Forgiveness and Remembrance

In a few hours, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will begin. For the past few years, I have attended Kol Nidrei services on the eve of Yom Kippur, not at the synagogue where I usually pray, but at the local community centre where the service is always followed by an open discussion. The subject tonight is “What am I (not) prepared to forgive?”

I started thinking about that and I realised that it is not always easy to distinguish between forgiveness and forgetfulness. I think of  people who have injured me by word or deed over the years and even if I forgive them – or think I have – I have not forgotten what they did.  So – does that mean I have not truly forgiven them? That I still bear a grudge?
What, in fact, is the essence of forgiveness?  What does it mean?

One says: “Forgive and forget”. But not always. Sometimes we say: “Forgive – but do not forget.” In other cases, such as when we speak of the Holocaust, for example,  we say plainly: “We do not forgive. We do not forget.”
Those who tried to destroy us, we do not forget.

We are not a People who forgets. We remember – everything.  We are enjoined to remember Amalek.  And this was in the sense of taking revenge. King Saul was commanded by God to wipe out the very name of Amalek but disobeyed and spared their king, Agag, who was then executed by the Prophet Samuel.

We even institute festivals and fasts, for the purpose of remembering. On Tisha B’Av, we remember how our enemies (first the Babylonians, then the Romans) destroyed our holy Temple and crushed our nation. On Purim, we remember our deliverance from Haman who attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish nation. Coincidentally (or not), Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite king whom Saul spared. And we celebrate (there is no other word for it) his downfall. Or are we celebrating our deliverance, rather than the fact that our enemy got his just deserts?  I suppose it depends on your point of view.

So – is it possible to forgive and yet remember? Is it truly possible to wipe the slate clean of the wish for revenge, or at least restitution, while retaining the memory of the injury? Does the answer to this question depend on the degree of injury?

What do you think?

Gmar Hatima Tova            גמר חתימה טובה

 

 

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Goodbye 5778, Welcome 5779

Since Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) starts this evening,  I am taking a break from drafting a post about my summer vacation last month (which is taking longer to write than the vacation itself!) to wish all of my readers Shana Tova (שנה טובה) – a Good Year.
May the year 5779 bring peace, prosperity, good health and happiness to us all.

See you all next year 😉

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A Concert All In Blue

Shabbat, the 21st of Tammuz, – Saturday, July 24th, 1943. The Kovno Ghetto.
In the building which had once housed the famous Slobodka Yeshiva and was now the home of the Jewish Ghetto Police, an amazing, clandestine concert was taking place.

The Police Orchestra, whose members were professional musicians who had been officially made policemen, so as to enable them to work and to afford them some protection after the targeting of Jewish “intellectuals” and professionals by the Nazi occupiers, was founded in the summer of 1942 and appeared not only before the Jewish residents of the Ghetto, but also before high ranking Nazi officers.  This too afforded them some protection, as later, when all the members of the Jewish Police were arrested in March 1944, an exception was made for the members of the orchestra.

On this particular occasion however, no Germans were present. This concert, which was described in the diary of Avraham Tory (the Secretary of the Ghetto’s Jewish Council of Elders) as “a concert all in blue”, took place on the anniversary of the death of Haim Nachman Bialik, considered to be the Father of modern Hebrew poetry and one day after the anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism. This concert, to which representatives of all the Zionist movements were invited, from the right-wing Beitar, to the left-wing Socialist Zionist youth movements, consisted entirely of Jewish and Hebrew music and was held in the utmost secrecy since, naturally, all Zionist activity was strictly forbidden by the Germans.

We know all this, because the following year, on the night between March 27 – 28, 1944, at the height of the Kinder Aktion, which targeted all the children still in the Ghetto as well as old people, members of the Jewish Underground made their way to the home of one of the Jewish police officers who had been arrested, tortured to extract information about the whereabouts of hidden Jewish children and then murdered by the Germans. There, they retrieved two tin boxes containing the Ghetto Archives, which they buried in the ground at a secret location.

