This past week, traffic jammed the roads leading to the graves lined up on the hills at the entrance to Jerusalem — cars driven to visit our deceased in this holy season. Attendance of the Yizkor memorial service on the morning of Yom Kippur attests that reverence for the dead is alive among our people during the Days of Awe.
In addition to remembering family members, the prayer leader intones a haunting memorial for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. I vividly recall the humble cantor in the synagogue of my youth, his shrinking body encased in a white shroud, his mighty sobbing propelling souls aloft on the wings of the Shehina, the divine presence.
When I led Yizkor in my community this new year, I too was gripped by profound sadness, but not only at the loss of dear parents. Their lives were cut short before we could share great joys of generations together. Yet, we must accept that according to the mortal order of creation, we bury our parents.
In Israel, we recite “El Malei Rahamim” — “God filled with compassion” –also for the soldiers and civilians who have fallen in the wars and attacks throughout the modern Zionist period. Over millennia, Jews faced persecution, even decimation, defenseless. Israeli soldiers embody a foundational shift in Jewish identity and attitudes. As individuals, families, and as a nation, Israelis accept and fulfill the responsibility to defend and uphold Jewish existence. Our children who serve in the IDF secure the life and freedom of every Jew now more than ever in our history. We also mourn the deadly consequences.
The “El Malei Rahamim” for our soldiers and victims expresses the anguish of an unbearable predicament – to avoid suffering violence, we resort to force. This predicament is not unique to Jews or Israelis, nor is it our choice. Like most nations in the free world, Israel is gridlocked in an inhumane consensus. The unavoidable need to defend against regimes of power that seek to destroy draws the blood of sacrifice and death.
In my striving to tap my heart to more wakefulness and peel back some of the pretense about control in life, at Yizkor, I stood at the edge of an abyss – burying our children, we are sundering the order of creation.