The Prayer of Man - Opinion

Doron Almog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, writes about preserving the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the nation-state of the entire Jewish people.

 Doron Almog (photo credit: DAVID SALLEM)
Doron Almog
(photo credit: DAVID SALLEM)

Paratrooper Hannah Szenes was executed by the Nazis on November 7, 1944, at the age of 23. Five years earlier, she had made aliyah from Hungary to the land of Israel. Her inner voice called her to join the Jewish community in Israel (the Yishuv), to learn Hebrew, to write inspiring poems in Hebrew, to study in Nahalal, and to help establish Kibbutz Sdot Yam. In 1943, her inner voice again called her to do something bold and groundbreaking – to join a group of Jewish paratroopers from the Yishuv who had trained as part of the British Army, to parachute in Europe as part of the war against Nazi Germany. In June 1944, she was caught and given over to the German forces in Hungary after a brave nighttime parachute drop in wooded mountainous terrain. 

Seventy-seven years later, in July 2021, I went to Hungary with a group of 150 IDF paratroopers on a journey in memory of the heroism of Hannah Szenes and her comrades, 37 Yishuv paratroopers who, against all odds, set out to help save European Jewry.  We were in the forest clearing where her feet landed on Hungarian soil. We were in the village where she was captured and given over to the German forces. We were in Budapest, not far from the prison where she was severely tortured for six months until she was executed. We were at the “Shoes on the Danube Promenade,” the memorial to the location where Hungarian Jews were shot en masse at close range, and their bodies were thrown into the Danube until its waters turned red. At the conclusion of our journey, at the cemetery in Budapest, I asked to say a few words about the concept of the prayers of mankind, which appears in the last line of Hannah Szenes’s poem.

Eli, Eli         My God, my God,
Shelo yigamer le’olam May these never end,
Hachol vehayam    The sand and the sea,
Rishrush shel hamayimThe rush of the waters,
Berak hashamayim   The lightning of the heavens,
Tefilat ha’adamThe prayer of Man.

Man’s prayer expresses a deep yearning. The personal oath that each of us takes in our lives, deep within us. I spoke about my two profound commitments. First, after the fall of my brother Eran in the Yom Kippur War, I vowed next to his burnt-out tank to do everything I could so that I wouldn’t leave a soldier bleeding on the battlefield. This oath accompanied me throughout my military service. I took the second oath when it became clear that our son Eran, who was named after him, would always require the kindness of others. I vowed to dedicate my life to the disabled, the wounded and those with physical challenges. I asked all my fellow paratroopers on the “Lightning Sky” mission in memory of Hannah Szenes and her friends to take on two oaths. The first, inspired by the Shoes on the Danube in Budapest – is that we will never allow Jews to be thrown into the river or taken to extermination camps – that we should know how to protect our people, anywhere, anytime. The second was that we will always have within us the love of humanity.

Didi, my wife, is named after her grandmother Didi Frieda, who was murdered in Auschwitz together with her husband, Jacob Heit. Shmulik, Didi’s father, came to the land of Israel during the War of Independence as an orphan with his two brothers – Shlomo and Ze’ev. Every year, on Holocaust Memorial Day, when we lit two memorial candles in our home in memory of his parents, Frieda and Jacob Heit, with tears in his eyes, he told us that the State of Israel was the great victory over Nazi Germany. 

The longing and prayer of Hannah Szenes and her friends was also for the longed-for day when the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, was established. She arrived in the Land of Israel with the inner voice that called to her as it did to so many others after 2,000 years of exile. She gave her life to save our people during World War II and did not get to see the rebirth of the State of Israel. 

Today, her prayer of Man takes on additional meaning in my role as Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. A prayer to keep the one miracle that is second to none – to preserve the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the nation-state of the entire Jewish people. A country that inspires pride and inspiration in the hearts of every Jew in the world.

Translated by Alan Rosenbaum