This is a sad week in the Israeli calendar. This is a happy week in the Israeli calendar. Yom HaZikaron. Yom HaAtzmaut. Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers. Israeli Independence Day. The contrast of emotions related to these two days is enormous, but they are observed back-to-back, emphasizing the connection between the sacrifice of the fallen and the establishment of the State of Israel.
While the events of Yom HaZikaron officially open at 8 p.m. with a one-minute siren heard nationwide, on the days leading up to Yom HaZikaron, stories about those who died during army service or in terror attacks are broadcast on the air and publicized throughout the country.
This year, Neta Lavie, the widow of Nechemia Lavie, who was killed in a terror attack, came to speak to a group of teachers in a girls’ elementary school in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She talked about the early days of their marriage, when she and Nechemia had wanted to live in the Muslim Quarter of Yerushalayim. As there were no apartments available, they moved to an apartment in Kiryat Moshe, two doors away from his parents. Two years later, when Neta was pregnant with their second child, they received two phone calls on the same day. One was from her parents, telling them that they were moving and that the Lavies could move into their apartment. The other call was to tell them that a one-room apartment had become available in the Muslim Quarter. The Lavies were in a dilemma. They ended up moving into the Muslim quarter. The Lavies were able to redeem the rest of the apartment just prior to the birth of their seventh child. Many joined the celebration of the k’vias mezuzah with much singing and dancing.
Nechemia greatly admired the Gra and quoted him often. The Gra understood the significance of making aliyah and even set out to do so himself. Although he himself did not make it to Israel, in the early 1800s, a large group of his students made aliyah and established the Perushim community. They laid out the infrastructure for the Shivas Tzion (return to Tzion) that would follow later on. Talmidei HaGra and their descendants had a great influence on the Israeli settlement. For example, Birkas Kohanim is recited every day in Israel in accordance with the opinion of the Gra.
Seven years ago, on Shabbos Chol HaMoed, Erev Hoshana Rabbah, the Lavie family was sitting on the roof of their home. The children were playing in a playground that had been built there, since it wasn’t safe for the children to leave the courtyard. Their sukkah stood in between the playground equipment. Nechemia gave a d’var Torah and quoted the Gra, stating that there are two mitzvos that we do with our whole body: the mitzvah of sukkah and the mitzvah of living in Israel. He went on to talk about m’siras nefesh, self-sacrifice. Little did he know that he was about to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Just at that time, Aharon Benet was walking past the Lion’s Gate on the way to the Kosel with his wife and two children when they were attacked by a knife-wielding terrorist. The father was killed, and the mother screamed. When Nechemia left, Neta had thought that he went to daven Maariv, but really, he went to help the woman. This was the first time Nechemia had left home without saying goodbye.
After a while, Neta was wondering where Nechemia was and went down to look. She then saw her husband struggling with an Arab. She called Nechemia’s name, and he appeared to gain strength, but then she saw his hand go limp. He had played a role in redeeming the Muslim Quarter and then tragically died in front of their house trying to save another Jew. Neta was left a young widow with seven children.
After the terror attack, Neta moved with her children to Beit El. She was once asked to speak for a group and did not know what to say. In the middle of the night, while she was sleeping, she thought of something she could say. She drowsily looked for a pen and paper and wrote it down. In the morning, she found the paper she had barely remembered writing on. But when she read it, she was shocked to see what was written. It was as though Nechemia had sent her a message. The note read that there is so much pain in the world. For those of us who are alive, it’s as though we are looking through a tiny peephole and we only see pain and suffering. But from his perspective, he sees the broader picture. He sees all the good that is leading to shleimus (completeness). Neta felt that this is what Nechemia would have said, and she felt much chizuk from his words. She believes that the G’ulah is imminent.
On Yom HaZikaron, we give a collective hug to the families who have lost members in wars and to terror. This is not only in Israel but all over the world. The Rav of Ukraine made a Keil Malei Rachamim at a Yom HaZikaron ceremony at the Israeli embassy in Kyiv. In coordination with the government of Uganda, Rav Moshe Raskin, the Chabad shliach to Uganda, led a ceremony in memory of Yonatan Netanyahu, the brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was killed in the raid on Entebbe, a mission sent to rescue Jews who were taken hostage by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1976. Many gathered at the k’varim of the Yaniv brothers to celebrate the bar mitzvah of their younger brother. The names of the fallen were displayed on the wall around the Old City.
As we move ahead to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, we are grateful to those who gave their lives for the sake of our land. They will never be forgotten.