Fast forward twenty years, to 1964. Workers digging the foundations for a new building discovered the hidden archives. However, Lithuania at that time was under Soviet control. Not until the fall of the Soviet Union did parts of the archive find their way to the West, where they came to the notice of Rami Neudorfer, at that time, a doctoral student of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University. Neudorfer began to study those parts of the archive relating to the Police Orchestra – research which led to a recreation of the “Concert All In Blue” earlier this week at Yad Vashem. In this concert, I had the honour to take part, together with other members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (conducted by Dr. Avi Bar-Eitan),  the Ankor Choir (conducted by Dafna Ben-Yohanan, various soloists,  and the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra, conducted by Yonatan Canaan, who presided over the evening.

The Ghetto archives contained the full programme of the concert as well as some of the sheet music, but in many cases, it was necessary to prepare new arrangements of the songs. This was done by Yonatan Canaan.

As I said, Avraham Tory descibed the concert as “a concert all in blue”. Not, as you might well think, because it was sad, but because blue (together with white) was – and remains – the colour of the Zionist (later the Israeli) flag, and because the skies of Israel and the sea that laps at her shores are so blue. Or, to put it in the words of one of the songs (Shir HanamalSong of the Harbour, written by Leah Goldberg in 1936, in honour of the new Tel Aviv harbour and set to music by Rivka Levinson): Blue above and blue below…

Just as the participants at the original concert reflected the entire Zionist political spectrum, so too did the songs which were carefully chosen – from Kadima Beitar  (“Forward Beitar”) of the Revisionists, to Ba’a Menucha Layagea/Techezakna (“Peace Has Come to the Weary”/”Make Strong the Hands of Our Brothers”) of the Kibbutz Movement and the Socialist Zionists (featured below, with the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir and the soloist Anat Moshkovsky).

Obviously, I could not film or take pictures during the concert, but fortunately, the Oratorio Choir’s artistic producer, Dr. Tanya Sermer, was there and caught some of it on her mobile phone. The whole concert was filmed and will be broadcast on TV at a later date. In the meanwhile, here is a short clip from the concert, filmed by Tanya:

 

 

 

 

More than once, during that evening, as we listened to the stories of the original participants or sang the songs describing the beauty of the Land of Israel which, even quite soon after they were written, were already well known to the members of the Zionist Movement all around the world, I felt a lump in my throat at the thought of the Jews of Kovno, trapped in Hell yet dreaming of Paradise, singing the praises of the Promised Land which they had never seen and which most of them never would see.  Nor could I keep the tears from my eyes when the presenter invited the last remaining survivors of the Kovno Ghetto and their descendants, who were sitting in the front row, to end the evening by joining in the singing of Hatikva, once the hymn of the Zionist Movement, now the National Anthem of Israel, to the original words as it was sung in the Ghetto, and about which Avraham Tory wrote:

The sounds of ‘Hatikva’ were powerful and were carried far away to the mountains of Judea and valleys of Sharon, to the Mediterranean, the shores of the Jordan, to Mount Scopus, the cities and villages, moshavim and kibbutzim in the Jezreel Valley and the Galilee. The sounds carried their greetings from Kovno to Israel and returned at the same time to the hall with the good tidings of the redemption that would arrive soon. Everyone’s heart was filled with rejoicing and tears poured from their eyes. From the depths of the soul flowed hope, courage and a cry out loud: ‘We have not yet lost our hope!” … It was a glorious, festive moment …This was a great day for us today.

 

https://he-il.facebook.com/yonatancnaan/videos/10160889702605650/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Post I Didn’t Want To Write

Today is Tu b’Av, often described (rather inaccurately) as “the Jewish Valentine’s Day“. The shops are filled with love-themed gifts, such as heart-shaped cushions, and sexy underwear decorated with hearts (as with the overly-commercialised St. Valentine’s Day in the West, “love” as been replaced by sex), and florist shops enjoy a boom in sales.

