Sunday, September 22nd | 23 Elul 5779

May 1, 2017 3:29 pm

Rivers of Tears for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers

avatar by Shmuley Boteach


Graves of fallen IDF soldiers at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. Photo: IDF via Wikimedia Commons.

I did not cry upon my third visit to Auschwitz last week. My daughters did, but I didn’t. I can’t quite explain why. Perhaps it was because I cannot wrap my head around the magnitude of the tragedy of the Holocaust. Perhaps because one million Jews dying in a death camp is an impersonal statistic. Perhaps because the crematoria are rubble, destroyed by the Nazis to hide their crimes. Or perhaps, ironically, because I felt guilty at feeling inspired by the March of the Living, in which I participated. Ten thousand young Jews joining senior IDF officers at Auschwitz was incredibly uplifting. But I did not feel that I had a right to feel uplifted in a place of such horror.

Regardless, I did not cry at the most horrible place on earth.

But last night, in my hometown of Miami where I was raised, I cried bitterly as I attended a ceremony for Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, mourning Israel’s fallen soldiers. I unexpectedly found my face wet with tears. At one point I worried about sobbing too loudly for fear of embarrassing myself in front of the people around me.

And yet, the numbers of soldiers lost in all of Israel’s wars over 70 years — about 24,000 — is not even three days work at Auschwitz where 10,000 Jews were gassed and incinerated every day.

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So why did Israel’s Memorial Day touch me so much more deeply? No doubt part of the reason was seeing the individual stories told with faces and grieving families.

But there is a deeper reason.

In surveying the slaughter of the Holocaust, one accepts a terrible narrative that the Jews were a stateless and defenseless people at the mercy and whim of others. When the Germans turned against them in their monstrous fury, they had no one to protect them.

Fast forward to the March of the Living, which this year featured an incredibly eloquent address on the part of Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, Israel’s chief of staff, explaining that the IDF would never allow that to happen again. The Jewish people today have a country and they have an army to protect them. They will never again allow anyone to harm them. If the Germans were to attempt a genocide of the Jews today, they might possibly be nuked.

That is the principle theme of the March of the Living. We remember the past, we mourn the martyrs. But we do so amidst the overall understanding that with Israel in existence today we can fight back and prevent another Holocaust.

But then, along comes Israel’s Memorial Day. And what do you see? My God, my God. Jews are still dying. Even today Jews are marked for murder by terrorists. Even today Jews must push back against annihilatory enemies who have invaded Israel time and again to push the Jews and drown them in the sea.

I tried to explain this to my friend of 25 years Senator Cory Booker when he voted for the Iran nuclear deal. I tried to explain that Iran is clear about its intention to destroy Israel and the only reason it has not done so is it lacks the capacity, which is why voting to give it 6,500 centrifuges — in the belief that it will use them for peaceful purposes — was an abomination.

Seriously? Seven decades after the Holocaust Jews are still dying? You mean, even when we have a state, even when we have an army, parents are still burying their children? Just one week after Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — we have Yom HaZikaron, where we cry and mourn all over again?

Do we Jews ever stop mourning? Do we ever stop crying? It reaches the point where it becomes obscene.

And yes, I understand. It’s different now. We’re fighting back. We’re resisting. We’re bringing the battle to our enemies. We’re inflicting pain upon those who would blow up our buses and rain rockets on our cities. And yet, there are so many Jews who are still being attacked, so many who are still dying.

As I said to my friend sitting next to me at the Yom HaZikaron service, which nation has to live like this? Who has to put up with this garbage?

Yes, I know other nations mourn their fallen soldiers, too. I’m an American and my heart bleeds for the brave soldiers of the US military who die in foreign wars to bring freedom to oppressed peoples around the globe. But unlike the Jews, other nations are not faced with possible annihilation and extinction every day of their existence.

So I started to cry. The narrative that I had heard at Auschwitz on the March of the Living was not entirely accurate. Young Jews are still being marked for murder. This time around the numbers are fewer. And we get to have graves and headstones, rather than being turned into piles of anonymous ash.

But for God’s sake, what is the world’s problem with the Jews that our young people have to dedicate three years of their lives in the prime of their youth to mandatory military service to ensure that their country is not subject to another genocide?

I have two children who have already served in the IDF. I could not be prouder of their service. God was kind to us. Our children entered safely and exited safely.

But for all those families who were not as fortunate, today is a bitter, bitter day.

I am thankful to God for Israel. I am thankful to all the brave soldiers who protect the Jewish state and allow it to flourish.

But I remain flummoxed to my core at the necessity of the Jews to live by arms, when all we wished was to bring light to a world that learned the value of peace from our ancient prophets who preached human harmony in town squares when the glory of battle was championed as humanity’s highest calling.

Perhaps the world should finally get over its problem with the Jews and allow us not only to live in peace, but to also influence the rest of the world to embrace the blessings of peace.

I still believe that that day will come.

Ani maamin be’emunah shleimah b’vias haMoshiach. I believe with a perfect faith that the Messiah will one day usher in a period of everlasting peace.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 31 books, including his most recent “The Israel Warrior.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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