It was close to midnight and there I was sandwiched between some 20,000 people. If there was a breeze from the nearby Mediterranean Sea, I certainly didn’t feel it.
Last night I had the privilege of participating in the funeral of “lone soldier” Sean Carmeli who fell in battle in the Gaza strip on Sunday. I received a “whatsapp” message explaining that a “lone soldier” is being buried and we can’t let him be buried alone. I never met Sean or his family and have never been to Texas where his family lives but there was no way I was going to miss this funeral. I had the first clue of what to expect when my Waze – navigation app took me through side streets of Haifa to avoid the red-colored clogged main streets. We parked more than a kilometer from the cemetery because of the traffic in the narrow streets. Then we began to see it – people from all over, young and old religious, secular, ultra orthodox- all the small nuances of dress and social belonging were represented there. They all heard the call and came to Haifa in the middle of the night. There wasn’t enough lighting and no directing signs, but the order was amazing no one pushed and everyone was quiet. The sound system was not prepared for such crowd so I didn’t hear much of the funeral – but the message was loud and clear- Am Yisrael Chai- the nation of Israel lives.
What brought out the crowds in the middle of the night? Was it the fitting end of a really hard day when every few minutes the radio interrupted playing its sad music to say that there was “red color” – the code that tells people in different areas to find cover? Was it that on a day when news broadcasts brought bad, sad, news and announcements of funerals, people wanted to feel that they could do something, make a difference?
This isn’t the first time Haifa knows such solidarity and support of new immigrants and soldiers. During the British mandate the Atlit detention camp was where “ma’apilim” – illegal immigrant, holocaust survivors and immigrants from Lebanon and Syria were being held. The British wanted to return the Syrian inmates to the country they left from, what would have meant certain death for them. On the night of Oct. 9 1945 the Palmach made a daring breakout of over 200 inmates of the Atlit camp. They marched up and down the Carmel Mt. and the British waited at Kibbutz Yagur to arrest the Immigrants and return them to the camp. What they didn’t expect was that the Jewish residents of Haifa would leave their comfortable homes and over 10,000 people would surround the kibbutz and mix between the immigrants, making any arrests impossible.
This period in the Jewish calendar is known as “ben ha’metzarim” in the Straights. It is traditionally a bad time for the Jewish people. The Rabbis teach that our enemies are successful when there is strife and hate amongst us. But we also know the key to success and victory- unity and solidarity.
Last night the Carmeli family saw that their son was not a lone soldier but part of a loving and supporting nation who really cares.
This is our secret weapon- when the people of Israel stand together and support each other nothing can defeat us.