It was Thursday Night, July 31st, the 5th of Av, Las Vegas to Memphis Delta Flight 2001 direct. I got my upgrade. The kids were starting school the following Monday. I had a series of sales meeting follow-ups to attend to and felt the flight would give me somewhat of a respite before preparing for Shabbat and the upcoming school year, both ultimately demanding my full and undivided attention.
But as we reached cruising altitude and I was able to connect to GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi, my immediate concern was to jump on Facebook and see how my friends and distant family in Israel were fairing. I had become weary over the past several weeks defending Israel, the IDF, Operation Protective Edge; attempting to educate the ostensibly ignorant on the history of the region, the nature of the present conflict, and, like a broken record, specifically reminding people wrapped up and absurdly indoctrinated by the current media circus, false imagery, etc., that the “elected” Hamas’ government’s charter still calls for the destruction and annihilation of Israel. This peppered by endless back-and-forth debating with often faceless individuals spewing so much hatred toward me for simply being Jewish and affirming Israel’s right to protect itself as any other country would under the identical circumstances. A constant reminder incidentally how anonymity often fuels an even deeper, rawer, filter-less expression of hatred as there is zero consequence or accountability. I’ve literally been torn asunder prevailing against an opponent playing ONLINE SCRABBLE where I DO have a face pic identifying myself, having been called every name in the book, been accused of cheating, having my family cursed, simply for winning a game of Scrabble! It’s truly astonishing how people can behave when accountability is entirely removed…but I digress.
Being the recipient of so much vituperative online hate, I remembered a time in the assimilatory Jewish suburbs of Chicago when I was eleven years old and a neighbor refused to let her child play with me. I returned home to my grandfather, a simple, modest man, not religiously observant by any measure, nicknamed the “candyman” in his home town because he always carried a bag of candy and shared it with children and adults along his daily routine, who put his hand on my shoulder when I arrived back at the house and said, “son, some people don’t like us simply because we are Jews.”
I remember thinking that was the most absurd thing I had ever heard. I was raised to believe in the universal goodness and unconditional acceptance/morality/kindness of humankind. Modern-era segregation and labeling? What was my grandfather possibly talking about? I was only eleven at the time, but this was entirely anathema to me and seemed a consciousness of xenophobia that was entirely unfamiliar, unsettling, disturbing and sad and certainly not the way my brother and I had been raised.
As I re-embroiled myself in “posts” and “forums” I came across the Times Of Israel website which listed the names of all of the fallen soldiers thus far in Operation Protective Edge. As I glanced at the list, replete with photos and bios, my eyes started to well up and then stream the hottest of tears down my cheeks. I was at a window seat and had to turn to the left because I did not want my seat mate to see me crying. We had been engaged in a lengthy discussion about the educational standards in India and the US and I had recommended he watch the documentary film “2,000,000 Minutes” which chronicles the lives of high schoolers in INDIA, CHINA and the USA, illustrating clearly how woefully behind we in the United States are when it comes to educational standards (incidentally the film is entitled 2,000,000 minutes because that is the length of time from entering High School until graduation).
I read the first name on the list: First Seargent Eitan Barak. I saw this young 20 year old’s smiling face. I read how he was killed on July 20th. He was the first soldier to lose his life, and though we are Talmudically wont to say “acharon acharon chaviv”, “the last is the most cherished”, this first name and it’s clear significance pushed forth a watershed of hot unending tears, and the subsequent names, each cherished in its own right, each with his own story, each leaving behind loving mothers, fathers, families, friends, some girlfriends, some wives, some infants…there were not enough tears to justly mourn these lives snuffed out so early.
The flight attendant came by to ask if I was OK. I nodded and she continued to pass me additional napkins throughout the 4 hour flight. Yes, unbelievably I cried for four hours straight. I did not know I had the capacity for so many tears. I read each bio, not once, but several times. I looked at these angelic faces and was arrested with sadness and disbelief. But I did not just cry, I decided I needed to do something. Something tangible to honor the memories of our fallen heroes.
I thought to myself, I am approaching Shabbat. These young men will never have another Shabbat. They will never know the “simcha” of having children, raising a family, making weddings, enjoying life, going to the park, holding the precious hands of little ones, struggling to be paternal role models to their children and good husbands or partners, all the joys of life – no more!!! And those already with families, lives are altered forever, children who just days before had an Abba, are left bereft of their one and onoly paternal influence in life. I thought bout how much I take for granted and, as Friday night approached, I would likely rush through my “Kiddush” as usual and the meal, and hit the bed with exhaustion (after all I have three teenagers – enough said!). And then it hit me with such arrested clarity – these boys will NEVER BE ABLE TO MAKE KIDDUSH AGAIN! I’m not sure exactly why that thought resonated so strongly with me in that moment, but it did. And then I asked myself, “How can I properly honor their memories in light of this very clear and evident fact?”
