During this period, beginning with Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, this week Remembrance Day for the valiant fallen soldiers in the IDF and victims of terror in Israel, followed by the day that celebrates Israel’s independence, I have been doing a lot of thinking.
I recently read “The Prime Ministers,” a fascinating book showing the heretofore hidden inside story of the lives, challenges and successes of four Israeli prime ministers during the most explosive of times in Israel’s history. I have also been, recently, absorbed in a number of Holocaust accounts, such as “Night” by Elie Wiesel and “Faith Amid the Flames” by Yosef Friedenson, both survivors of the worst horrors.
Reading these books, especially during these unique times that we are living through, coupled by the season we are in, has been very emotional.
The overarching feeling that I am overcome by is deep pride and humility to be part of a nation which has produced so many heroes of spirit. I often shed tears when reading about the incredible dedication, against all the odds, for Jews of every stripe and background to have given up their lives to help others, save the lives of their fellow Jews, and, for many, to heroically continue their observance despite the danger to their lives.
Friedenson describes succinctly the incredible levels of chesed, loving kindness, that were carried out in the Warsaw Ghetto. The greatest Hassidic Rebbes, all who were incarcerated in those subhuman conditions, didn’t consider it beneath themselves to scrounge for food for hungry Jewish children and constantly looked to provide every and any need to any and all Jews. The stories abound, from Warsaw to Auschwitz and everything in between. The Jews who somehow hid their tefillin and laid them daily with the danger of immediate death if caught. Baking matzos for Pesach in Auschwitz and, somehow, joyously celebrating the holiday and telling the Seder story while being slaves of the Nazis.
Fast-forward and we hear numerous stories of bravery in the Israeli army, such as, not once and not twice, a soldier in battle falling on a grenade to take its blow in order to save his or her compatriots. We hear of the bravery of these young Jewish boys and girls who constantly put their lives at stake to guard dangerous borders, enter hotbeds of hatred in the territories, all to defend the Jewish people at home. It brought tears to my eyes to see a recent video, during this coronavirus pandemic, of some hundred soldiers from a religious hesder program, all in uniform and yarmulkes, putting together food packages to deliver to elderly Holocaust survivors, all singing together the song of “Ani Maamin,” the classical song of belief in the eventual redemption of Messiah; even though he may tarry, we believe with a perfect belief that he will come.
May the loss of the countless holy Jews of Europe together with the precious souls of our lost soldiers and victims of terror be a merit to truly ensure a glorious future for Israel and the Jewish people. May their lives and deaths be a merit for us all to celebrate the coming of Messiah — as that beautiful and haunting song that was sung in Auschwitz and till today in the Israeli army and throughout the Jewish people, speedily in our days.