A flag for Mrs. Cohen

A great advantage of living outside the capital is our sense of wonder and excitement when we do decide to visit Jerusalem.

THE FALLEN Soldiers Memorial Wall at Mt. Herzl. (photo credit: SUSSIE WEISS)
THE FALLEN Soldiers Memorial Wall at Mt. Herzl.
(photo credit: SUSSIE WEISS)

Growing up in America and Bnei Akiva, and dreaming of making aliyah, we had only one objective: We didn’t care where we lived in Israel, as long as was in Jerusalem! But life is full of twists and turns, and we happily ended up in the holy city of Ra’anana, one of the greatest places on earth to raise a family and mesh the Anglo and Israeli cultures.
One of the great advantages of living outside the capital is the sense of wonder and excitement, the spiritual high we get when we do decide to visit Jerusalem. It is ever-new, ever-growing, a true inspiration that brings home in living color just how miraculous the return to our homeland has been. It is particularly moving in light of the prayers we just concluded on Tisha Be’av, when we recalled the tragic days when Jerusalem “sat alone, as a widow, its streets deserted, desolate and forlorn.”
We had the occasion recently to host friends from abroad who had not been to Israel for some time. And so we decided to take them on a whirlwind trip to Jerusalem and lead them on a walk through Zionism and modern Jewish history. It was an eye-opener for us as much as it was for them.
WE STARTED our journey at the Herzl exhibit at the foot of Mount Herzl. This unique, multimedia experience is captivating. Unlike at most museums, you do not simply observe; you are part of the action.
You sit at an Austrian café in the heart of Vienna, where Theodor Herzl lived; you witness the mass rally in Paris at which Capt. Dreyfus was ignominiously stripped of his uniform amid cries of “Death to the Jews”; you even become part of the Zionist Congress convention where Herzl’s “If you will it” dream begins to become a reality.
And you marvel at how one man – secular, totally disassociated from the fledgling Zionist movement – could pursue an idea and an ideal with unrelenting fervor and become the catalyst for the rebirth of Israel. You then understand how much can be accomplished by so few, a fitting description of little Israel’s impact on civilization, and you appreciate the fact that God leads the world in His own mysterious ways.
From there it was on to Ammunition Hill, the site of Israel’s epic battle to liberate Jerusalem, much of which had been captured and illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948, its ancient synagogues desecrated and the Jewish population expelled. The ghostly bunkers and 182 olive trees – a living memorial to the soldiers who fell in the recapture of Jerusalem – tell the story of the fierce action on day two of the Six Day War, a day that saw the Jordanian Legion finally succumb to the heroic members of the 55th Paratroop Brigade, led by Gen. Mordechai “Motta” Gur, who would become the first officer to reach the liberated Western Wall.
And you meet, on film, several of the soldiers who served on that fateful day. One of them, Yoram Zamush, rushed to join his unit when the war started. His neighbor, Mrs. Cohen, tearfully embraced him and wished him well. A survivor of Auschwitz, she placed a flag of Israel in his backpack and told him, “When you retake the Kotel, please place this flag on the Wall; all the Jews of history will help you raise it.” And so he did.
From there, of course, we had to proceed directly to the Kotel. Although the Wall was not an actual wall of the Temple, it is the spiritual center of Israel, and eternally inspiring and invigorating. When it is not turned into a political arena for various groups to promote their partisan causes, and when I am not besieged by money collectors (which is actually illegal in the prayer section), I find it to be the most peaceful and evocative place on the planet. The Wall, the ultimate witness to Jewish history, speaks volumes to me about what it means to be a Jew – and an Israeli – and overwhelms me with its majestic magnitude and meaning.
From there we went to the Israel Museum, one of the world’s premier showcases of a country’s artistic talent and imagination. And what a contrast of the old and the new! We revisited the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Shrine of the Book – a testament to our ancient origins here – and then we viewed the late Ilan Ramon’s notebook. Miraculously found and painstakingly restored with brilliant infrared technology after the tragic crash of the Columbia Space Shuttle in 2003, the handwritten pages demonstrate, in the most striking manner possible, that there are no boundaries for Israeli accomplishments.
Finally, no visit would be complete without a stop at the newly opened Memorial to the Fallen Soldiers, back at the foot of Mount Herzl. Here, in dramatic architectural fashion, is the Wall of the Fallen, 23,742 individually shaped bricks, each with a name and the date of their death – the latest coming just this past week. Computer terminals allow you to access the details of each fallen soldier, as we did for our own son Ari. In the very center of the building is the Stairway to Heaven, a spiraling tower that extends through the complex up to the sky and the light, symbolizing the holy soldiers’ ascent to Heaven. Each morning, a memorial ceremony is held here, commemorating those who died on that date, and is open to the public. It is a holy place.
For many years, whenever foreign dignitaries visit Israel, they are taken to Yad Vashem. I totally understand this; we want the world to know what we have gone through in our history and why it is vital that we have a state of our own, and not be subject to the capricious, often malevolent will of another regime. But I believe that we are remiss at leaving it there; we also have to show the visitors to our nation the courage, the creativity, the vitality, the nobility, the determination, the power and the permanence of this old yet new country.
It’s all there in Mrs. Cohen’s flag.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. jocmtv@netvision.net.il