…

Nearby, we were taken to a govt. building, where Bob Lang ( a good Israeli name), an area govt. official told us more about settlements…there are 150 jewish communities, totaling close to 400,000 people… comprised of 30% orthodox, 30% Chassidic, and 30% secular Jews. He believes in a one state solution… opinions…

More time on the bus with the beautiful views of the rocky, olive tree, terraced land of photos and our imagination; blanketed in green and wild flowers.
We are packing so much in, and quickly moving between emotions…  Much to think about and feel.
Grateful for this fascinating trip and shared experiences and camaraderie!

Day 10 from Israel- Guest Blogger Suzanne Gruber

Today started out with a wonderful presentation by Colonel Bentzi Gruber, who spoke about Ethics in the Field.  The goal is to teach soldiers about making correct decisions regarding terrorists when you only have 8 seconds in which to do so.  Are they innocents or terrorists?  The objective is to not harm civilians while at the same time protecting the soldiers and civilians from attack.  We were shown actual footage of Hamas using children as shields, hiding in civilian homes and using ambulances for cover.  In Gaza, which is 24miles x 5 miles, there are 1.8 million civilians and 30,000 terrorists.  Incredible restraint has to be used to protect the innocent.  Israel is the only nation I know of that will warn citizens in advance that a house that has been used by terrorists is going to be destroyed.  This has caused friction among Israelis because the parents of soldiers feel it puts their children in danger, since those houses are then boobytrapped or have terrorists laying in wait.

Since IDF soldiers who are assigned to checkpoints are often there for 3 months at a time, it is important that they don’t get desensitized.   Col. Gruber has established a program called “Chesed in the Field” In order that the soldiers remain “as sensitive to a baby’s cry after the war as they were before.”  In order to accomplish this, soldiers are sent to work with children, the mentally ill and oncology patients.  What a wonderful and unique way to retain their humanity!

After the presentation, we drove to the Haas Promenade, with its beautiful view of Jerusalem; what a wonderful and bittersweet way to say goodbye to the City of Gold!  Then, back on the bus to Mt. Scopus to the Temple Mount Sifting Project.  Here we saw artifacts that were actually taken from the Temple Mount and included relics from both the 1st and 2nd temple period.  We were given a demonstration on how to sift and wash rubble in order to find artifacts, and then put our newly acquired skills to work.
Heading north, our next stop was Atlit, near Haifa, the British pre-state detention camp for illegal immigrants fleeing Europe and the Arab countries for British controlled Palestine.  Most illegal immigration occurred after WW II, when the “white papers”,which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 1500 per month, kept out the 20,000 survivors trying to come.  Only after the founding of the State of Israel were these people free to enter legally.
Our last stop of the day was to a Druze village on Mt. Carmel.  After a delicious dinner, our host gave us an interesting talk on the Druze, who are a monotheistic people who believe in reincarnation.  They believe in showing complete loyalty to the country in which they live, and so are found in large numbers serving in the army and participating in every aspect of Israeli life.
After a very long but informative day, we are finally on our way to our lovely hotel on the banks of lake Kinneret in the Gallilee where we look forward to meeting up with our friends Maddy and David Arfin.

Day 9 from Israel- Guest Blogger John Segall

At 8 a.m. we took off for a four hour visit to Yad Vashem.  Our guide gave us an excellent tour of the Shoah (Holocaust), beginning with the rise of Hitler in the mid 1930s to the period after WWI and up to 1947.  The entire experience evoked various emotions from our group, including sadness and anger.

From Yad Vashem we returned to the Jewish section of the Old City for lunch and shopping, followed by a tour of the Jewish and Christian areas, which included the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Last but not least was a visit to Media Central where Aryeh Green described the work his organization does to present the foreign media with an unbiased view of Israel, as opposed to that supplied by Israel’s detractors.  Media Central acts as a hospitality center for foreign journalists, supplying  them with coffee, Internet, orientation in Israel, assistance with travel arrangements, meetings with various Jewish and Arab officials and others, and opportunities to get a better understanding of the issues.

The following resources were suggested by Aryeh for those interested in becoming more knowledgeable so they can counter the media’s bias against Israel:




Israel 101 (pamphlet)

Myths and Facts (book)

The Case For Israel by Alan Dershowitz

Leila Tov—it’s been a long day!