That is what I wanted and intended to write about. But fate intervened, in the person of a despicable, homicidal  “Palestinian” terrorist, Muhammed Tareq Dar Yousef from the village of Kobar, the same village which was the home of his cousin who invaded a private home in the Jewish village of  Neve Tzuf/Halamish  a year ago, and murdered three members of the Salomon family.

Yesterday evening,  this murderous “Palestinian” village notched up another foul act of terrorism to its “credit” when Muhammed Yousef climbed over the fence of the village of Adam, a gated community not far from Jerusalem which is generally regarded more or less as a suburb of the Capital, and stabbed three people – Yotam Ovadia, a 31-year-old father of two, who was stabbed repeatedly and who later died of his wounds, a man of 58 who is still in hospital but whose condition is said to be improving, and a man of 41, who was lightly wounded but who was carrying a gun with which he managed to shoot and kill the terrorist before the latter managed to stab anyone else.

I am ready to bet you won’t read or hear about this in the media outside Israel (except maybe in the Jewish press), and if you do, it will probably be confined to a headline about how a Jewish settler “extra-judicially executed” a Palestinian  teenager.

Yotam Ovadia (HY”D) had been on his way to his parents’ home, to pick up the ingredients for a special Tu b’Av meal he had planned to make for his wife, Tal – who is now left to raise their children, 2-year-old Harel and 7-month-old Itai, on her own.

Yotam Ovadia 26July2018Adam

 

May God avenge his blood.

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Endings

The second half of June saw the end of many things. For example, the last lecture in the Bible course I am taking, which involves reading one chapter of the Hebrew Bible every weekday. The final lecture in the course took place last week, although we shall not reach the 929th (and final) chapter till the middle of next week.  Then, we shall start all over again.

I have already registered for next year’s course, which will focus (as its name suggests) on prophets and kings (or prophets versus kings, as they so often were) – as well as for two courses on music, including an in-depth study of all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. More about that, however, in future posts.

The week before last saw the final concert of the season for my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir. This was particularly poignant, marking, as it did, our farewell from Kate Belshé   who has been our conductor and musical director for the past four years. She will be sorely missed.

During her “term of office”, Kate brought us a great deal of music from composers with whose work we were not familiar, as well as lot more contemporary music than we had previously been used to – but also more traditional styles. This last concert was no exception, featuring, as it did, music ranging from the 14th century Llibre Vermell de Montserrat,  a motet by the Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria,   through the Romantic Era, with Bruckner and Stanford, right up to the 20th century (Poulenc, Durufle, Frank Martin) and beyond, with contemporary composers such as the Hungarians, Miklos Kocsar and Laszlo Halmos, the Spaniard, Javier Busto, the American Morten Lauridsen and the Portuguese composer Alfredo Teixeira.

The music performed ranged from relatively simple dance tunes composed in the late Middle Ages to help pilgrims to the great Monastery of Montserrat stay awake during their nocturnal vigils, to the terrifyingly difficult Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin.
All this took place under the title Stile Antico – Stile ModernoSettings of Latin Prayers Through the Agesin the splendidly evocative location of the Ratisbonne Monastery, Jerusalem. This is a very beautiful Roman Catholic church dating from the 19th century, in the heart of the capital of the Jewish state, with exactly the kind of acoustics one wants for the kind of music we were performing.

You can see the whole concert  (which was streamed live, via mobile phone,  on Facebook) here, minus the first two pieces.

Two days later, it was the turn of the “mother choir”, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir of which the Chamber Choir is a leading component, to celebrate the end of the musical season with a party, in which each of the five member choirs performed pieces from the season’s repertoire. In addition, individual choir members contributed solo or small group performances.

Yours Truly performed the duet La ci darem la mano, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, together with David Kovensky, who sings bass-baritone with our Chamber Choir.

