Tag Archives: victims of terror

Remembering 23,447: Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron ceremony of Noam School.May 10 2016.
Yom Hazikaron ceremony of Noam School.

The white-haired man walking in front of me put down his briefcase and stood at attention. The soldier at the bus stop across the street removed his overstuffed backpack and stood with his hands in his pockets, staring towards the sky. One of the clerks came out of the health food store and walked to the curb, where he stood saying quietly saying Psalms. Two people who had just entered their parked cars got out and stood next to the open car doors.

The siren blared.

The bus stopped a few feet past the bus stop it had just left. All the traffic stopped—nothing moved. Some drivers got out of their cars and stood in the middle of the street. The light rail halted between stations. At the military cemetery on Har Herzl, Allen reported, everyone stopped in their place; no one continued walking to the grave of their loved one.

On and on the siren blared, for two long minutes. The sound seemed to come from everywhere, enveloping us.

Each of us stood alone in our thoughts, yet united in sorrow.

It was Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror. This year we remember 23,447 dead soldiers and civilian victims of terror . In a country as small as Israel, each one of those who died is known. We know their stories. We know their grieving parents, wives, husbands, children. We remember meeting them on Shabbat or working with them. We remember seeing their names in the newspaper, and reacting, “Oh no!”

Although this is our fourth year here, it is the first time I witnessed everything come to a halt in a public space. In ulpan, the siren sounded during our break time. We stopped chatting, put down our containers of yogurt or bags of Bamba, and stood in silence. In a friend’s kitchen, we put our cups of tea on the counter and stood looking towards the Temple Mount. At home, I pushed my chair away from the computer to stand next to the desk by myself.

Standing on the sidewalk, in the company of strangers, and watching traffic stop carries the experience to a different level. Kanfei Nesharim, four lanes wide, is a busy street, used by eight bus routes. I’m used to seeing it empty of all traffic on Shabbat. The rare car can be heard many blocks away. But to see the usual weekday heavy traffic– all the cars, taxis, buses, motorcycles– come to a stop and sit there for two minutes impresses the gravity of the moment on the memory.

23,447. So many killed. Too many.

I thought of the ceremony I had attended the night before, in the Jerusalem forest south of the city. Noam school takes its fifth and sixth graders on a hike the day before Yom Hazikaron. They end at a monument to fallen soldiers where they hold memorial ceremony in the evening. The principal said in his opening remarks that every year the school goes to a different monument, one that is not visited often. This year the ceremony was held at the monument to the soldiers who died in Operation Lulav against Kfar Husan in September 1956. Kfar Husan, at the time on the Jordanian side of the armistice line, had been a base for the fedayeen who carried out terrorist attacks against Israel. Operation Lulav was triggered by a Jordanian attack on an archaeological conference at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, in which four archaeologists were killed and sixteen others wounded. During the action, the IDF destroyed the fedayeen headquarters, killing several of their leaders. Terrorist attacks in the area ceased. But nine members of the IDF were killed.

Most of the memorial ceremony was carried out by the sixth grade boys. They started by lighting flames, one flame in memory of each of Israel’s wars, plus one for victims of terror.

One of the speakers had been a member of the IDF squad which attacked Kfar Husan. He described the action. Six soldiers had been killed because they were too close to the building when it blew up; the fedayeen killed three soldiers. Their names are on the small monument near the clearing where the ceremony took place.

The school rabbi spoke about Shia, his best friend from childhood–how they grew up together, went to Yeshiva together, and were hevrutot (study partners). They enlisted into different units in the army. After the 1973 war, he discovered Shia had been killed. He talked about our duty to remember not to forget those who died.

The ceremony was timed so that the 8 PM memorial siren would be heard about halfway through. I noticed the principal checking his watch several times to make sure the siren would not interrupt any of the prayers or poems.

At exactly 8PM, the siren sounded. I was amazed at how loud it was out here in the middle of nowhere. We heard the sirens from both the city of Beitar to the south and from the town of Tsur Hadassah to the north. Everyone stood in absolute silence. No moved for a moment after the siren ended, until we heard the echoes of sirens from distant towns die away.

This is the second time I’ve attended a memorial ceremony held by the boys’ school. Both times, during the two minutes of silence, my mind drifts from thinking of those who gave their lives to protect the country to the boys in front of me. In a few years, they will all be in the army. I say a small prayer, asking G-d to protect them, and to protect us and the land of Israel.

