This past Monday night President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief Herzi Halevi were among national leaders and families of fallen soldiers who gathered at the Western Wall official ceremony marking Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day).
Among the prayers and addresses, the speech that was not on the schedule, that in fact was not spoken with a physical voice, nor broadcast in full, was the one that captured my attention and provided an extra tinge of hope and light on this most difficult day.
In addition to her own physical voice, Michal Herzog, Israel’s First Lady, used sign language to sing Hatikva, the anthem of the State of Israel.
There she was, front row, standing next to the president of this country and many VIPs but her mind and heart were also on making this an inclusive moment. Where everyone can sing and sign together. A moment in which she understands we need to be including as many Israelis as we can – including those who may be deaf or hard of hearing.
For me, a special moment on what was the beginning of a traditionally gut-wrenching and complex day each year.
Apparently I’m slow to pick up on this – some googling shows Mrs. Herzog did similar just over a week ago at Israel’s Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, previously too at other official ceremonies over recent years. Here at a ceremony in memory of Jews from Ethiopia who lost their lives during their journey to Israel, standing with President Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and others.
התקווה בשפת הסימנים: אשת נשיא המדינה מיכל הרצוג במחווה מיוחדת בטקס האזכרה ליהודי אתיופיה שנספו בדרך לישראל pic.twitter.com/gNSJ8aEAAh
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 29, 2022
Each and every time Michal Herzog stands with the leaders of this nation and foreign leaders – and she leads the leaders and all of us – on behalf of people of all abilities, toward more inclusive ceremonies and richer, more inclusive societies.
Says the second of this Shabbat’s two Torah portions (Kedoshim, Chap 19 Verses 1-2): “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your God”. “You” in the Hebrew plural תהיו. We are instructed to be holy because God is holy and of course we are all created in God’s image. All of us – including those with a disability, a near 20% of Israel’s population, according to the World Health Organization 1.6 billion worldwide living with a significant disability, likewise near on 20% of humanity.
The Torah precedes this “you shall be holy” with God instructing Moses to “Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel”. Unlike at other points in time and other commandments, here every Jew came to listen. Here everyone was required to attend. On this occasion we can not rely on learning about it later from the elders and the leaders.
We must receive it, learn it for ourselves and carry out these obligations. Rabbi Moshe Alshich (born 1508 in the Ottoman Empire and moved to Tzfat in the Land of Israel) says Moses brought everyone together to make it clear that the mitzvot are for everyone to follow. Judaism shares this responsibility among us all.
We the “ordinary” folks are no less obligated than “the holy ones” to seek a more equal playing field, fairer and more inclusive communities.
There are at least 5,000 IDF veterans who are officially classified as suffering from PTSD, post-trauma and anxiety as a result of their service defending the State of Israel. There are certainly many more and countless adults and children who have been traumatized by terror.
This year many communities around Israel (including ours) canceled Independence Day fireworks displays, purchased “silent” fireworks or integrated other means to reduce the explosions and sharp noise associated with these celebrations.
The silence of the fireworks (perhaps disappointing for some) speaks volumes about recognizing the silent agony, disabilities and struggles of many – equal in strength and impact to the loud, strong voice spoken by the hands of Israel’s First Lady.
עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ – Our hope is not yet lost