I write to you from the holy city of Jerusalem. It’s still hard to believe I’m here after three years of attempting to travel here a number of times over the past three years.
As I wrote in a previous column addressing this saga, the silver lining is that we no longer — at least for the time being — take coming to Israel for granted. The preciousness of every moment spent here and every step taken along its well-smoothed stones is appreciated far more because of the difficulty of getting here.
This trip has also been a sobering reminder of how Israel is a land of contradictions.
Being here at this time brings about mixed emotions. We were present for the sirens on Yom HaZikaron, when all of Israel stops in its tracks momentarily to remember the holy martyrs of the IDF who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave up their lives “al Kiddush Hashem,” in sanctification of G-d’s name, to protect the inhabitants of Israel. At the same time, I was appalled to read that leftist organizations were organizing a remembrance ceremony for the terrorists killed by IDF soldiers, drawing a moral equivalency between murdered soldiers and terrorists killed in defense of the county. The organizers cited the “cycle of violence” and claimed that these terrorists were simply, and fairly, fighting for their “freedom.” This “event” was even attended by leftist members of the Knesset!
Then was Yom HaAtzmaut, the celebration of 74 years of Israeli independence, a time of joy for the entire country. It culminated with the senseless slaughter, by ax and knives, of three fathers in their 40s, leaving behind 16 orphans. On one hand, independence; on the other, a reminder that even in our own land we are yet far from being free.
Despite its many contradictions, this is our land, the place of our dreams for thousands of years, our national homeland which we love and cherish for all time.
As I was riding with my wife in a taxi on Yom HaZikaron, the driver, who appeared to be secular, mentioned the day we remember the soldiers who gave up their lives. I told him I had a story for him about this from my rabbi. He asked me who my rabbi was, and I told him it was the renowned sage Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ob”m. He exclaimed, “Rav Aurbach! I drove him for 32 years! He loved me! He always told me I’m street-smart!” He then went on to list the names of several prominent sages of the last generation he used to drive.
The short story I told him, which speaks volumes, was the following: A student of Rav Aurbach approached him to ask permission to leave the yeshiva for a day. Someone in his family was very sick and he wanted to travel to Safed to pray at the graves of the holy righteous ones buried there to beseech G-d for a speedy recovery in the merit of those righteous Jews. Rav Aurbach replied, “Why do you need to travel so far? Just around the corner from the yeshiva is the burial ground for the soldiers killed in action. If you want to pray at the graves of holy righteous Jews, you can go there!”
Needless to say, the driver was very touched by this story.
Where else but in Israel do you have that kind of conversation with the taxi driver?! Only in Israel!
May we all merit to be here soon for good!
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.