Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron. Remembrance Day or Memorial Day for the fallen of Israeli security forces and victims of terror. For me, sitting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this may be the loneliest day of the year.

In front of me, on the wall behind my desk, is a bulletin board with all manner of important mementoes and reminders. A photo of my wife painting the scenery as viewed from Manara, overlooking the Hula Valley. A panorama of the view from our apartment in Kiryat Shemonah. A photo of Rav Tzvi Yehudah Hacohen Kook. The chief medic symbol from my IDF service. My IDF dog tags. The photo of a grave.

The headstone reads: דניאל (דני) האז. בן שושנה ומאיר. “Daniel (Dani) Haas. Son of Shoshanah and Meir. Born in the USA, made aliyah in 5739. Fell in battle in Lebanon in Operation Peace for Gallilee, the first day of Av, 5742. Age 26 when he fell. May his soul be bound in the bond of life.”

Danny was my friend. He came from Cleveland, Ohio to live and build in Ofra, Shomron, Israel. We had common friends in Ofra. We started our army service together in the Nahal brigade. He died in battle with terrorists in southern Lebanon during his first reserve duty call-up. A Jew committed to building a Jewish society in Israel based on Hashem’s Torah. A Jew committed to building that society with his hands, and his blood.

In Israel, when the observance of Memorial Day and Independence Day was being established, the Chief Rabbinate determined that if either day fell on Sunday, they would both be pushed off into the coming week to avoid desecration of the Sabbath with people rushing to ceremonies and preparations on Saturday night. In America, there is some discussion if Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) and Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) should similarly be pushed off as is done in Israel. Why not? Because ‘Memorial Day isn’t so relevant to American Jewry’, and so we aren’t concerned with the practical issues of possible Sabbath violation.

‘Memorial Day isn’t so relevant to American Jewry’! What a horrible thing. But sadly true. When I first came to the USA to teach, I found myself embroiled in a controversy. The Jewish Community Center in our city was hosting a Yom HaAtzmaut/Independence Day celebration the night starting the Hebrew date of the holiday. The event was starting well before sundown, with music and dancing. This was a desecration of the solemn and sacred nature of Memorial Day! How could this be? I contacted the organizers, and they were completely unaware of the significance of the day before Yom HaAtzmaut. They also said they couldn’t or wouldn’t change the planned start of festivities. So I told my students that year to boycott the event if it weren’t changed. My students, God bless and keep them, pressured the organizers and some modifications were made at the last minute.

Natan Alterman wrote a poem called the Silver Platter. מגש הכסף. It is a response or illustration of Ben Gurion’s lament that we didn’t receive a Jewish State on a silver platter. Many fought and died, and continue to fight and die, so that we may celebrate this most wonderful time in our history. My long-missed friend Danny is one of 22,867 soldiers and civilians who have been killed fighting for and defending the cause of modern Zionism. They, Alterman wrote in his poem, are our silver platter. All of us who in any way, shape, or form benefit from the State of Israel today owe them our highest debt of gratitude. But many American Jews, including many American rabbanim, observe that ‘Memorial Day isn’t so relevant to American Jewry.’ Shall we leave it that way?

Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik was famously opposed to unnecessary ceremony and symbols. One year he spoke before the gathered members of Mizrachi Religious Zionists (as related in נפש הרב, pg. 99-100) on the topic of the flag of Israel. At first glance, a flag has no place in halacha and no real significance in Jewish life. It seems, however, that there is indeed a halacha in Yoreh Deah that relates to the importance of the flag. We know from the g’mara in Moed Katan that the sages instituted that everyone should be buried in similar plain shrouds. What is the one exception to this? If a Jew is found killed, he should be buried in his bloody clothes as evidence of his violent death. In Heaven they should see this, and this should awaken heavenly justice against the killers, and heavenly mercy on the deceased and his community.

So too, the flag of Israel. At the end of the War of Independence, it was determined that whatever territory was in Jewish hands at the time of cease-fire would be recognized by the UN as part of the new Jewish state. Whatever was in Arab hands, would remain outside the state. So much blood was spilled, so many Jewish soldiers fell figuratively and literally placing a Jewish flag on the soil of the Land of Israel. Therefore, said Rav Soloveitchik, the flag of the State of Israel has a similar importance to the bloody clothes of the murdered Jews. When that flag waves, it should awaken heavenly mercy on all of the people of Israel.

In The Rav Speaks, on page 139, this idea appears: “How much more is this so of the blue and white flag, which has been immersed in the blood of thousands of young Jews who fell in the War of Independence defending the country and the population (religious and irreligious alike; the enemy did not differentiate between them). It has a spark of sanctity that flows from devotion and self-sacrifice. We are all enjoined to honor the flag and treat it with respect.”

There is a story told of Rav Shlomo Zalman Aeurbach, that appears in the frontispiece of Rav Rimon’s הלכה ממקורה: צבא. Once a student from Yeshivat Kol Torah approached Rav Shlomo Zalman Aeurbach zt”l and asked him, ‘may I interrupt my studies (of Torah) to travel to prayer at the graves of the righteous/tzadikim?’ Rav Shlomo Zalman answered him, ‘it is preferable to remain in the yeshiva and learn (Torah).’ The student asked, ‘is there no place for going at times to the graves of the righteous to pray? Does the rav not go at times to pray at the graves of the tzadikim?’ Rav Shlomo Zalman answered him, ‘in order to pray at the graves of tzadikim there is no need to travel to the Gallilee. When I feel a need to pray at the graves of the righteous, I go to Mount Herzl(Israel’s national military cemetery in Jerusalem), to the graves of the soldiers who died for the sake of God.’

