Israel is a country like no other, and certainly very different than the many hostile countries that surround us. We are a country where human life is valued, and where death is mourned, recognizing the dignity of the life that has been lost. It is a country where we rejoice in the celebrations of others – even when we do not know them – and mourn the losses of others, as if they were members of our own family. Our great strength in this country is our sense of togetherness in times of crisis – and we have known many as a nation.
Last week, a reserve soldier was killed, whose family lives down the street from us. His funeral was the following evening. He was 32 – a son, brother, husband and father of three small children. As so many other beautiful, talented young men, he answered the call of duty to defend our country.
A Jerusalem moment like so many others since this war of survival began over three months ago:
A cold, wintery Jerusalem evening. People begin streaming down the street, blue and white flags in hand, from infants to the older generation, forming a guard of honor, showing respect and gratitude to the family that had just lost their precious son/husband/brother/father, who died in defense of our country.
It was a long wait until the vehicle taking the family to the military cemetery began its journey. Police on each corner of the block, young and old filling the sidewalks. Some of the faces are friends and acquaintances, some are unknown. Quiet conversation. Occasional cars trying to drive down the street. New flags on each corner of the street put up by the municipality. None of the usual boisterousness that is so usual here, and no cars honking. Just patient waiting.
Someone begins to sing quietly – the 23rd psalm. Soon, the entire street is joined in song. And then another song, and another, Songs from our liturgy. Songs of hope and redemption. Silence again. The family is driven by. The crowd converges on the street, following the family. As the car turns to continue on to the cemetery, this spontaneous crowd of people stands quietly singing our national anthem – a song of hope. My heart feels broken, for a young man I don’t know, for a family I don’t know. But he, and they, are part of the greater family that is mine. The family of this great, wondrous, tough little country, Israel. I feel both broken and full of hope. This is a country like no other. And I am proud to say I am an Israeli.