And so I took to Facebook and I posted this:
Won’t you join me in this Friday Night Shabbat minhag. Before Kiddush I plan to read the names of all of the fallen soldiers of Operation Protective Edge, these brave individuals who gave their lives for the safety and preservation of the …State of Israel and who can no longer make Kiddush. I will try to rise to the occasion of having the purest “kavanah”, honoring their memories in the deepest and most respectful of ways. BD”E (may no more lives be lost). https://www.timesofisrael.com/fallen-idf-soldiers-in-operation-protective-edge/
Friends came back to me saying “Reuven Moshe” that is such a beautiful idea, such a holy machshava (thought), such an amazing proposal, such a sacred concept (who is Reuven Moshe I chuckled internally – I do not go by that name anymore). One after another, friends began to re-post and commit to reading the names at Kiddush on Friday Night to honor our fallen heroes.
The number does not particularly matter, but the fact that hundreds of friends apparently committed to this and re-posted asking others to join in, committing perhaps hundreds more to be “miztaref” (connected/conjoined) with this idea (not sure I can call it a mitzvah), left me with a sense of deep joy and fulfillment that perhaps, just perhaps, my moment of asking myself “what can YOU do Reuven” produced fruit. It also reminded me of the greatness of the Jewish people, Klal Yisrael, of how on moment’s notice we will band together for the greater good of something, irrespective of affiliation, communities or politics.
Then came Friday night where it so happened I was a guest at a dear friends in Memphis TN. It turned out that there were 17 guests, among them a visitor from the IDF on injured leave from the army and on a spontaneous speaking tour with his wife and four beautiful children. The hostess, one of the most ardent Zionists and wonderful mothers I know in Memphis, thought the idea of reading te names aloud at Kiddush was beautiful, and she further suggested we pass the names around the table and read each one until we were finished. It was very a somber moment, yet in no way diminished our Shabbat, but in fact, I would humbly submit, elevated our Shabbat, because we all felt it was somehow an “aliyat neshamot” for these beautiful rare souls (our host underscored the importance of this prior to this undertaking).
Prior to reading the names, that host, one of the finest Jewish Memphians I know and also an ardent Zionist, asked me if I would say a few words. I had just “bentched” two of my three children, and tears were streaming down my face again because it was another reminder of what these boys would never have the chance to experience and what the fathrs who persihed would never expeience again. I turned my face and cried semi-privately only to my daughter (my “b’chora”) as I finished “bentching” her. Shira. 19, who came to dinner under duress in the first place, said, “Abba, oh, it’s OK – I know I know” (yes, this one knows me so so well). I dried my tears and bentched my son and gave him a huge solid hug and again felt broken inside knowing these fallen soldiers would never get to hug their sons or daughters as I just had. These revelations drove straight through the heart. I then retold my motivations for this exercise as best I could and we passed the sheets around and began reading the names. I found it sublimely ironic when getting to my daughter’s childhood classmate, Yaakov Kaplan, a guest at the table, he wound up reading the names Capt, Tzvi Kaplan and Staff Seargent Gilad Rosenthal Yacoby. Even this young man remarked later it was eerie as the circular reading was purely random.
When we were finished, our host made kiddush and had everyone in mind: himself, his wife, his family, the table guests and I would well imagine thoughts of each of the kedoshim whose names we hadjust read. Two young men at the table that evening announced they were making aliyah at that meal! Kol HaKavod to these two – one Yaakov mentioned previously, and the other the host’s “b’chor” (first born), Avishai. At a time when others might say to avoid visiting Israel altogether, these idealistic boys, nurtured and molded by great parents and community members, are making aliyah right now!
I was asked to write this article so that perhaps we could amplify this “z’chira” (remembrance) of these fallen heroes this coming Shabbat. Imagine if more of us, tens of thousands of us, could do this again next Shabbat, but perhaps more importantly, that we can do it for the first time – or again – with no additional names added to this list!
It is now TISHA B’AV and I pray from the depths of my soul for the speedy end to this war wherein Israel is fully secure within its borders and people can resume living in relative peace and stability. Where people can go to the parks without hitting the ground when yet another siren goes off. Where visitors by the plane loads can continue to come visit Israel, as I do and have been doing for close to thirty years, and enjoy everything that this pristinely beautiful country has to offer, and return to their respective communities remarking about the splendor and beauty of this land that indeed flows with milk and honey. No more bloodshed. No more needless death. No more fear.
This is my only tefilah on TISHA BAV this year.
My one “bakasha” (request)
May G-d hear and answer our prayers.
And to everyone: tizku l’mitzvot
And to the memory of these young men, our deepest sympathies to your families and loved ones. No words can express the depth of our sorrow and the profound sense of pride we have in knowing these boys gave their lives so we could live ours.