This is a sad time of year.
Throughout Israel and the Jewish world there is great worry about the ramifications of the Iranian deal for the security of Israel and the free world.
The timing of the deal and the fears associated with it coincides with “Tisha B’Av” – the darkest day in the Jewish calendar on which we commemorate the destruction of our two Temples – along with all of our suffering in exile – with a day of fasting, prayer and reflection.(The fast is this coming Sunday)
That sadness is more intense this year. We as a nation are commemorating a year since Operation Protective Edge, and mourn the loss of the 67 soldiers who died defending our state.
My mind is flooded with memories from last summer, when my role as a member of Knesset shifted dramatically. My daily schedule changed in an instant from committees, votes, interviews and meetings, to attending funerals, going to houses of mourning, visiting injured soldiers in the hospital, and traveling to the Gaza border to try to lift the spirits of our troops.
Yes, it is a sad time of year. But my experiences last summer fill me with tremendous inspiration, optimism and hope.
Before we went to the Gaza border to lift the spirits of the soldiers, I asked Benjy, my spokesman, what I should bring to them. Friends and family in Silver Spring, Maryland, my hometown, had raised $1,000 for the soldiers, and I wanted to use that money to do something special for the brave young men and women along the front lines.
Benjy told me that we should bring ice cream. I laughed. He wanted me to come to these warriors with ice cream?
“You asked me as a former soldier what you should bring,” Benjy said. “I am telling you that you have to bring them ice cream.”
So we picked up $1,000 worth of extra-frozen ice cream cups from Ben and Jerry’s in Kiryat Malachi, and made our way toward the border. When I entered the bunkers carrying the ice cream, these heroic fighters became excited little kids, their faces lit up as they savored every spoonful. They expressed their gratitude to the strangers who paid for this treat and were visibly inspired by their recognition that people in far away Maryland were thinking about them. I also noticed how this made them understand that they were not just fighting for their state, but for the entire Jewish people.
I also remember going to a hospital and being handed a list of the admitted soldiers. We visited with those listed as “lightly injured,” since soldiers with worse injuries were generally undergoing treatment. Sitting in a chair in one the rooms was a 21-year-old who had lost a hand in battle. He had been downgraded to “lightly” injured because there was no threat to his life. I asked if there was something I could do to help him (the silly things that come out of our mouths….).
“You can get the doctors to fix me up so I can return to fight with my unit as quickly as possible,” he replied. Yes, these are young people who love Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and they are also brave warriors with a mature sense of responsibility of brotherhood.
The funerals were devastating. The cries of orphaned children, widowed wives, and the worst of the worst – deep wailing from glossy-eyed and near fainting fiancés – still echoes in my ears.
I approached one grieving mother at the conclusion of a funeral and blurted out the cliché that we have been trained to say: “I am sorry for your loss.”
She replied without hesitation: “Sorry? I am not sorry for my loss. I am devastated and we will mourn for the rest of our lives. But I am not sorry. I am proud that my son died defending the state of Israel and the Jewish people.”
What a statement! What a perspective! We truly are a remarkable nation.
This was demonstrated most tangibly when we lost lone soldiers in battle. We received word in the Knesset that friends of Sean Carmeli from Texas were afraid that a sparse crowd would attend his funeral, scheduled for 11:00 that night in Haifa. I stood at the Knesset podium and called on members of Knesset, ministers, and everyone watching Knesset TV to try to attend. The loudest and most effective plea went out on the Facebook page of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team which Sean loved.
That night 20,000 people, almost all of them strangers, attended Sean’s funeral. The ramps off the highways were clogged with cars, and had the police not helped me through the crowd, I would not have made it into the cemetery. It was a powerful experience.
The next day I was told that Max Steinberg from California was killed. I made another call to the public to attend his funeral as did many throughout the social network.
More than 30,000 people – again, thousands and thousands of strangers — braved the summer heat to pay their respects to Max. We heard that people on the overstuffed buses and trains making their way to the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery sang the Israeli national anthem, and other songs of hope and inspiration.
After attending these two funerals and seeing first-hand how the families were comforted and even uplifted by the national embrace, and after being so inspired by the bereaved families, the injured soldiers, and by the soldiers on the Gaza border, I am able to look back on these devastating experiences with hope and optimism for our nation’s future.
This Sunday we will fast. This entire month we mourn the soldiers we lost last summer. These next few months and years we will be confronting the fear and trepidation of a potentially nuclear armed Iran, and ISIS creeping closer and closer to our borders.
But we are the Jewish nation and the people of Israel. As we have done throughout our history, with God’s help, we will continue to prevail.