Yom Hazikaron

April 25, 2012

Having arrived in Israel two days before Yom Kippur, I am still getting used to the high days and holidays Israeli style.

I can’t get used to the fact that the “weekend” is Friday and Shabbat. I used to arrive at my Ulpan on Sunday morning at 8.15am quite resentful!

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah combined was a challenge but this recent Pesach was easier as the 7th day was Friday followed by Shabbat on which everybody still ate matza so it was like the 2 days that we were used to in England. I felt that it made our transition easier.

Today, as I write, is Yom Hazikaron. Memorial day for all those who fell in the various wars that Israel has fought since 1948 as well as victims of terror. I must admit, that apart from a quick Memorial prayer in Shacharit, one hardly felt it in the UK.

We ( and now I write as an Israeli) have made over 23,000 sacrifices since 1948 and therefore there is hardly a person who isn’t affected in some way.

As the alarm sounded yesterday evening I asked my wife if she had lost anybody in the various wars and to my surprise she said that she had lost a cousin, friends and a teacher! I think it was the fact that she had lost a teacher that hit it home to me. Since 1945, nobody in England has lost a teacher in a war.

Everybody from the Prime Minister, who lost his wonderful brother Yoni in the Entebbe rescue, down is personally affected.

The secular Jews take the two minutes silence very, very seriously. Of course they do. They don’t have much else. And if anybody moves, especially a charedi, they take it as a desecration of the dead!

I have no problem with standing silent for two minutes and do so “religiously”. I also do not agree that it is chukkat hagoy – copying a non-Jewish custom any more than wearing a tie.

Many ultra-orthodox chose to learn mishnayot or say tehillim (psalms) during those two minutes for the elevation of the souls of the departed and this should be understood and appreciated by the secular.

This year in Petach Tikva they have organised a 24hr learning mishnayot marathon for the fallen soldiers. Each pair learns for 30 minutes. What a wonderful initiative. Let’s hope it catches on. You have to admit that that is much more than two minutes.

This is our tradition. But again, there is a double standard at work. The secular say that ” we keep Shabbat in our own way!”
But if the chareidim want to keep the custom of the two minutes silence in their own way – that is not allowed.

It has been known for the secular press to send journalists and cameramen to religious areas to capture the religious not keeping the two minutes silence. Of course it is ok for the journalists and cameramen to carry on their holy work then in order to cause more senseless hatred.

But they have many gods and one world, whereas we have One God and two worlds.

Again, I emphasise that I believe that everyone should stand still and silent out of respect. In fact as a devotee of the Mussar movement, I think that we should spend two minutes ( or more) a day thanking God we are alive, and making an account of the day. Why are we here? What are we doing? What do we hope to achieve? Are we doing any good in the world?

Actually I found that the two minutes silence had a good affect. It actually unified us for a short time. There was no tv. No radio. No telephones. No car horns! No traffic. No lashon hara. No gossip. No cursing. No arguing. It could be a moment of sanctity and a kiddush Hashem. Men, women and children of all shades of religion and opinion, standing together realising that we are all members of the convenetal people with the same history and the same fate. Or so I would like to think.

After Aharon’s two sons died, he was silent. The Talmud tells us that when Rabbi Akiva was taken out to be martyred, the angels asked the Almighty: This is the Torah and this is it’s reward?! And the Almighty told them: Be silent!

So we see that silence in tragedy can be the best reaction and can say much more than words.

May the merit of our fallen brothers and sisters protect us and all Israel until the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Kol tuv

Rabbi Meir Wise

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