May we know no more wars

Living with Terror

Sign in downtown Jerusalem "And the main thing is not to be afraid at all"
Sign in downtown Jerusalem “And the main thing is not to be afraid at all”

I was sitting near the back of the number 34 bus, returning home from class, when the policeman boarded. That would not have been unusual. Several policeman ride this bus to and from work every day. They usually carry their lunches in their hand. This officer was carrying a rifle. A big rifle. A “You do what I say and do it NOW!” rifle. He walked slowly to the back of the bus looking to his right and left. When he reached the back of the bus, he turned around and slowly walked to the front again checking us over.

The woman next to me turned her head and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders.

The bus did not move. It sat at the stop even though no one boarded or exited.

I shifted in my seat, trying to see what was happening. All I could see through the bus windshield was another policeman standing in the middle of the street. No traffic was moving past him in either direction.

And then another security person boarded the bus. This one was dressed all in black, from his hat to bullet proof vest to his boots. He too carried his rifle in the ready position in front of him, as if he expected one of us Thursday afternoon shoppers to attack him at any moment. He too walked the length of bus, looking at each of us as if our faces would betray what was really in our Herzog College and Bank Hapoalim shopping bags. After inspecting the whole bus, he descended through the back door.

And still we sat there, wondering. What was going on? Had there been another knife attack on a bus? Had an Arab run from the site of an attack carrying his weapon? Had the police received a report of a potential terrorist headed towards Jerusalem? How could we find out? Should I call home to ask if everyone was okay? Should I call home to tell them I am okay?

I wished I had remembered to top off my phone’s battery at breakfast. It didn’t have enough power left for me to check my usual news sources. Without The Muqata and the Jerusalem Post, I was in the dark, even though it was a bright sunny day.

A few minutes later, one of the policeman banged on a window of the bus. The driver closed the bus doors and continued on his way.

It seemed like everyone started breathing again at the same time.

My neighbor looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I shook my head. Who knows what that was about?

Security is out in full force. Police, border police, security guards,

Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem
Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem

soldiers—they are everywhere, usually in pairs or trios. They’re at light rail stations, bus stops, and busy intersections. They carry serious weapons. And they are all wearing bullet-proof vests

We overthink all our actions. Do I want to stand at a distance from the others, so I won’t be part of a targeted crowd? Or do I want to be with a group of people so I won’t look like an easy target and there will people around to help if, G-d forbid, something bad happens? Do I want to sit in the back of the bus, where I can see everyone in front of me? Or near the driver? Do I want to ride the light rail in a forward-facing seat, or on the side looking towards the door and aisle? Do I even want to go out of the apartment?

An ordinary Arab girl who set out that morning had first posted a message that she was going to become a martyr. Her parents saw the message and called the police, who searched all buses travelling from her direction. They found her at the entrance to the city, four blocks from my apartment. I go through that intersection daily. On this day, I traversed it an hour after the police had left.

I go past the Central Bus Station several times a week, often around the time a 70 year old woman was stabbed there. I took my granddaughter dress shopping on Malchei Yisrael street a few days before the terrorist attack there. I have been in the Beer Sheva bus station often enough to explain its layout to a friend when we were talking about Sunday’s terrorist attack there. She told me about her Sunday trip which took her to the Ra’anana bus station not too long before the terrorist attack there. Sara mentioned that the whole city of Givat Zeev was in lockdown Sunday night because a suspicious person had been seen by a security guard. When I asked her what she would tell her children the next morning, she replied, “Nothing. If they ask about the chairs piled against the back door, I’ll say that Ima is silly.”

Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem
Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem

We’re all affected by what is going on yet we seem to be finding ways of dealing with it. We leave earlier in the morning because Jerusalem’s holy traffic jams are worse than ever. People drive their children to school instead of letting them walk or take public transportation. Fewer people ride the buses and light rail. Pedestrian traffic downtown is lighter than usual, and stores are empty of customers. Although the weather is lovely, almost none of the tables outside restaurants are occupied. Last week the beggars and street musicians stayed home. On Monday most of them were back at their regular positions in downtown Jerusalem. I smiled when I heard music that night. The balalaika player had returned. His rectangular plastic box with the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sits on top of his amplifier. I gave him an extra shekel —I had missed his music which made waiting for the light rail less tedious..

Last week many after school programs were canceled—the teachers went on a one day strike because the security guards left at 1:30. Then the city found money in its special budget to pay for the needed guards in border areas. Other schools simply locked their gates and doors.

The stabbings and shootings have gone on long enough that people are starting to react in defiance. “If you stop living normally, the terrorists have won” is the general Israeli attitude. That’s why Sbarro’s Pizza quickly repaired and reopened the restaurant that sustained a deadly suicide bombing attack in 2001. That’s why building continues in Yehuda and Shomron. That’s why people go into the Old City of Jerusalem to pray or just to walk around. No Arab terrorist is going to control where we go or what we do. We just do it a little more alert, a little more watchful.

