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Seeking guidance on Har Herzl

“Where are the leaders?” we ask, in our confusion. “Who will tell us how to proceed, how to react? How to behave in war, in life? How to see ourselves as a nation? How to celebrate? How to mourn?”

These are the questions that echo in my mind and in the minds of so many of my friends and family. One friend, an active Shabbat hostess, says that since Oct. 7, she no longer has guests at her Shabbat table other than family members. Even on the best of days, I find it difficult to say, “Have a great day!” I am only willing to go as far as “Have a very good day.”

So, we look for guidance, for answers, for meaning and instruction. But, where do we look? On an organized tiyul last week on Har Herzl, I felt the beginnings of at least a partial answer. We can look to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, our land, and our people. Our fallen soldiers.

For many have left letters and messages that have resounded powerfully in the wake of our losses. In leaving us, they have also been leading us. Perhaps, much will be written in the future on the letters written by our chayalim in the case that it is their last communication with their loved ones. Maybe they will include the letters that were, B”H, never sent.

So we have the words of Ben Zussman HY”D, adjuring his family not to “sink into sorrow” if he is cut down. And “If chas v’chalilah, you’re sitting shiva,” to “Make jokes, hear stories, and meet all my friends you haven’t met yet.” He also pleads with his family,” If chalilah, I fall into captivity, dead or alive, I’m not willing for any soldier or civilian to be injured by some deal to free me. I don’t allow you to lead a campaign or anything like that. I’m not willing for terrorists to be freed for me – in any way, shape, or form. Please don’t breach my request.”

And we have the words of Yossi Hershkowitz, father of six and Menahel of the Pelech School for Boys, who beseeches family, friends, and students to remain united and not to speak any Lashon Hara about any Jew ever.

It appears that these “final letters” go back many decades. At the grave of Esther Cailingold, an observant British young Jew who made aliya, joined the Haganah in 1947, and died in the service of her people, we read her final letter to her family in London. In it she asks them to believe that she has no regrets and entreats them, “do not be sadder than you can help.” She ends with the hope that “you will, one day, very soon I hope, come and enjoy the fruits of that for which we are fighting.”

And it’s not only the soldiers who have fallen who can lead us. There is Elisha Medan, son of Rav Yaakov Medan, who lost both of his legs in Gaza and has met with PM Netanyahu entreating him to finish off Hamas, and who has become a sought after speaker on emuna in these times.

There is Arky Staiman, a tour guide and reservist, who returned to service immediately after Oct. 7, and who began immediately sending out upbeat videos asking his audience to do what he was now unable to do i.e. to play with their children on Shabbat, to attend a lively musical Friday night tefilla, to light Shabbat candles early, etc.

And there are the family members of the fallen soldiers who are leading and inspiring us in the aftermath of their losses. There is the father of Elisha Yehonatan Lober, HY”D, whose second son was born a few months after Elisha died in battle. At the brit his father tells the participants, (and Am Yisrael) to celebrate and be joyful that a new, precious Jewish soul has entered the world and that Elisha lives on through his descendants.

Perhaps one of the most inspirational, faith-drenched voices in the aftermath of tragedy is that of Orit Mark Ettinger, granddaughter of our friend Ayelet Batt and daughter of Rabbi “Mickey” Mark who was killed by terrorists in 2016. She is also the bereft sister of Shlomi, killed in a traffic accident, while serving in the Mossad and of Pedaya, who was killed in Gaza in October. Anyone who hears or reads her inspiriting words will find motivation and guidance.

Where will we find the guidance and the answers which we seek? Answers to how we should mourn, celebrate, relate to those with whom we disagree, how to proceed in this war, etc. That depends on who we are, what we ask, how we think, and even what we hope to find. However, Har Herzl seems to be a good place to begin. And, as for me on this day, I hear a gentle murmur, “By all means, celebrate Yom Haatzmaut. That’s precisely what we fought (and fight) for and, even, have died for.”

“Hashem, protect and deliver the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and Security Forces, and all those engaged in saving lives, from all trouble and sorrow. Strengthen their hands and adorn them with the crown of Your salvation and victory.”

About the Author
Chaya Passow, a graduate of Stern College, majoring in English literature, taught English at the Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem. A lecturer and teacher of Jewish studies both in formal and informal settings, she is one of the founders of Lomdot and Melamdot, a program for advanced women's Torah learning. Since 2002 she has been living her dream of residing in Jerusalem, together with her husband, Eli, and enjoying being savta to a large cohort of beautiful grandchildren. Her new book, 'Letters from Planet Corona' was published in 2020.