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July 10, 2012 1:55 pm

Meeting a Hero: An Unexpected Lunch with Israel’s Aharon Karov

avatar by Pinchas Allouche

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Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo: wiki commons.

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Meeting a Hero

It was not a necessary part of Congregation Beth Tefillah’s busy itinerary in Israel. It was not even a noble errand. But the craving for a scrumptious lunch led our group into a highlighted moment, never to be forgotten.

In the midst of a hungry crowd in Gush Etzion, seeking to satisfy our hunger with an Israeli-style lunch, we suddenly noticed, Aharon Karov, one of Israel’s most courageous heroes.

In 2010, Platoon commander 2nd Lt. Aharon Karov, then 22, was ordered to cut his leave short and report for duty in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead on the morning after his wedding to Tzvia, his 19 year old bride. What made him so famous was that three days after his wedding, he entered a booby-trapped house in Gaza, where he nearly died from the unexpected explosion.

He was flown to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tivkah, where he underwent six operations on his head and chest in the course of 12 hours. All of Israel watched as Aharon made a dramatic recovery, regaining consciousness within days despite very severe injuries.

Seeing him here, two years later, having lunch at the same spot as our group seemed so extraordinary. What would you do under those circumstances? Scream? Jump? Shy away? But we were actually able to talk with Aharon.  We cried with him, laughed with him, celebrated with him. He showed us his bodily wounds but all we saw was the beauty of his soul.

It would be politically-correct to describe that encounter as a spiritual one. But it seems to me it was more than that. It was, in our minds and in our souls, an encounter with G-d. A vivid G-d deep within the fabrics of our being.

Ordinary Turning Extraordinary

The ordinariness of it all was transfixing. We were everyday tourists, looking for appetizing dishes. Aharon was looking for a quiet spot, far from attention. But out of that emerged something, well, beautiful. The unbreakable unity of our nation, the magical fusion of Jewish souls coming together as one, was palpable. G-d’s presence sometimes arrives unannounced, in places where we expect it the least.

Perhaps, this encounter best summarizes our Congregation Beth Tefillah’s first-ever Israel trip. We traveled from North to South, from East to West, in the footsteps of our ancestors. We sampled some of Israel’s finest wines, and dined on fresh fish from the Mediterranean, overlooking the Galilee Sea. We dipped into the saintly Mikvah, ritual bath, of the Arizal in the city of Tzfat, swam in King David’s Ein Gedi natural spring, and floated on the salty waters of the Dead Sea. We rode on a camel’s back in the Judean Desert, and witnessed soldiers riding on armored tanks in the Golan Heights. We explored Israel’s most advanced innovations, and studied with world-renowned scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. We sang during the Shabbat meals and services, danced at our friend David Perlow’s wedding, and brought song and joy to IDF soldiers in Chevron. We prayed at the grave sites of the righteous and beseeched G-d at the Western Wall and in the underground tunnels along the ruins of our Jerusalem Temple.

Yet it was the people themselves, our brothers and sisters across the land, who shone as the brightest light. For some reason, they all looked familiar, as if we had known each of them for countless years. We could almost hear them whisper: “We think we know you. Can we be of any help?”

Their piercing eyes were unlocked, focused and determined to find a common bond. It is as if they were on a mission to complete the puzzle of the Nation of Israel by attempting to rebind all of its souls together, one piece at a time, one soul at a time.

“Jews move to different countries, adopt different accents, ways of life, ways of behavior,” my mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once shared with me. “Nevertheless we somehow find ourselves at ease with each other, comfortable within our own family. We feel a certain amount of safety in being together and we find it easier to make connections. Do you know why? Because, in essence, our nation is really one big family.”

Our ordinary lunch with the extraordinary Aharon Karov was an exceptional family moment. Beneath the external surface, we witnessed the unshakable interconnectedness of our souls.  And it empowered us with a renewed sense of responsibility toward one another, for one another, with one another.

Seeing the Fire Beneath

A famed Chassidic Master was once found playing a peculiar game with his older brother, at the tender age of five.  The older brother acted the role of Rabbi and the Chassiddic-Master-to-be acted as his disciple. The game they played included a fascinating exchange between the pretend Rabbi and disciple. “Rabbi, what is a Jew?” the ‘disciple’ asked. “A Jew is fire,” the ‘rabbi’ replied. “So why am I not burned when I touch you?” he persisted. “That is because fire does not burn fire,” the ‘rabbi’ wisely replied.

Every day we have smaller, calmer chances to impact someone’s life, to serve, to comfort, to listen, to smile. How often do we simply not notice what is in front of us? How often do we not see the fiery souls of our friends and acquaintances, yearning for support and guidance? How often do we proclaim that the barriers of our world are beyond our capacity to overcome? How often do we say that there is no one in front of our eyes whom we can attend to and help?

Keep the Light Shining

There’s a line in a song by Leonard Cohen that has forever stayed with me. It inspired me in some bleak moments in my life, when I thought, as we all sometimes do, that I couldn’t see how goodness could spring forth. “Forget your perfect offering,” Cohen suggests. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Let us ensure that our inner light, the fire of our soul, never ceases to shine upon us and upon our surroundings. The cracks of life will then undoubtedly melt away.

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