 

 

June was supposed to end with a belated cast party for the participants of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “Patience”, which I mentioned in a previous post, but never got around to writing about. Alas, the day before the party was due to take place, we were stunned to hear about the untimely death of one of the principal singers – apparently by his own hand. I am told he had been suffering from clinical depression for years. I did not know him all that well, so I cannot blame myself for having somehow “missed the signs”, but from posts that his close friends wrote on Facebook, it seems that the signs were there, and many people missed them and blamed themselves for not having extended a hand to help him. Now I cannot help asking myself – are there people round about me who are in trouble, who are struggling, without me seeing the signs, even though we are close? How many of us really see when our friends are in distress, in need of a shoulder to lean on, or of a helping hand.

Food for thought.

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Catching Up

I am back!

Yes, after a long period of silence, I have returned – with a brand new, powerful  computer which, hopefully, won’t keep crashing and with Windows 10, which, hopefully, will allow me to post pictures without causing the computer to freeze up, and require a whole day, if not more, to write a new post.

So, where shall I begin?

Since my last post, I have participated in two more nature trips with Yad ben Zvi, a concert in which all five choirs which make up the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir performed Sir Karl Jenkins’ wonderful composition The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, and a Jerusalem Day concert in which I appeared as a soloist.

In addition to that, for several weeks now, so-called “peaceful Palestinian demonstrators”  have attempted to violently storm our borders, whilst “peacefully” setting Israeli fields alight with incendiary kites (really, there seems to be no limit to their inventiveness when it comes to destruction) and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad terrorists continue to “peacefully” launch rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and villages bordering the Gaza Strip – one of which landed on and destroyed a kindergarten (which, by the grace of God, was empty at the time, as the children had not yet arrived).

So, as I said – where shall I begin?

Well, let’s start with something pleasant – my April 24th nature trip with Yad Ben Zvi.

This trip was supposed to be to the Upper Galilee, in the wake of the wild peonies which only bloom in the area around Mount Meron and that, for a short two-week period in April. Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm weather had made the peonies bloom early this year – at the beginning of April, round about Pessach – so instead, the trip which had been planned for May, to see the Madonna lilies in the Carmel, was brought forward (needless to say, the lilies also bloomed early) and we set off for the area which is known in Israel as “Little Switzerland”.

I mentioned the unseasonably summery weather which had affected the botanical clock, didn’t I? Well, Murphy’s Law being what it is, April 24th dawned cloudy and rainy, and unseasonably chilly. As our bus headed north under lowering, grey skies, I thanked my lucky stars I had brought an umbrella with me – although later in the day, it nearly caused an accident.

We spotted the Madonna lilies almost immediately:

P1030662Madonna Lily

They were, however, high up on the rock face and it was only because my camera has quite a powerful zoom lens that I was able to take such clear photographs of them.

It wasn’t long after that that the windows of heaven opened and the rain began.

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However, that was not going to dampen our enthusiasm, if you will pardon the pun. We continued our walk along a narrow and ever more slippery path, with a steep drop to our left:

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At one point, when it seemed the rain was tapering off, I lowered my umbrella in order to close it. As a result, I failed to see a depression in the path and narrowly escaped falling into the void.

But it was worth the discomfort when there were wild hollyhocks, and Mesopotamian irises to be seen:

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P1030681Iris mesopotamica

And late in the afternoon, after we had come down from the mountain and ventured onto the seashore, as the wind was rising and the rain was coming down more and more heavily, to a soundtrack of thunder and lightning,  there were also Evening Primroses and Sea Lavender.

But by now, we were being lashed both by the rain and the sea spray, and it was time to head for home.

The heavy rains continued and there were warnings of flooding in the wadis of the Arava and the Negev. Alas, Israelis have an almost intolerable knack for deluding themselves that everything will be all right. As a result, the next day, ten teenagers lost their lives on a school trip when they were swept away by a flash flood. And all because the trip organisers ignored the warnings. Such a waste. Such an entirely  preventable tragedy.

The following Sunday, April 29th, was the annual Gala of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, of which I have been a member since its foundation, 31 years ago. This year, under the baton of Salome Rebello, and with the participation of the Jerusalem Street Orchestra, we became the first Israeli choir to perform Karl Jenkins’ popular creation The Armed Man: A Mass for PeaceMy favourite part of this work is that entitled “Hymn Before Action“, to words by Rudyard Kipling – a poet popularly believed to have been far more jingoistic than he actually was.

