July 24, 2006

Benjy's Funeral

Ariel and I had been out doing our normal Shabbat shopping last Friday morning. There’s the visit to the butcher – a sweet Sephardi man who works alongside his wife, helping us with our meal plan while selecting meat with care and concentration. I’m sure that the focus that he puts into his work carries a flavor of welcoming guests that is tasted at the Shabbat meal. There are the breads and cakes of Artisan Bakery, flowers from the moshav, the delicacies of Baladi and the fruit from Givat-Hen that I can’t even describe and you’ll have to stay with us for Shabbat to taste for yourself.

We ran into Shia and he told us that a close friend of his had been killed the day before in a fierce firefight with the Hizbollah and the funeral would be at noon. I knew that we had to go. I wanted to show my respect to someone who died in the process of ensuring my safety. It was also a bit like slowing down to see carnage on the side of the road – you can’t help but look.

There were many hundreds of people there, walking together slowly in silence in the heat of the day, toward the military cemetery of Ra’anana. The cemetery had too many graves for such a small town. It was heartbreaking to see the ages on those stones. The funeral was highly regimented. It was the first military funeral that I had ever been to and there was a clear order to the events – I sadly realized that they have practice at this.

I can’t begin to describe to you the look of raw pain on the face of the young widow. They were married three weeks ago. The couple only spent the first week together for the sheva brachos. After that his sense of duty to his soldiers at the front compelled him to join them, to lead them and help keep them from harm’s way.

I watched the honour guard standing at attention the glaring heat of the mid-day sun. They stood at attention, rifles in position, grief written on their faces. The drill sergeant who commanded them to take this position or that position as the proceedings unfolded was unlike that of any other army. Here was a squad leader of a Jewish army - more like a doting grandmother – whispering a word of encouragement in the ear of one crestfallen soldier, squeezing the arm of another, giving a water bottle to a third. He knew each of his kindele and he was caring for their individual needs. I can’t tell you why, but these simple actions made me certain that we would overcome our enemies.

The people who came to talk to Benjy in that hole in the ground tore my heart out. At the end of this funeral it was as if I had been hit by a truck. They spoke of the tremendous love that Benjy had for his wife. They spoke about his sense of duty. His love of Israel. His devotion to Torah study. He was an immigrant, his parents having moved here from England when he was four years old. Would they turn back the clock and not have made Aliyah? It’s not a fair question to ask and I push it out of my head. The rabbi who married Benjy and Ayala was beside himself with grief. I see visuals of my own kids in army uniform. What will I feel when it’s their time to serve? I called Sami today – he told me that when he was in Lebanon in ’82 they would fight and then only come home to bury their friends. We sleep a bit less now. Our house is a bit messier and none of us care as much about it as we may have a few weeks ago.

1 comment:

  1. We miss you and think of you and your family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your feelings, your experience. It helps make the strange filtered news coming in on CNN more personal.

    After Shababat, I opened up my email to find a link to a CNN story in which my cousin - a doctor at Rambam in Haifa - was talking about treating the wounded while bombs are falling. Surreal to see him on CNN. Made the pain that Israel is feeling, the reality that he and his family are living - more real for me.

    Keep writing.

    - marty g of toronto


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