Israel's Remembrance Day ceremony in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, all of which we are currently commemorating and/or will soon be celebrating, are collectively referred to by Religious Zionists as The Days of Redemption (Yemei Hageula). One can appreciate this application to Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, but it is very difficult to understand how Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) and Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars (Yom Hazikaron) could be referred to as redeeming, as they are days marred by the ashes of destruction and haunted by memories of the deceased. This is a problem we grapple with every year, and many answers have been proposed. This year I experienced something which I believe will enhance the appropriate response, which we may have grown accustomed to but that always bears further consideration.
According to an opinion in the Talmud, we celebrate Succot because the Jewish people dwelled in temporary, makeshift huts called succot after they were redeemed by God from Egyptian persecution, which begs the question: why does that warrant celebration? What was so exceptional about the fact that the Jewish nation dwelled in huts? Some commentaries suggest that after all of their sufferings, naturally the Jews should never have agreed to live in such crude, exposed dwellings in the desert. We would have expected them to insist on more permanent structures where they could feel more secure, yet they agreed to live in such precarious and unstable conditions, demonstrating their sincere faith in God and in His commitment to protect them. This act of faith is cause for celebration, and the same can be said regarding survivors of the Holocaust.
The Jewish people should have lost all hope following the decimation of the Jewish communities throughout Europe by the Nazi regime, and yet they were determined and perhaps faithful enough to look to their future.
Survivors of the concentration camps arrived on the shores of Palestine willing to start a new life in what they believed would be their homeland.
They were greeted, handed guns and instructed to fight for the establishment of the State of Israel. Any other people would have raised their hands in defeat, insisting that they were too weak and frail to contemplate such action, and yet they seized the guns and fought for their nation and land.
In the Segula Cemetery in Petah Tikva there are a number of graves marked “anonymous.” These are believed to be the graves of Holocaust survivors who had no time to submit their names and left no survivors, and while this fact is gravely disheartening, it is precisely the reason why Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron are included in Yemei Hageula.
Redemption is defined as the act of making something better or more acceptable; while there is no question the wounds of the Holocaust or the wounds of the Jewish families who lost loved ones defending the borders of Israel could ever be healed, bold survivors and settlers alike claimed that they could make things better. Their resilience and faithfulness to the furtherance of the Jewish people would signify that all of their losses were not for naught. I have been privileged to see their spirit survive and their message resonate. Part of redemption as defined above is not only about making something better but making something more acceptable. Recently I was privileged to see this aspect of redemption come to fruition.
A number of weeks ago, I went to speak at the Givati military base. After addressing a Givati unit I was told to make my way to a base in Har Keren to address a group of soldiers from the Tomer Brigade, which I had never heard of.
I arrived in Har Keren and I was amazed to find aluminum walls surrounding a particular area in the middle of the base. The Tomer Brigade, which was established a year ago, consists of young men from completely haredi (ultra-Orthodox) homes, almost all of whom sport long sidelocks and beards, who have decided that they want to serve in the Israeli army, under two conditions. The first is that they wish to preserve their haredi lifestyle as much as possible, even while serving in the army. Hence the fenced-off area. The soldiers of the Tomer Brigade go through all the maneuvers and training exercises any other Givati soldier does, but they do so privately, within their own division and behind closed doors. There are no women allowed in their area, they maintain their own kitchen and standards of kashrut supervision and their commanding officers are observant, without exception.
Most impressive, however, is their second condition: they refuse to be pencil pushers. If they serve in the army they insist on being regular combat soldiers and serving in combat units.
After my speech I conversed with many of the soldiers and I was astounded to find many of them were ostracized or on the verge of being excommunicated by their communities, some by their own families, for serving in the army, yet they maintained that they were doing the right thing and were prepared to suffer the consequences to their personal lives for the sake of protecting their national home.
Last week, on the eve of Yom Hashoah, I was called to Yad Lashiryon in Latrun to speak to the second group of new recruits from the Tomer Brigade.
When I walked in to address the soldiers, all of them, without exception, stood up when I entered the room, and then proceeded to take out their notebooks so they could take notes regarding the lecture and Torah class I was about to deliver. Here I was, a clean-shaven Religious Zionist rabbi, being shown the utmost respect by haredi young men reared in communities that never recognized the existence of the State of Israel, and this is what I told them: The Jewish people were delivered from Egypt by God, but when they got to the Red Sea, the sea did not part until a man called Nachshon Ben-Aminadav jumped in, and as more and more people took the plunge the sea continued to split in their merit. The message is loud and clear: God wanted the Jewish people to understand that He expected the Jewish people to initiate miracles together with Him. He expected that regardless of the obstructions we encountered throughout our history, we would not fear to follow Him into the sea or the desert, would not desist from taking up arms for the future of Israel regardless of how downtrodden we were or how much personal aggravation it might cause. These are the truths and faiths that define redemption.
They inspired Holocaust survivors to make something better and they encourage haredi young men to make things more acceptable.
Perhaps redemption is not too far off after all.The author serves as a lecturer for the IDF to help motivate troops and infuse them with Jewish identity. In addition he is involved lecturing throughout Israel on the basics of Judaism for many secular kibbutzim and moshavim through his own initiative, called Makom Meshutaf (www.makommeshutaf.com). He is the author of four books and a guest lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora.