I am not a stranger to sorrow. I have officiated at hundreds of funerals and visited thousands of Shiva houses. But yesterday as I left the home of Effi and Naama Rahav, parents of slain soldier Bar Rahav, I cried. I cried for Bar who had his whole life before him. I cried for his parents whose lives will never be the same. I cried for his two younger brothers and sister who will follow in their brother’s footsteps, willingly serving the land and the people of Israel. And I cried for the all of us because we have been denied such a simple and elusive thing – peace.
Bar Rahav grew up in Ramat Yishai, a small community in the northern part of Israel. Were it not for Bar’s death while serving in Gaza this past Sunday, I would not have had any reason to visit this lovely little community. Bar’s family belongs to one of our Masorti synagogues, Congregation Sukkat Shalom. He was an accomplished athlete and a good student. He has two younger brothers and a younger sister. Ha’aretz devoted two paragraphs to Bar the day after his death:
Second Lieutenant Bar Rahav, 21, of Ramat Yishai, was killed on Saturday afternoon when he was struck by an anti-tank rocket fired at a Puma APC near the refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Mortally wounded, he was evacuated from the battlefield, but died of his wounds. Rahav is survived by his parents, Effi and Na’ama, and three siblings: his brothers Nir, 18, and Rotem, 11, and his sister Ron, 14.
A recent graduate of the officers’ course, Rahav was to have begun supplementary army studies. His uncle, Moran Binyamin, said that Rahav played water polo for Hapoel Kiryat Tivon. “Although he could have been an outstanding athlete, he chose combat service in the army,” he said. “We spoke on Thursday, and he said he was in good spirits. I was worried about him and asked whether he was protected, and he said he was all right. Then I realized that he had gone in. I was afraid for him because he always did whatever was required. I prayed that loss would not come to us. He was an amazing brother — a wonderful example for his siblings.”
What else is there to say? Bar was a soldier and soldiers risk their lives. As Effie stood talking to us with his eleven year old son standing in front of him, hands on his shoulders. I was overwhelmed. Like his brother, Rotem will eventually go off to serve his country. Nir, eighteen
years old, will soon be serving the State of Israel as will Ron. At that moment my own life seemed small and inconsequential. I don’t want to glorify war or romanticize what these boys (and girls) and thousands like them are doing. It sucks. Every father and mother in the land of Israel is an Abraham or a Sarah, leading their offspring up the mountain where they might become an olah, an offering. I cried for all the boys and girls who have to do what they have to do – who have to kill, who have to take orders, and who might never see peace in their life time.
On a small table near entrance to the house stood a small table containing a Shiva candle, a birthday card, candles that were shaped as 21 (his next birthday) and a notebook so that friends and family could write letters to Bar. There was a picture of Bar in military uniform and beret with a boyish grin on his face. It was an altar of sorts. I couldn’t help but think of Natan Alterman’s powerful poem, The Silver Platter. I often read this poem to my congregation on Yom Ha Zikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Memorial Day in this country is not about barbeques and parades but true mourning because there is virtually no one who hasn’t lost someone to terror or war.
And the land grows still, the red eye of the
sky slowly dimming over smoking frontiers
As the nation arises, Torn at heart but breathing,
To receive its miracle, the only miracle
As the ceremony draws near,
it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass
and slowly march toward the nation
Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy with grime,
they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time.
Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth. Is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement will ask: "Who are you?"
And they will answer quietly,
"We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given."
Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel.
The house was filled with people coming and going, people who have made such Shiva calls far too many times. There were piles of cake and cookies and other food on the table – more than the family will ever be able to eat. Outside on the patio sat a group of young people – no doubt Bar’s friends – quietly talking. In their eyes I could see that they have experienced far too much in their brief lifetimes. There was a look of knowing that made me shiver.
As I sat on the bus waiting to leave Ramat Yeshai, I jotted down this poem:
A Parent’s Lament
In memory of Bar Rahav who fell in Protective Edge
Parents live with the illusion
Of immortality, believing
Their children will carry on
Saying Kaddish for them.
Here, in the land of our ancestors
Parents know better
Raising their child, knowing
They can’t protect them
From the heat of battle
Or the roar of the sirens.
But that is not the end of the story. From Ramat Yishai we traveled to Park HaYarden where we visited Mahaneh Ramah - Noam , a special two week camp program offered for members of Noam, our Israel youth program. In addition to camping and outdoor skills the children learn about Judaism in this two week program. The children were in the midst of what we might call “Color War,” and the camp was filled with exuberance. The kids had painted themselves various colors based on their team color and they were roaring their team songs. But we knew the war was not far from these children. Originally the camp was supposed to be in the South near Ben Shemen, but was moved to the north to get out of rocket range. And virtually every child and staff member had someone in Gaza. They worried but they carried on. Our hosts introduced us to some of the counselors, including Adam Fellman, the younger brother of our own Ari Fellman. He was Bar’s commanding officer during basic training. The effects of the war ripple out in concentric service so that everyone is affected in some one, sometimes in more immediate ways and sometimes in more distant ways.
And so the war continues. There is talk about a cease fire, but no one knows what tomorrow may hold for Israel or for the Gazans. And if there is a cease fire, what will it mean for Israel? I am not sure Israel can afford a cease fire but I am not sure that Israel can afford to keep fighting either. Jerusalem is filled with life today: there is an arts fair going on down town, the
stores are filled with natives and tourists and there is the usual craziness that comes with Erev Shabbat in Israel. But there is a war going on (there is no other term for it) that won’t end even if there is a cease fire.
Tonight and tomorrow in synagogues I have no doubt there will silent and public prayers for peace.