 

 

Yet it was the final, joyous “Better is Peace” section, with its jubilant “Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace” which brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes during the Dress Rehearsal.

 

 

 

And how could it fail to do so, when peace seems so far away from our little corner of the world? How could any one of us sing those words without thinking of what could be – what should be – but what I am beginning to believe my generation will never see?

Back to happier thoughts though.
On May 16th, I took part in the last nature hike of the 2017/18 season with Yad Ben Zvi. As I mentioned before, this was supposed to be the one in search of Madonna lilies which was brought forward to April. Instead, this hike was devoted to the flora of pond, river and seashore, in the Western Galilee.

The day started with a visit to the Ein Afek Nature Reserve in the Acco (Acre) Valley.

 

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Here, besides the water buffalo,

 

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and coypu,

 

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dragonflies with iridiscent wings hovered above ponds covered with blue lotus.

P1030710DDragonfly at Ein Afek

 

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Part of the nature reserve is wheelchair accessible, but not the so-called “Floating Bridge”, which enables visitors to observe the plants that thrive in and around the swamp.

20180516_123422 (2)Ein Afek Floating Bridge

That included the usually much later blooming Trachomitum venetum, also known as Apocynum venetum, or to give it its Hebrew name, “Sam Hakelev”  (סם הכלב – literally, “The Dog’s Drug”), a member of the dogbane family, and like its relative, the oleander, highly poisonous – as well as the Common Reed ( Phragmites australis), found all over the Reserve, bulrushes (reedmace), spiny rush (sharp rush, sharp-pointed rush), and the intriguingly named Holy Bramble (Rubus Sanctus), so called because of the tradition that this was the Burning Bush that appeared to Moses in the wilderness.  Considering that it usually grows along stream banks, I find this rather unlikely.  Of course – that could be part of the miracle.  🙂

 

From Ein Afek, we travelled to Ein Hardalit, one of the springs which feed the Kziv Stream (Nachal Kziv). There, in the green shade, we had a late picnic lunch by its cool, refreshing waters.

P1030720 (2)Ein Hardalit

 

Our final stop of the day was the beach at Rosh Hanikra, just south of Israel’s border with Lebanon.

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I suppose the tension in the north caused by the heavy Iranian presence in Syria should have made me nervous – and it did, whenever I thought about it, except that I didn’t think about it often. I forgot all about it in the beauty of the rugged shoreline and the diverse, seemingly humble flora of the seashore. There, swept by the salty sea-breezes, the flowers are smaller, as if to present less surface area to be battered by the sands and the winds, but they are no less beautiful.

Among them, there were mauve trifid stocks (Matthiola tricuspidata),

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bright yellow Lotus Creticus,  Sea Lavender, and many other small, and seemingly insignificant wildflowers which, without our extremely knowlegeable guide, Edna, might well have gone unnoticed.

This trip was the last in the current series of nature hikes. I have not yet decided whether I shall take part in next year’s series, or whether I shall sign up for one of the historical or archaeological courses. Whichever it is, I have no doubt it will prove informative, challenging and inspiring.

So there we are, all caught up.
Except for the ongoing tension on the border with Gaza, in the south.
And except for the continuing tension on the border with Syria, in the north.
And the continuing antisemitic onslaught on Israel in the UN and the world media.
And the shameful capitulation of the Argentinian football team to terrorist threats.
And – on the bright side – the final preparations for my chamber choir’s end-of-season concert next week.

But that’s for next time.

 

 

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A Nation Remembers

The fortnight or so following the end of Pessach (Passover) is not an easy time. Mirroring the seven-weeks between Pessach and Shavuot (Pentecost), two festivals which commemorate, respectively, the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (when a rabble of twelve tribes became one nation, with one God and one Law), this short period encompasses Holocaust Memorial Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s wars and Independence Day.