Solidarity and chizook are the big things. Chizook means strengthening or encouragement, and many are engaging on acts to strengthen others. A woman on the Kiryat Moshe/Givat Shaul electronic bulletin board is soliciting short pieces, a paragraph or two, of chizook and inspiration. She publishes two or three every day.

Groups of teenagers walk along well traveled streets, carrying Israeli flags and singing loudly, songs like “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People Israel Lives).

Someone started a shared public recitation of Psalms for the recovery of terror victims in Israel and as a merit to bring peace. They are trying to get 1000 readings of the whole book. By clicking on a link (http://tinyurl.com/pyrq27h) you get to a site that asks you to say the Psalm which is printed below the instructions. Although the instructions may be accessed in many languages, the Psalms themselves are in Hebrew. When I first went to the site on Monday they had completed 31 readings of the entire book; on Friday morning they were working on the 42nd reading. At that time, more than 2000 people had participated.

Graffiti and posters always reflect the times. Several walls now sport brightly painted slogans, such as Am Yisrael Chai. A large banner hanging on the metal barrier at a downtown construction site uses the second line of the song by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: V’ha’ikar lo l’fakhaid klal (The main thing thing is not to be afraid at all).

Meanwhile the attacks continue. I hate to open the newspaper in the morning, because at least one headline blares news about another person fighting for life after being stabbed, shot, or run down by a car. At this time, we see no end in sight. The terror will continue until Muslim clerics stop preaching that it is a religious duty of all Muslims to kill all Jews. The terror will continue until Arab politicians stop encouraging it.

I have read the statements Mahmoud Abbas has made to the foreign press that he is not in favor of terrorist acts. I also read translations of his Arabic speeches in which he praises terrorists and decries Jewish attempts to protect ourselves. His government continues to reward acts of terror by paying salaries to Arabs who are in Israeli jails for killing and injuring Jews. The more people they killed, the higher their salaries. Until Abbas and other politicians declare in Arabic, in public in their own countries, that acts of terror are wrong, I cannot believe they disapprove of killing Israelis. The day the Palestinian Authority stops paying huge salaries to people who kill Jews, I will start believing they really want to live alongside of us. The day Islamic clerics declare in their weekly sermons that Jews have a right to live in their ancient homeland, I will start believing they really want peace.

In the meantime, I live my life as best I can, watching my surroundings when I go out. I try not to jump to the conclusion that every siren is a terrorist attack, reminding myself that people are still having heart attacks, that traffic accidents and house fires still occur. But I say my daily prayers for peace with special emphasis.

A Third Intifada Starting?

Watching for terrorists: Police at light rail station on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem
Preventing terrorist attacks: Police at light rail station on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem

Even before we made aliyah, I had adopted the Israeli habit of counting sirens. In the US, hearing more than one or two emergency vehicle sirens headed in the same direction in a minute or two is relatively rare. I never got much beyond counting 3 sirens.

In Israel, however, there is a rule of thumb about hearing sirens. One siren from an emergency vehicle is a standard heart attack, two or three sirens means an ordinary traffic accident. More than three sirens in a minute or two means you should start reciting Psalms—there’s been a terrorist attack.

Tuesday morning, around 10 AM, in less than 15 minutes I heard eight sirens headed towards Shaare Tzedek and Hadassah hospitals. And then I stopped counting. But the vehicles with sirens blaring kept driving by.

In the southern part of Jerusalem, two Arabs on a number 78 bus attacked other passengers. One had a gun, the other was armed with a knife. Before they were stopped by the police, they had injured five people, killing Chaim Chaviv and Alon Govberg.

Around the same time, Alaa Abu Gamal ran down a small group of people in Geula, not far from where we live. After driving into them, he got out of his car, which had been supplied to him by the phone company where he worked, and started attacking the injured with a meat cleaver. He killed Rabbi Yishayahu Akiva Kirshevski before being subdued by passers by and then taken into police custody.

In Ra’anana the same day, two Arabs stabbed several people in separate attacks. Both attackers were arrested by police. By the time the police arrived at the scene of one of the incidents, the attacker had been injured and subdued by passersby.

