weiss, ari 298.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What can I give to my soldier son who has died? There is nothing physical that can reach him now; he is beyond hugs and kisses - even flowers on his grave are frowned upon by our tradition. I say prayers and offer charity in his name, but considering all he accomplished with his life and the immense merit he earned in his 21 years, these seem more for my benefit than his.
So how can I show my affection for this brave son who fell in battle? How can I, how can anyone, express even a semblance of the gratitude he deserves for risking - and losing - his life in our defense?
There is only one path, and that is the path of respect. Respect is the single avenue left to us to say thank you, to stand in awe and appreciation of our courageous children in green who traded a lifetime of dreams, of unimaginable promise and potential, to serve the entire Jewish people. Respect is the least we can do.
And so I stand in humble silence when he and his comrades are remembered on Yom Hazikaron. I offer my thanks and blessing to any soldier I meet. I recite a prayer for the well-being of the Israel Defense Forces each Shabbat, and I do my best to guard the integrity and sanctity of the army, treating the institution as something pure and good, above politics and beyond cynicism.
In short, I show it respect.
AT THE same time, I feel deep pain whenever our holy defenders are taken for granted, ignored, treated with ambivalence or, worse yet, maligned and marginalized.
When some Orthodox Jews refuse to acknowledge the IDF's contribution to our national welfare - a gross violation of the Jewish principle of hakarat hatov (showing appreciation for good done in one's behalf) and a blatant denial of God's active role in history - I hang my head in shame.
When thousands of Jewish pupils in hundreds of Jewish day schools in the Diaspora hold no ceremonies whatsoever for the fallen, I fear for our future.
And when secular Israeli Jews - as many as 40 percent of those eligible, by some estimates - seek to escape army service and avoid conscription, I cry bitter tears.
And when our government floats the idea that a convicted Palestinian murderer might be freed, God forbid, in exchange for Jonathan Pollard - who, to his eternal credit, has rejected any such obscene arrangement - I feel helpless and violated.
Where is the respect, the honor, the sense of loyalty due to these heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation? I remember the day when Marwan Barghouti was apprehended by our troops. Ari, whose unit had been part of the search for this bloodthirsty killer, expressed a rare moment of exhilaration and proclaimed, "We can all sleep better tonight, knowing this animal is behind bars for good."
The release of Barghouti would not only destroy the concept of law and order in Israel, it would demoralize the families of the fallen and make a mockery of our fighting forces, who have spilled so much blood in the fight against terrorists like him.
WHENEVER I travel abroad I make a point of openly asking the synagogues I visit to say a prayer for the welfare of our soldiers. After all, who in their right Jewish minds could deny such a request? To my sorrow, I am often met by stern opposition, even indignant refusal to utter a single syllable on behalf of our brave men and women in uniform.
On one recent trip, after the shul gabbai had turned down my request, I approached the rabbi. "Would you," I asked him, "recite a prayer on behalf of a non-Jew who is ill? After all, God is the God of all people, is He not?"
The rabbi replied that he would.
"And would you even," I pressed on, "consider saying a prayer for a favorite family pet who has been hit by a car and is in danger of dying? After all, God is the God of all creatures, is He not?"
After some thought, the rabbi agreed that there was nothing wrong in such a prayer.
"So you would - rightfully - pray for a Gentile and a dog, but not for a Jewish soldier, who risks his life every day to keep you safe?"
I'm still waiting for his answer.
I desperately do not want to be dragged down by the ignorance or the shallow and inconsiderate callousness of others. I know that most of those reading this article have nothing but love and admiration, pride and respect for our soldiers, particularly those who gave their lives as they formed an impenetrable wall against those who would murder us without mercy.
I know that your hearts are in the right place, and that we share a common bond, unspoken yet unbroken.
SO ON this Day of Remembrance - indeed, on every day of the year - let us do the right thing, the noble thing, the Godly thing; let us stand in unabashed respect for the fallen heroes of Israel.
Believe me, it's the very least we can do.
Stewart and Susie Weiss's eldest son, Ari, fell in battle on September 30, 2002, in a raid on Hamas headquarters in Nablus.