Neither the proximity, nor the parallels, are coincidental.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the Six Million of our people who were murdered because we had no home, nowhere to run to when the forces of Darkness enveloped the world. But the Jewish people rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Europe, and, like the Israelite slaves freed from Egypt, set their faces eastward, to the Promised Land. Here, we became once more a nation, with our own country and our own laws. This is commemorated on Independence Day, which falls tomorrow and is preceded by Remembrance Day for the Fallen.

Both Holocaust Memorial Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen are marked by solemn ceremonies, special programming on all the country’s TV and radio stations, and a minute’s silence marked by a siren. In fact, Remembrance Day has not one, but two sirens, one the evening before, marking the start of the official ceremony at the Western Wall, and one on the day itself, at 11 am, marking the start of the ceremony at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.  I don’t know why there is this apparent “discrimination” between the two days of remembrance. Maybe it’s because there are, each year, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors among us, whereas, alas, each year there are more and more bereaved families observing Remembrance Day for the Fallen. Personally, I feel the diminishing number of Holocaust survivors in our midst makes it all the more imperative that we, and future generations, keep the memory of the Holocaust – and its lessons – alive.

When Hitler first came to power, the world powers ignored his threats against the Jewish People. It was just bluster, they said. And in any case, those uppity Jews, who controlled the media, world finance, Hollywood, governments etc. needed taking down a peg or two. Hitler would just clip their wings a bit, and that would be the end of it.
We all know how that ended.

The ayatollahs of Iran have been threatening Israel with destruction since they came to power.  And the world powers have dismissed those threats, just as they dismissed the threats of the Nazis. Hitler clearly spelled out his plans for the Jewish People but no-one wanted to hear what he was saying. So too the Iranians. But the world powers were all too eager to find an excuse to abolish the sanctions they had, most reluctantly, imposed on Iran – sanctions which were preventing them from concluding lucrative contracts with that country.

Now Iran is openly supporting the Butcher of Damascus, Syrian president Bashir Al-Assad, Iranian armed forces are on Israel’s very borders, and Iranian generals claim that “the date has been set for Israel’s destruction”.

I would be less than honest if I said I don’t feel the slightest twinge of alarm. But then I listen to the stories of the Fallen of Israel’s wars.  Stories of heroes, like Major Roi Klein, who sacrificed his life by throwing himself on a live grenade to save his comrades. Who died with “Shema Yisrael“, the Jewish declaration of faith, on his lips.
Heroes like Staff Sergeant  Nissim Sean Carmeli, killed by  Hamas terrorists in Gaza, who could have chosen a safe, easy life in South Padre Island, Texas, where he was born, but chose, instead, to leave his family in the US and come to Israel, to serve as a “lone soldier”. Who could have avoided front-line service in Gaza because of an injury to his foot, but who insisted on serving with his unit.
Heroines like Hadas Malka, who was repeatedly stabbed by a terrorist in Jerusalem last year, but who continued to struggle to prevent him taking her gun. Who began her national service in the Navy and who could have remained there, but who insisted on transferring to a more dangerous posting in the Border Police, where she felt she could contribute more.

And I think of Natan Alterman’s poem, “The Silver Platter”.

And I remember the words of the Yizkor prayer recited at the memorial ceremony yesterday evening at the Western Wall: “May the People of Israel remember its sons and its daughters, the faithful and the brave, the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces … may Israel remember and be blessed in its seed...”

In less than an hour, the sorrow of Remembrance Day will morph into the joy of Independence Day.  The sudden switch must be agonising for bereaved families and has given rise, over the years, to proposals to separate the two occasions. Yet I see the logic in their proximity. We must never forget that without the sacrifice of these brave men and women, we have our own state. It has more than once been said that Remembrance Day is not so  much for the bereaved families, for whom every day is “Remembrance Day”, as for all the rest of us, lest we forget, in our rejoicing, how much we owe to those who gave all they had, so that Israel could live and thrive.

Israel is, indeed, blessed in its seed.

Happy Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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