Late Monday afternoon, two young Arabs attacked two Jews in Pisgat Ze’ev, a suburb of Jerusalem. They stabbed a 13 year old so many times he almost bled to death, and following prolonged surgery is still in critical care. They seriously wounded a 24 year old man who also needed immediate surgery when he arrived at the hospital. A driver hit the 13 year old attacker with his car, stopping the attack. The injured Arab was taken to the same hospital as the victims for treatment. The other attacker, 15 years old, was killed by the police after he attacked them. Police released security camera videos of the attack after Palestinian media claimed the attackers were innocent of wrong doing.

Wednesday evening, an Arab stabbed a 60 year old woman boarding a bus in front of the Central Bus Station. The bus driver made sure the woman boarded the bus, then shut the doors so the terrorist could not follow her. The attacker was then shot and killed by police. He was later identified as a resident of Jerusalem who had recently been released after serving a three year term in prison for terrorist activity.

The number of Israelis wounded in Arab terrorist attacks is steadily increasing. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, called on all citizens with gun permits to carry their guns with them at all times. In an interview, he said that he was issuing this call because everyone with a gun permit has been trained to use it, usually in the army. He said in an interview that he would not give the same advice in the US because in the US you don’t know who has guns; they could be untrained in firearm usage or could be mentally unstable.

People on the street are more alert, more wary. As I was walking home Tuesday evening, I saw the shadow of a person gaining on me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a man walking in my direction. As I turned back and quickened my pace a little, he called out, “Al pachad! Al pachad!” (No fear! No fear!)

I recognized his voice—it was Gilad from the makollet, the neighborhood market. He caught up with me, and we chatted a little about the situation, then he hurried on to his destination as I turned to go to my apartment.

When I got on the light rail Tuesday afternoon, I looked around and saw some seats facing forward. Good! I hate riding backwards. But then I realized that I didn’t want to have my back to other travelers. I turned and sat in one of the sideways facing seats opposite the door. From there, I could see what was going on in the car. Other passengers must have felt the same way; all the seats facing the center aisle were occupied before many people sat in the forward or backward facing seats.

That there were seats on the light rail at 5:30 in the afternoon is remarkable in itself. That’s prime travel time. There are almost never any seats to be found on the light rail or the buses at that time of day. But the buses and tram cars had few passengers. No one is going out for pleasure. According to a doctor and a therapist I talked to, people are even canceling health care appointments, or simply not showing up. They go to work or school and come home.

Citizens are fighting the terrorists when they can. In the last two days, several Arabs have been subdued by bystanders during an attack. In one incident, the attacker was stopped by unarmed people; when the police arrived the terrorist was being held on the ground by three people sitting on him. Three sitting on one—is that a disproportionate response?

Stores that sell self protection equipment are selling out of all their supplies. Most stores don’t have any pepper spray left. Even without regular weapons, people are protecting themselves and others. Yair ben Shabat stopped an attack on a bus using nunchuks, a favorite weapon of many Kung Fu aficionados, and Matan Chocron used a selfie stick to help subdue the terrorist in Geula. Mickey Ruhavi beat an Arab attacker at a bus stop in Ra’anana with an umbrella. The Arab survived, but the umbrella did not. Given the poor quality of Israeli umbrellas, I’m not surprised the umbrella is now worthless, but I am surprised that it lasted long enough to have the desired effect.

The satirical TV show Eretz Nehederet has unveiled a design for the

Shoulder patch for suggested Neutralization Force, by Eretz Nehederet
Shoulder patch for suggested Neutralization Force

shoulder patch for an IDF unit that would use unconventional weapons. The Proposed shoulder patch for a “Neutralization Force” shows crossed nunchuks, a selfie stick, and an open umbrella.

Police and security personnel are out in much greater numbers than usual. At every light rail station there are at least two Citipass security workers, in their dark pants, khaki shirts, and a coiled white cord running from their ear to their communications device. For the first time I also saw a man dressed all in black with a Citipass ID patch on his shirt carrying a machine gun.

Police were also patrolling some of the larger light rail stations. At the corner on Jaffa and King George, two national policemen were carrying their machine guns front of them. They were wearing protective vests. One of the officers drummed a rhythm on his chest–the vest made the sound of his fingers louder than it would have been on his unprotected body. When they stopped, they stood back to back, watching the area in all directions. There was not much to see. Few passengers were waiting for the train. Even the usual street musicians and beggars were absent.

Spiritual initiatives to deal with the Situation are being promoted. Yesterday I received emails from two different directions about a communal recitation of Tehillim (Psalms). At 3 PM EDT, 10 PM Jerusalem time, everyone was to stop what they were doing and recite nine specific Psalms. Someone else has put out a call for everyone to refrain from engaging in lashon harah. Lashon harah literally means “bad speech,” and includes gossip, spreading rumors, slander, libel, and bad mouthing others. It includes not just speaking, but also listening to any of these things. Given human nature, refraining from lashon harah is very hard, so the initiators of this campaign are asking everyone to watch their speech for one hour a day.

