July 25, 2014

A Nation Weeps

Soldiers bearing Oded's casket in Nir Etzion's military cemetery.
When a soldier dies, the entire country mourns.

On Monday night at 11 pm, lone soldier Sgt. Sean Carmeli was buried in Haifa’s military cemetery. Some 20,000 people flocked from all parts of Israel, standing united in the dark night to mourn a solider from Texas they did not know.  A posting on the Lone Soldier’s Facebook page reads that they came to  “strengthen, unite and define what it means to be a Jew today.”

Sean was among the 13 Golani fighters killed by an anti-tank missile.

On Tuesday, six other young men were laid to rest. From north to south, military cemeteries filled with mourners. Ashkelon, a city that is being bombarded by rockets shot from Gaza, is now a place where gatherings of over 300 people are forbidden. Despite the danger, some 6,000 people came to say goodbye to the French lone soldier Jordan Bensemhoum.

On Tuesday, we attended the funeral of Sergeant 1st Class Oded ben Sira from the Nahal Brigade. It was in Nir Etzion, a tranquil religious moshav nestled in the Carmel Mountains. 

We had never met Oded, yet felt we had to pay our last respects. We were not the only ones with this desire. As we drove along coastal highway 2, traffic came to a stop as cars from north and south turned onto the road up that winds up to Nir Etzion. Police were there to direct traffic, diverting cars into an empty field. Busses awaited, ready to shuttle crowds to the moshav.  The army knows all too well how to prepare for a soldier’s funeral.

We gathered in a circle outside the moshav’s synagogue. It was a hushed crowd, save for claps on the back as weeping soldiers embraced each other. Many of the soldiers had just left the war zone of Gaza to come here and would soon be returning to the field. The Ben Sira family huddled around their mother who was sitting on a chair. Pale, Oded’s mother stared blankly ahead.

The crowd parted to allow a military jeep through. Six soldiers sat in the back, accompanying a simple casket. It was draped in a Magen David flag and covered in wreaths. The truck stopped. Silence. We heard the casket being lowered and then a piercing shriek. It was a cry of anguish, pain, sorrow and hurt that would never be healed. The cry of a mother. Oded’s mother.

Oded’s uncle spoke about his nephew, a gentle soul who never really suited the army and who simply loved to play guitar on the beach. As he stepped down, he said, “G-d gives. And G-d takes.” Oded’s father stood up and bravely said mourners’ kaddish for his son, trembling as he recited the words that every parent dreads.

We were then directed to waiting busses that took us to the military cemetery for the burial. As I saw the sparkling sea ahead, I thought of Oded and although I never met him, I imagined him driving this same road, guitar propped in the seat beside him, visions of song and surf in his innocent, young mind. Never again.

As we stood under the late afternoon sun around the graveside, we heard one heart-wrenching speech after another.  Shoulders shook with grief and tears flowed freely down faces of the young and also the strong. It is hard enough for adults to bear this grief, but outrageously unfair that young people should feel such anguish when life is supposed to be at its beginning.

His brother spoke, explaining that Oded had already finished his three years of army service. He had just spent quality time with his family as he excitedly planned his future. And when Operation Protective Edge began, he did not have to fight. But felt obligated and he volunteered. Sobbing, his brother said he was grateful they had this time together.

A best friend cried each word of his speech and a sister-in-law spoke in lieu of a broken-hearted brother who could not talk.  They all described a sweet, gentle soul.

The army then asked Oded mehilla, forgiveness for any wrongdoing, and requested that those with wreaths step forward. Young friends came forward to lay flowers on the casket, a last gift for their dear friend. Soldiers stood at attention, fired a salute for this brave fallen soldier and we all left, not knowing how we could continue our regular trivial lives carrying such grief.

Yet Naftali Bennett’s inspiring words from this funeral give us hope to carry on. Here is a translation of his speech.

Anyone who thinks we will give up, should open a Bible, read the Covenant G-d made with Abraham pledging to give him this land, and should look at the faces of our soldiers, at their steadfast spirit.

The enemy hasn’t a chance in this battle against the Eternal People of Israel.The liturgical poet Rabbi Judah ben Shmuel Ibm Abbas, says with regard to the binding of Isaac 'the eyes weep bitterly but the heart is glad' and that is how we feel today as well. At this moment, our eyes weep bitter tears, so many tears. How much sadness accompanies your leaving us. But with all that, our inner hearts are glad. They are glad because we know and understand what Oded's grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, would have said to us all at this time.

My brothers and sisters, in just one day during the Holocaust of our people, more Jews were murdered than in all of Israel's wars put together. And Oded fell as a Jewish soldier protecting his people in the Land of Israel.

Against a cowardly enemy whose commanders hide behind women and children, flee to hiding places under hospitals and schools, deciding that their people can die, you, Oded, decided to volunteer to be on the front line. Against an enemy that glorifies death, you fought so that we will be able to live our lives here. Against an enemy that has no roots, you deepened our roots here, and even when a branch is plucked, no one can uproot the tree it is on.  No one. We were here before the Hamas terrorists and we will be here long after they are gone.

You entered Gaza as a regular soldier and you left a reservist. You entered Gaza as a soldier who had been drafted, but you left as a volunteer. You entered Gaza alive, yet you left there alive in our hearts You went into Gaza to stop the deaths. And you left there willing us our lives. Oded, rest in peace, rest assured that we will complete the mission you began.

May we all keep these words in our hearts and remember our brave soldiers who have fallen to protect our land and the future of the Jewish people.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are always welcome.