Two Eulogies in Two Days

Rose Lubin, z"l: "I will make every chapter in the book worth reading." (courtesy)

On Thursday, along with thousands of others, I attended the funeral of Rose Lubin in Jerusalem. Rose was an American-Israeli: a lone soldier in a combat unit of Mishmar HaGvul, Israel’s border police. She was killed on November 6th during an attack by a 16-year-old terrorist. Rose’s 21st birthday would have been next month. The many eulogies given by family and friends (some of which are available online) about this amazing person were heartbreaking.

The next day as I looked over the weekly Torah reading “Hayei Sarah”, it struck me that it too begins with a eulogy. There is only scant information about what was said by Abraham when he spoke of his late wife Sarah. All we are told is that she was 127 years old.

Commentators over the years, naturally, sought to clarify the meaning behind the brevity. Rashi, as usual, came up with a succinct — and enlightening explanation: “All were equal for good”. In other words, during each of the many years of her undulated geographic journey from Ur Kasdim to Canaan, to Egypt and beyond, along with the considerable familial turbulence she faced — Sarah always managed to see the good in her circumstances. In other words, every year she was blessed with a singular optimism, kindness and resilience.

I did not know Rose Lubin. But the people who did spoke of a person who seemed to share some of these extraordinary qualities. Although she grew up in Atlanta, by the time she was five she had visited Israel and had already decided that when she was 18, she would make her life in her people’s homeland. On playgrounds, she would tell other children, that they could be friends for now, but eventually, she was bound for the land of Israel. Rose was as good as her word. And her remarkable family supported her.

People spoke of a colorful, free spirit – who rarely wore socks that matched, was constantly changing the color of her hair, opted for a vegan diet, musically gifted, refused to surrender to social cliques and stereotypes – and emanated joy. It’s a rare teenager who competes for their high school as a wrestler – and as a cheerleader. The fact that as an observant Jew, she walked to these sporting events on Shabbat, is even more exceptional.

Most of all – we heard of a person who lit up any room into which she walked; whose very presence radiated intelligence, creativity, warmth and fundamental decency. She was also courageous: on the morning of her Simchat Torah holiday visit to Kibbutz Sa’ad, on the Gaza border, Rose donned her uniform, brought her gun and joined the successful defense of her adopted home in Israel.

It was impossible not to think of Rose as I considered the eulogy of our iconic matriarch.

Since the advent of the war, I have been attending funerals and visiting bereaved families. The Knesset found the extent of the October 7th loss to be staggering, with the number of Knesset members available to pay “official visits” completely inadequate. So, they drafted former MKs to represent the parliament across the country when they could. At the homes I called on, almost without exception the departed were young.

Time after time I would hear the story of an extraordinary woman or man; their plans; their talents; how much promise they had; how much they were loved; and what a hole they left in the hearts of their families and friends. Invariably, upon leaving I would think: “what a pity that I didn’t have the chance to meet this special person.” Of the many extraordinary people that we have lost during the past month, there is none that I feel greater regret at missing than Rose Lubin.

It also saddens me, that someone who chose to move to her “homeland”, who loved this country so very much — spent her final year of life here witnessing the greatest divisiveness and bitterness that Israel has yet experienced. She deserved better. It’s common to hear that in their deaths, our soldiers (and now the many many victims of October 7th) “have commanded us life”: B’motam –Tzivu lanu et Hachaim. Like many expressions, it became a cliché, because it is fundamentally true. We should all internalize the expectation that we become much better, collectively and individually, to be worthy of such unbearable sacrifice.

Among the most moving moments during the funeral was when we got to hear from Rose in her own words. Her Bat Mitzva speech was read, and it reflected the wisdom and vision of someone far beyond a typical 12- or 13-year-old:

There will be a time that I will not be existent in this world,’” she wrote. “‘So what do I do? I will do something great for the world, I won’t wait for the world to do something great for me…. I will make every chapter in the book worth reading.”

To me, that sounds a whole lot like the ideal of “every year for good”. Rose Lubin didn’t get to live 127 years. But every one of her twenty years was worth reading. We can only hope that we do something great for the world; that we are worthy of playing a part in the next chapter that her sacrifice allows us to live.

About the Author
Professor Alon Tal is a professor of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University, a veteran environmentalist and a former member of Israel's Knesset.