And, being a society of Jewish mothers, we engage in kitchen

Border police woman helps stop terrorist attack without dropping her ice cream
Border police woman helps stop terrorist attack without dropping her ice cream (circled in red)

activism. A woman in Kiryat Moshe is asking for cakes and cookies to give to the police and security personnel at bus stops, light rail stations, and on the street. Partaking of these snacks won’t interfere with their duties. A female border police officer helped stop an attacker by shooting at her without dropping her Magnum ice cream. The photo of her holding her rifle and ice cream went viral.

As usual, we respond to stress with humor. Several current jokes refer to the man who used the car provided to him by the telephone/internet company Bezek, for which he worked. A couple of examples:

The terrorist on Jerusalem’s Malchei Yisrael Street was an employee of Bezeq. If you want your terrorist to come from Syria, you have to order Bezeq International.

Me: Your employee just stabbed me.
Bezeq Customer Service: Have you tried taking out the knife and reinserting it?

News release- The Shin Bet just got a warning that a terrorist who works for HOT (an internet/telephone service provider) is planning an attack. He will arrive in another couple of months.

While all this is going on, we still try to live our normal everyday life. Thursday is my errands day. I’ve made my shopping list as usual, but will stop at an additional store. I need to get a weapons grade umbrella.

Responding to Murder

The last photo of Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na'ama with their sons
The last photo of Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na’ama with their sons

Near the end of the 2014 school year three boys–Naftali Fraenkal, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach–were kidnapped. They were taken on their way home from studying in yeshivas and they totally disappeared. Aside from the recording of phone call to emergency services, we heard nothing. The entire country prayed and said Tehillim (Psalms) for them. The IDF, police, border police, and volunteers searched for them. For 18 long days, nothing.

Nishmat, the girls’ seminary where Naftali’s mother taught, held a public recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) for recovery and return of the three boys. Following the recitation of Psalms, some of the students and faculty gathered and began to sing, led by Rabbanit Chana Henkin, dean of the school. I was part of the group, there because I am a volunteer English tutor in the college prep program for Ethiopian girls.

About twenty of us stood in a circle, our arms around each others’ shoulders, singing, begging G-d to bring the boys home, begging Him for mercy. Rabbanit Henkin smiled as she encouraged us to sing. It was a sad smile, one that radiated warmth and concern. As the words of one prayer died, she started another one.

And then she began singing words from Avinu Malkenu. Avinu Malkenu, our Father, our King. It is a long prayer asking G-d for all sorts of things: to remove the plague from our people, to keep the sword from us, to destroy the plans of our enemies, to remember us for life. It seems to go on for forever, covering more than two pages in most prayer books. Near the end we sing, “May this hour be an hour of mercy and a time of favor before You.” The tune is slow. Like many prayers, it is set in a minor key, and sounds sad, forlorn. I closed my eyes as I sang. We sang it over and over, our arms around each other, crying in hope for the lives of three missing boys. When I opened my eyes, I saw Rabbanit Henkin, her eyes sad above her soft smile.

About a week later, the boys were found, buried in a shallow grave.

At Simchat Torah services this week, the men started singing that line from Avinu Malkenu while parading and dancing with the Torah scrolls. The tune has become enmeshed in my memory with the names of the three boys who had been killed before any of us knew they had been kidnapped.

The tune is also enmeshed with the vision of Rabbanit Henkin’s sad smile. Rabbanit Henkin, who today is mourning her own son. Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Naama were killed by Arabs last week while driving home from Elon Moreh to Neria with their four sons. The boys, aged four months to nine years, were unharmed. The attack was cut short when one of the murderers accidently shot one of his colleagues.          

What do you say to the parent of a child who has been murdered?

It doesn’t matter if the child is in his teens, as Naftali, Gil-Ad, and Eyal were, or in his 30s as Rav Henkin was. He is still a child to his parents.

Words fail us when confronted with such a tragedy. We fall back on customary polite phrases. “I’m sorry for your loss.” “May their memory be a blessing.” We say what tradition stipulates: “May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

We will always be reminded that they died in an act of violence. When referring to someone who has died, we add zichrono l’bracha to their name, may his memory be a blessing. But Eitam and Naama Henkin will always be remembered with the phrase Hashem y’nakem damam, May G-d avenge their blood.