May Hashem open our minds and our hearts to appreciate the great gift he has given us in Israel; to appreciate deeply the manner and cost by which it comes. We did not receive the State on a silver platter. Pray that by the merit of Danny Haas and all the men and women with him in their special place before the heavenly court, we should be privileged to see the ultimate redemption of Israel and the world complete. By their merit.

First Published May 10, 2011

9 comments on “Yom Hazikaron

  1. my remarks were alas not in jest.
    i dont think one can be a haredi jew [ands let’s be clear that probably >90% of kiruv is haredi] in good standing , and hold by any tenets of zionism. haredi jews [other than a few crazies] will do nothing to harm the interests of the Jews living in the State, but it is central dogma that there is no such halachic legitimacy to an entity called a ‘secular Jewish’ state—it makes no sense, should not exist, can’t be explained in haredi theology , but it’s downfall would kill jews , therefore one must try and protect jewish lives, while remained apart from the state and its halachically illegitimate enterprises

  2. L’zecher: דניאל (דני) האז. בן שושנה ומאיר. “Daniel (Dani) Haas. Son of Shoshanah and Meir. May his soul be bound in the bond of life.”

    Reb Mordechai: Yiyasher Kochacha !Your posted words are devarim min h’lev. This day was always difficult for me as Danny was also my friend.While visiting the promenade tears would roll down my cheeks. If only I had been granted more time with him…

    Our friendship was from before his Aliyah days when he lived on 179th Street in Washington Heights NY. I knew him well for a couple of years.We often joked about the similarity of our last names: Haas and Hess. Danny was actively committed to Ahavat Yisrael and to the defense of Am Yisrael in ways few can imagine today.While in the USA, he was inspired by Jewish leaders especially Rabbi Meir Kahane z”tl H”yd, who we both admired. Danny was a lovable person. Those who knew him were touched by his deep emotions especially his warm smile. He was mekabel et kol adam b’sever panim yafot. Danny regarded Kal Adam, the whole person, when he spoke with you so he was dan l’kaf zechut, judging you with merit.He was skilled in many areas and his hands were gifted. Since we both enjoyed riflery, perhaps I had the zechut to “serve” with him first. While I knew he made Aliyah and was in the Tzava I hadn’t heard from him. Cells and internet were not used much in those days so I inquired about him when seeing common friends. I would only add to your noble words that he was a “Proud” Jew, who, I know risked his life outside of Israel, before entering Nachal! Danny:I will always miss you and remain dedicated to the philosophy we believed in.Your will was great and I draw strength from you.

    To Reb Mordechai and others who knew him and served with him, I share your pain and bear fond memories of Daniel.

    Chazak Ubaruch

    Yehuda Hess

    All comments welcome: Magenami@aol.com

  3. I take aloeste’s comment to be tongue in cheek.

    Indeed, there are many of us who understand t’shuvah to *require* our return to the Land of Israel and our active, positive involvement in the society developing there. T’shuvah has many complementary connotations. The return to the Land of Israel and the reestablishment of a national identity is also an irreplaceable part of t’shuvah.

    Of course, my bias is already clear from the original post. ;-)

  4. Can’t we BT’s become Religious Zionists, or Dati-Leumi, or “Chardal” or whatever term they use nowadays to describe an Orthodox Jew who loves both the Torah and Eretz Yisroel? Look at all of those fine young men in the Hesder yeshivot, learning Torah but getting ready to serve in Tzahal.

  5. i am not sure , but i think one can’t be a completed BT jew, especially the majority haredi version, until one has shed all zionist influence, including these aharedic commemorations….

  6. Beautiful and thank you. Unfortunately, one cannot get the true sense of Yom Hazikaron unless they live here in Israel or, like Rabbi Scher, have a direct connection to someone who perished.

    Our city of Bet Shemesh, like many cities in Israel, ran a community-wide program the night of Yom Hazikaron. It began with the nationwide siren,the emotional power of which rivals the shofar, especially in this setting, surrounded by a thousand people standing in complete silence and feeling a sense of shared sorrow.

    After a couple of short speeches, they displayed, one at a time, pictures and date of birth/death of every resident of the city who died in service or in a terror attack, while reading their names and which war/attack they died in. A flame was lit, a Chazan chanted the Kel Maleh, and Kaddish was said.

  7. You’ve probably read the book, A Tzaddik In Our Time, by Simcha Raz, about the life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, zatzal.

    In one incident, Rav Aryeh Levin went to be nichum aveilim a young widow whose soldier husband had been killed in battle. However, he found himself overcome with weeping, thinking of this tragedy, and could not bring himself to go inside. The young woman heard the noise and went outside to see what was happening. When she saw Rabbi Levin crying, she said gently, “Reb Aryeh, if it was decreed in Heaven for me to be a widow and my children to be orphans, isn’t it a zechus to know that my husband died fighting for Jerusalem?” Rabbi Levin wiped away his tears and later retold this story, saying, “I meant to console her, but instead she consoled me.”

  8. I remember years ago reading an English translation of that poem in the now-defunct Israel Magazine. It still sticks in the mind, in fragments, a powerful image. There is one part in the poem where the narrator meets two young dying soldiers, one male and one female, who tell him before they die: “We are the silver platter. On which the Jewish State is handed you.”

    I was just reading about Miriam Peretz, who lost two brave sons who died while fighting in the Golani Brigade, Uriel and Eliraz Peretz, their memories should be blessed. Mrs. Perets has two more sons in Tzahal who are fighting in the Golani Brigade. Her two daughters are both married to soldiers in the Golani Brigade. Eliraz left behind a widow and four children, and Miriam Peretz is determined to live on to be able to tell her grandchildren about the courage of their father and uncle who died for the State of Israel.

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