Yesterday I attended the funeral of a Palestinian in Jerusalem. In fact, a Palestinian rabbi. Born in the British Mandate of Palestine in the Old City of Jerusalem, and having served as a communal rabbi for over 35 years in Waltham Forest Hebrew Congregation in North East London, Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Salasnik passed away on Friday. In his retirement he davened in my shul, Wanstead & Woodford Synagogue, where I was privileged to pray alongside him for many years. His family made the decision to bury him in Jerusalem, the home of his ancestors, and now many of his descendants.
Rabbi Salasnik displayed a sparkle of a life that represented a different world from the ordinary London life in which I grew up. His wisdom and Torah knowledge, gleaned from being the grandson of a Rosh Yeshiva. His face, full of awe on Kol Nidre night and full of joy on Simchat Torah, when he blessed all the children during their special Aliyah. His stories, from knowing the world of the Old Yishuv and the early years of the State of Israel. When he taught me, I felt more than ever part of the chain of Jewish tradition. No-one I have ever heard sang Eicha (the Book of Lamentations) the way that Rabbi Salasnik did. His was the authentic voice of the Jewish people through the ages, mournful of past tragedies yet full of eternal hope.
At the funeral, we heard a little of Rabbi Salasnik’s early life. In 1929, his family was forced to flee the Old City in the wake of the Arab Riots, which made him a refugee in his own country. In 1947, when serving in the Haganah, he was minutes away from death when Arab terrorists blew up his station at the time he switched with another guard; his replacement had relieved him a few minutes early.
As the speeches ended, I checked my phone. A few minutes earlier, around the corner, another Arab terrorist had rammed his car into a bus stop and started a stabbing spree; almost at the same time there was a shooting and attempted hijacking on a bus in Armon Hanatziv.
I wondered whether the day could get any worse. In front of me was the mourning for a truly righteous Torah scholar, who I had admired for many years. Outside the funeral house there was genuine fear, and my thoughts turned to how I would minimise the chances of being attacked on the way to work. I questioned why Rabbi Salasnik’s funeral was destined to be punctuated by Arab terror, just as his childhood had been in 1929. This was a circle that he certainly would not have wanted complete.
However the funeral did not end there. Under police escort, a convoy set off to the Mount of Olives for the burial. As his son Rafi explained in his speech, even building a grave constitutes an act of building the Land of Israel. In a poignant last act of his life, the boy that was exiled from Jerusalem found his eternal resting place in the very heart of its city. And at last, after such a tragic and difficult day, I found some comfort. Acts of Arab terror are not new, and they are certainly not effective. The road may be a long one, physically and metaphorically, but nothing will ever stop Jews finding their way back to their ultimate home, Jerusalem.
May the memory of Rabbi Salasnik, and all those who perished in the day’s terror attacks, be for a blessing.