We don’t say, the IDF will avenge their death. We don’t form posses and vigilante groups and ride through the country burning and murdering as payback. That’s not the Jewish way.  As Rabbanit Chana Henkin said in an interview with Arutz 7, “We do not demand revenge but that leadership moves to provide security for residents.” (Her whole interview is here)

Some young men have started to take vengeance for Arab violence into their own hands. People have performed “price tag” attacks on Arab cars and churches. Some have even invaded Arab towns and burned houses. We do not celebrate such violence. Our leaders do not praise them for these acts. The Prime Minister and other members of the government severely criticize these actions. The police search for the perpetrators. Several of those who engage in such activities have been put in indefinite detention.  

When news of the Henkin murders reached Palestinian cities, the residents celebrated by firing their guns in the air and setting off fireworks. The killers were praised as “heroic.” The “heroes” had checked that the road was clear of police, military, and other vehicles. They had stopped the car by firing at it with a rifle. They had killed the adults in the front seat by firing at them with pistols multiple times at close range. According to police reports, after the murderers were arrested they said they would have killed the children as well, but one of them dropped his gun upon being shot by his friend, and they left the scene.

How much courage does it take to shoot a car with a rifle? How much courage does it take to repeatedly shoot critically injured people? How much courage does it take to shoot small children buckled into safety seats?

The people I take as my heroes are those who will raise the orphans, trying to help them grow normally despite having witnessed their parents shot. My heroes are those who continue to live their lives without resorting to violence themselves.

The Israeli response is to try to live normally in the face of terror. To live without losing our own humanity. To rebuild what has been destroyed. To educate our children without hatred.

To live our lives as testimony to the lives that were cut short in the last week.

May G-d avenge their blood.

Trumpeldor Cemetery, Tel Aviv

Hand washing station at entrance to Trumpeldor Cemetery, Tel Aviv
Hand washing station at entrance to cemetery

I probably should be embarrassed to say it, but I have rarely been to Tel Aviv. When I was here for the summer in 1962, Tel Aviv was Israel’s largest city; now it is the second largest. Before my aliyah, I had visited Israel dozens of times, and in all my visits I probably spent less than 48 hours total in this city on the Mediterranean coast. When I did visit, or drove past it on my way somewhere else, it always impressed me as a a large modern city full of tall buildings.
But to spend time there, sightseeing? What was there to see?
I owe Tel Aviv an apology.

A recent day trip showed me there is much more to the city than I had known. The tour was sponsored by Pardes, where I had spent the winter studying Kings I; the guide was Shulie Mishkin. If Pardes and Shulie thought Tel Aviv was worth a full day, who was I to argue?
Allen and I had been to Jaffa, once an independent city, now incorporated into Tel Aviv, several times. Jaffa is ancient. Its first mention by name occurred when Egypt conquered the city about 3500 years ago. Jaffa was a well-known port when Jonah sailed from there, running away from the mission that G-d had imposed on him. The Romans, Crusaders, generations of Christian pilgrims, and early Jewish pioneers all entered the Holy Land here.
By the end of the 19th century, Jaffa was poor, rundown, filthy, and crowded. Travelers left the city as quickly as they could. Some would-be pioneers were so discouraged by their first sight of the land of their aspirations, they took the next ship back to Europe.

In the early 20th century, people started building outside Jaffa. When Aaron Chelouche, a rich Jew from North Africa, bought land north of the city, his wife refused to move out of the city. She would not go anywhere unless she had neighbors. So Chelouche joined with the Rokach brothers to sell plots of his land. Then Meir Dizengoff and Arye Weiss bought an area of sand dunes north of Jaffa. Sixty-six other people joined in, and in April 1909 the area was dedicated as the new Jewish city of Ahuzat Bayit. “Home Ownership” did not appeal to many as the name of a new modern city. The next year it was renamed “Tel Aviv,” the Hill of Spring, from a sentence in Ezekiel.
But even before the city was established, a cemetery had been dedicated here. Like most overcrowded cities with no water treatment or sewage disposal, Jaffa was periodically swept by epidemics. In 1902, it was cholera. Many people died, but they could not be buried in the city—it was against the law. However, the Turks did give the Jewish residents of Jaffa permission to by land further away, in the sand dunes north of the city. The Rokachs bought the land and the cemetery was dedicated.
There is an old tradition that a wedding between orphans conducted in a cemetery will stop an epidemic. It is called a Black Wedding because the bride a groom stand under a black huppah (wedding canopy). As cholera victims were being buried in the new cemetery, two orphans married each other there, standing under a black huppah. The Rabbis also established a genizah, a depository for worn out Torah scrolls and other holy items, in the cemetery.

The night the rain started and the epidemic ended.

