Monday, September 20, 2010

After Yom Kippur come the Memorials

Yom Kippur is first and foremost a religious experience coming after an intense week of celebration and soul searching. The season invites us to keep in touch with friends and family sometimes serving as a welcome reason to renew and upgrade our relationships. The weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana and especially the week between the holiday and the fast are filled (in Israel at least) with many many opportunities to hear shiurim (lectures) which can often help us in our journey towards Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur itself is a very intense and often emotional day. And when we finally hear that one last long shofar blast and sing 'Next Year in Jerusalem' we are ready to move on to our next mitzvah, building the succa. 
But it doesn't really happen that way. Not here, not today, not anymore. 
Thirty-seven years ago on Yom Kippur the State of Israel and her mighty army was surprised and attacked and we came so close to losing everything. As the years go by and more is revealed we come to realize how precarious the situation was. Even more so than we realized back then. Over 2,000 men were killed in the official war and many  more in the long nerve-wracking  months after the cease-fires. 
So that day after Yom Kippur is the official memorial day for that war and the military cemeteries fill up for ceremonies and services both public and private. 
And so I would like to pause to remember two friends of mine who gave their lives for our country. 
These men grew up in the New York City and made the choice to come and live here in Israel. I met them when I was still in high school and we were all members of the Zionist youth movement Betar. We spent many Sundays together at meetings which included besides talking Zionism also much singing and often dancing. Some of us still get nostalgic at a blog we set up "Betarim in North America" where we post old photos and reminisce. (What follows are not biographies but my feelings.) 

Next Friday, the 16th of Tishrei is the yahrtzeit of Chaim (Hornstein) Haran הי"ד (Hashem yikom damo, may G-d avenge his blood) who participated in the battle in which the Syrian army overtook the "country's eyes" the post atop Mt. Hermon. He was a member of the Golani Brigade's elite scout unit and was killed by Syrian air fire in the attempt to retake the Hermon.
Chuck (his 'English' name was Charles) was a very bright child. His parents had divorced when he was around two years old and it couldn't have been easy for him. He was close to some of the leaders of Betar and they tried to encourage him to stay in school and fulfill his potential. He came to Israel after the Six-Day-War but he was still too young then to join the army yet. He went back to the US and eventually came back and joined Golani. I wasn't in touch with him when he came back then but I remember vaguely knowing he was in the country. 
 He was 23 years old when he was killed. He didn't have the chance to marry and have a family.At first we cried because we suffered a loss. Now, as I get older and Chuck stays the smiling good looking teenager I remember I am overcome by a different kind of grief. It is a mourning for those he didn't get a chance to leave behind. Instead of time healing I feel I truly grieve more for him as the years go by. 

Eli Michael Solomon הי"ד was one of the first people I met in Betar. I was still in high school then. He is the on the left in this picture playing the drum. Eli was the kind of guy who made sure that everyone was involved in the activity. It wasn't enough for him that he was having a good time, everyone had to be having a good time. People always felt comfortable around Eli.
Eli went off to join the volunteers the week before the Six-Day-War and we all sat around at the airport singing at the top of our lungs while he waited to board the flight. Rena, who he married the following summer, slept over at my house that night because we lived close to the airport. I left a few weeks later for Israel and the next time the three of us were together was in 1970 when Rena and Eli came to live in Jerusalem. I had made many friends in Jerusalem by then but it was so special to have friends who knew me from 'the old country'. It was almost like having family.
I always felt at home with both of them and when their first daughter was born I was happy to babysit. Its odd what scenes come to mind when I think back to those days. I remember visiting them once and finding Eli relaxing, drinking a beer and watching the 1972 Olympics on TV. We all had a good laugh at that scene of him being so settled down. A few days later the whole world seemed very different as the jolly Olympics turned into a bloodbath of terror and death, and then the show just went on. The next time we were together we remarked about that.
When David and I got married Eli was doing basic training in the army. Rena had taken her daughter to New York and I was hoping that at least Eli would be able to come to the wedding. In the end he came to visit us a few days after because they hadn't approved the leave. I was glad to see him but really disappointed that he had not been with us.
Eli and Rena moved to Amatzya (near Kiryat Gat) and visiting became much more difficult. Not only was it far away but coordinating a visit was really difficult because at the time we didn't even have a phone. It's hard to imagine nowadays. When Eli was killed our friends had to come to our house to tell us and then we went to neighbors to call to find out the details of the funeral.
There are milestones and turning points in our lives when we gain a insight or gain experience, Eli's death taught me about a sadness I hadn't really known up close before.
We have all grown older and seen some bad times but also many good times. We have put on weight and turned grey. I look at my friends each year when we gather at Eli's grave (Rosh Chodesh Kislev or as near as possible) and see them as they were then but also as they are now. I guess you could say that Eli is there making sure  we all stay in touch. Eli remains for me the cheerful and optimistic young man who rode the subways with me in New York. How I wish I could see him all grey or even bald.

יהי זכרם ברוך
May their memories be blessed be a blessing  to us.


Leora said...

Sad to read about the loss of such vibrant young men.

mother in israel said...

That was so moving, Risa. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I cry for them (and truth be told - for myself) every yom kippur.

Batya said...

Risa, just last night at the hachnasat sefer Torah
in memory of three neighbors I met someone from Kiryat Gat and told her the story of how you, David and I paid the shiva call in Amatzia and needed to get gas...

Every year the young soldiers are amazed that we still religiously get together at the two gravesides...

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