Located in sand dunes, the cemetery had a big problem. The sand blew in and covered the graves So a few years later, a wall was built around it. Later the cemetery was named Trumpeldor. Joseph Trumpeldor was an early Zionist activist and military leader. He was killed in 1920 while defending of the Jewish settlement at Tel Hai in the Galil from an Arab attack.

The cemetery was officially in use until 1932, although a few very expensive grave sites remain available. A little over a year and a half ago, Arik Einstein, one of the country’s most popular singer/composers is buried here. A veritable who’s who of Israel’s history lies among its more than 3000 graves.

Just inside the cemetery gate is a large memorial over the graves of 47 people killed in the Arab riots of 1921. The “official” explanation was that the looting and killing were a reaction to the May Day

Trumpeldor cemetery memorial to those killed in Arab riots in Jaffa, 1921
Memorial to those killed in Arab riots in Jaffa, 1921

parade. Later it was learned that the rioting had been planned in advance.

The tall white stone reads:

Memorial of Brothers
to the holy and pure souls
who were murdered in Jaffa and its surroundings
in the blood riots of May 1921
on the 23rd and 24th days of Nissan
ת.נ.צ.כ.ה.

(the Hebrew letters at the bottom of the inscription mean “May their souls be bound in eternal life”)

Despite the wording of the memorial, this is not a true “grave of brothers,” a mass grave in which the dead lie unidentified next to each to each other in a single crypt. Shiny white individual tombstones sit at the base of the standing memorial, as if sections of a huge mosaic table. As our group listened to the explanation of the riots, several people leaned against or sat on the stone. When reminded that these were actual graves, they immediately stood back up.

One of the famous political leaders buried here is Meir Dizengoff,

The gravestone of Moshe Sharret gives his complete biography
Stone on grave of Moshe Sharett, second Prime Minister of Israel

who was the first mayor of Tel Aviv, serving from 1911 to 1936. Moshe Sharett, the second Prime minister of Israel is also here. He left instructions that only his name be inscribed on his stone. But it is the living, not the dead, who decide what goes on gravestones. His stone holds his biography, in enough detail to satisfy any history teacher.

Besides Arik Einstein, other artists and poets lie here. Shoshana Damari, a popular singer who was born in Yemen, is also interred here. In 1924, a year after her birth her family made aliyah to British Palestine after walking 186 miles to the port in Aden. She was a talented actress and singer, and was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew Song in 1988. When she died at age 82, the entire country mourned her passing. Kalaniot, bright red anemones, decorate her tombstone in tribute to her most popular song, Kalaniot.

The essayist Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg, is buried here under his pen name Ahad Ha-Am. The name means One of the People. He is credited with founding cultural Zionism, in his words, “a Jewish state, not just a state for Jews.” This was the counterpart of Herzl’s political Zionism.

Shaul Tchernikovsky, despite living and working as a doctor in Russian, is better known for his Hebrew poetry. Despite his desire to live in the holy land, he could not gain approval from the Ottomans to practice medicine. He made aliyah in 1931, when he started editing The Book of Medical and Scientific Terms, which gave definitions in Latin, Hebrew and English.

Chaim Nacman Bialik's grave. The smaller stone marks the grave of his wife Manya, and behind can be seen the whit monument marking Ahad Ha'am's grav
Chaim Nacman Bialik’s grave. The smaller stone marks the grave of his wife Manya, and behind can be seen the whit monument marking Ahad Ha’am’s grave

The most visited grave in the cemetery, if judged by the number of small stones placed on the grave marker, is that of Chaim Nachman Bialik. Bialik’s poetry is so well known, he is called the National Poet of Israel. His work is a required part of the curriculum from elementary school through high school. When he made aliyah at the age of 51, he was already well known as a poet and publisher. Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem vied to become his home. He chose Tel Aviv, where he lived and worked for the last ten years of his life.

As a teenager in the US, I sang the first stanza of his song welcoming the Sabbath:

The sun has already disappeared beyond the treetops,
Come let us go and welcome the Sabbath Queen,
She is already descending among us, holy and blessed,
And with her are angels, a host of peace and rest,
Come, O Queen,
Come, O Queen,
Peace be unto you, O Angels of Peace.

Yom HaZikaron 2015: 23,230

Flag at thalf staff on Yom HaZikaron at the Kotel
Yom HaZikaron at the Kotel Photo: © Moshé Anielewicz pour Europe Israël News

I was sitting alone at my computer when the siren sounded, signaling the start of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for Soldiers and Those Killed in Acts of Terror. The siren blasts for one minute at 8 PM on the eve Yom HaZikaron and for two minutes at 11 AM on the day of the observance. Our first year here I thought, if I’m alone in a room at home, it doesn’t matter whether I stand or not. That night, I realized, it does matter. The siren pulled me to my feet within seconds.

Like just about everyone else in the country, I stop what I am doing, and stand in reflection, listening to the siren. The siren is loud–ear splittingly, wake the dead, painfully screamingly loud. It seems to go on for forever. Two minutes, even one minute, is a long time to stand, thinking of those who have given their lives. Today the total is 23,320.

Sixty seven soldiers died in the last year, killed in action in Tzuk Eitan. An additional 35 veterans died from the effects of wounds received in earlier service. Most of the dead were Sabras, born and raised in Israel. Three were lone soldiers, who came from the US as volunteers in the Israeli army. Some were young, out of high school less than a year, doing their compulsory military service. Some were veteran soldiers, called away from wives, children, and jobs, as members of the reserves.  

But we add to that number Gilad, Ayal, and Naphtali, teenagers killed by the terrorists who kidnapped them when they were hitchhiking home from school. We also include 3 month old Chaya Zissel Braun, killed by a man who deliberately drove his car through a group of people at a light rail station, and 4 year old Daniel Turgeman, killed by a Hamas mortar while playing outside his home. We add 4 year old Adele Biton, who was critically injured when terrorists threw rocks at her mother’s car, and who was almost completely unresponsive for the last two years of her too short life. And the dead include four men, brutally slaughtered by Arab workers while praying in a synagogue not far from where I live. I use the word slaughter deliberately, for what else can you call it when men peacefully praying are shot or have their heads split open with a meat cleaver?

Two of this year’s victims of terror were Arabs. Zidan Sayif was a

Memorial to victims of terror, Har Herzl
Memorial to victims of terror, Har Herzl

Druze policeman, who was killed while trying to stop the slaughter in the Har Nof synagogue. Mohammed Abu Khudair was kidnapped and burned alive by three young Israelis. He, and was originally included in the list as one of this year’s victims of terror. However, his family objected to his name being added to the monument to Victims of Terror in the cemetery on Har Herzl, and his name is being removed at their request.

On the morning of Yom HaZikaron, I attended the memorial ceremony at my grandsons’ school. As a fourth grader, Yakov was one of the participants.

The assembly for the boys in first through fourth grade. I watched them sit down, and fidget. They stood briefly while the school flag was lowered to half staff. Sitting back down, they fidgeted through the principal’s speech. He spoke about the commandment to remember–that we have both a duty and the privilege to remember. He also said that every soldier, in every war Israel has fought, has known that the war was justified. That he was doing the right thing. The principal has an excellent sense of timing. He finished at exactly 10:59:59. As the siren started to sound, the boys were on their feet even before he told them to rise.

I stared at them—200 boys, aged 6 to 10, standing still for two minutes. A few rocked at the waist, as they do when praying. But for the most part, I could been have watching statues for those two minutes. I wondered how many of them were thinking about an older brother or a neighbor who died last summer, or perhaps a cousin, father, or even grandfather, lost in an earlier war.

© Moshé Anielewicz pour Europe Israël News
Remembering at Har Herzl Military Cemetery. photo: Marc Israel Sellem, Jerusalem Post

Ten years from now, most of them will probably be wearing khaki uniforms on Yom HaZikaron. I prayed that we would not be mourning any of them at that time. And I prayed that they will not be mourning friends or family members.

The students lit memorial flames, one flame for each war: the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, Peace in the Galil I, Peace in the Galil II, Tzuk Eitan (Protective Edge), and Victims of Terror. 

When the school’s Rabbi came up to speak, he first stood in front of the flames and read the names on each one. He then said, “So many wars. So many wars.”

He walked around the table holding the memorial flames. When he got to the microphone, he continued, “But we are still here.”

He didn’t speak very long–these were young boys he was talking to. His vocabulary and imagery were fitting to the audience, which was good for me as well. The simpler vocabulary enabled me to understand his message. He spoke about how in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, children had to stay in the house all the time because it was too dangerous to go outside. The children were hungry and thirsty, and had to stand in line to get water. They could not even dream about snacks like Bamba and Bisli. The soldiers fight for us so we can be safe. So that we can walk outside, and play, and go to school, and even eat Bamba and Bisli and candy.

The fourth grade boys read some poems and Psalms, and the choir sang a few songs. The program ended with all of us singing “Ani ma’amin”–I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and with the singing of Hatikvah.

May the number of those we mourn today as victims of terror or war not increase. 23,320 is already too many.

May we know no more war.