A siren sounded last night, signalling the beginning of Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. This morning, another siren sounded for two minutes, as Israel came to a standstill in honor of honor of 23,646 soldiers who had fallen and 3,134 victims of terror. People stood in silent remembrance in the streets, in office buildings, in homes and in public transportation. Even on the highways, when the sirens sounded, cars pulled over to the side, people exited their vehicles and stood until the sirens faded. This is always a tough time for most Israelis, but extremely so for those who lost loved ones through military conflict or terrorist activities. And every year, the number increases.
I left work early today, so that I could watch and listen to some of the stories that would still be broadcast over Israeli TV. All “entertainment” programming was cancelled until sundown tonight. By this time of the day, after watching documentaries and news clips and after listening to the songs and music, some old and some newly written in commemoration of some of the fallen, I thought that my tears had dried up. I was wrong. There was one segment that was put together towards the end of Memorial Day that dealt with the stories of three “lone soldiers” , who were killed in the 2014 Gaza War (Tzuk Eytan). One of stories caused tears to well up, as if they were stored away and kept for this moment. They flowed as my mind and thoughts were brought back to remembrances of the funeral that I attended in Haifa for one of the soldiers.
The following is a portion of the blog that I wrote almost five years ago, related to that event:
Israel mourns for her sons.
This past Saturday night, after the Shabbat was over and we began a new week (“there was evening and there was morning, one day), Israeli troops were battling in Shejaiya, one of the major Hamas, terrorist strongholds in Gaza. An armored personnel carrier (“APC”) was struck by an anti-tank missile, killing First Sergeant Nissim Sean Carmeli and others. They were among the 13 of the soldiers, all members of the elite Golani unit, who were killed that night.
Four Israeli soldiers had already been killed. But, the news that an additional 13 were killed throughout the night of fighting was a jolt to the nation. It was a major loss for a small country like Israel. Everyone felt the pain of loss. Slowly, the identities of the slain soldiers were released and they included two who also held American citizenship, Max Steinberg, 24, originally from Woodland Hills, California, and Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, who had lived in South Padres Island, Texas, where his parents still reside (note: they have since returned to live in Israel). Both Steinberg and Carmeli were considered as “lone soldiers”, meaning, generally speaking, that they do not have parents to go home to when they are on a break from the army.
Efforts were made by some to portray Shejaiya as a peaceful “neighborhood” community until the present fighting erupted. In reality, however, Shejaiya is one of Hamas’ active locations, from which over 140 rockets were fired into Israel in 13 days. The openings to at least 10 terror tunnels are located there, tunnels that Hamas used for the purpose of smuggling weapons, for launching missiles at Israel civilians and for infiltrating into Israel to attempt to slaughter civilians communities and to kidnap Israelis. Rocket launchings against Israel took place from a mosque, a hospital and a children’s playground, while a rocket facility was also located in a cemetery – all within the confines of Shejaiya. Notwithstanding Israel’s attempts to reduce the number of civilian casualties, the residents of Shejaiya were ordered by Hamas not to leave and were used by Hamas as human shields.
The above is mentioned as background information. The fighting in Shejaiya continues, along with the missiles fired from Gaza.
The funeral of Max Steinberg is set for tomorrow, Wednesday, on Mt. Herzl, in Jerusalem. The funeral of Nissim Sean Carmeli took place Monday night, in Haifa.
“Lord, please stir the hearts of people to attend the funeral.”
When I heard that Carmeli’s funeral was going to take place in the Military Cemetery in Haifa, I knew I needed to go. I was not related to him and never heard of him until Monday. But, it was important for me to be there. This was reinforced when the evening news said that a message was sent out over the social media, saying that Sean (as he was referred to by his friends) was a fan of a certain Haifa soccer team. Inasmuch as he was a “long soldier”, those who published the notice said that there was a concern that there would be a light turnout for his funeral and urged fans of the same soccer team to attend. The funeral was originally scheduled for 9:00 p.m., but for various reasons was changed to 11:00 p.m. The evening news showed a photo and shared a little background information. My heart was broken and I didn’t even try to hold back the tears. He was just 21, older than my youngest son and younger than my oldest son. His parents were arriving from the U.S.
I left for the funeral at 10:00 p.m., a 10-12 minute drive. I prayed as I got into the car, “Lord, please stir the hearts of people to attend the funeral. Let them come and honor this son of Israel as he is laid into the ground. Let his family know that although he was considered a ‘lone soldier’, he was not alone.” When I arrived in the area, the police had already set up barricades and cars seemed to come from every direction. It took me half an hour to find a space at a distance of a 20-minute walk from the cemetery. A few people here and some there, we were all headed in the same direction. As we got closer to the cemetery, the crowds grew larger.
It was already packed when I arrived. I ended up close to the place where the service was being held, but I couldn’t see anything. I really didn’t need to see the event. I’ve seen too many of them. I’ve listened to too many eulogies, with the broken hearts of family and friends and the messages interrupted by crying. I’ve listened to too many fathers reciting “Kadish” (Aramaic for “holy”, a hymn of praises of God that is part of the Jewish prayer service, as well as at funerals). I’ve heard too many local officials and politicians praising a deceased person, whom they never met. I didn’t need to see the ceremony. There were loudspeakers that would broadcast the event. I looked around and saw that people were still coming, a seemingly never ending stream of people. Some tried to get closer to the platform and managed to slightly push (but, not offensively) others to get to a better vantage point. There were no arguments, no shoving and no yelling. Just a multitude of people, coming to pay their respects to Sean. There were men and women, soldiers from every type of military unit, those with rank and those without, police, teenagers and septuagenarians, religious and secular, Jew and non-Jew, all who came “from Dan to Beer Sheva” to respect and honor and pay their last respects to a “lone soldier”, who united a nation. He was everyone’s son, everyone’s brother. He gave his life so that we, as a nation, would live. A national hero, who was not known, except by a handful of those who came. When it seemed that there was no more room to move forward, people somehow still managed to work their way towards the front.
As the vehicle bringing the coffin arrived at the entrance to the cemetery around 11:30 p.m., the person in charge of the funeral service requested that the crowd “make a path” for the coffin and family. Within seconds, people moved to the sides, clearing a path for the pallbearers and honor guard. It was like watching the Red Sea being divided, only with walls of people, instead of water. We were about 8-10 rows deep and although I couldn’t get close to the platform where the service was to be held, I was in the front row of the wall of people. I saw the dignitaries pass by, followed by the pallbearers with the coffin, draped with the Israeli flag, followed by members of Sean’s family. The crowd, which had kept their conversations on a low volume, was visibly moved. Crying could be heard from many. The heat and the long wait began to take its toll on some and the paramedics were kept busy, taking care of some who became dehydrated or who passed out.
The ceremony continued. The coffin was lowered into the ground and covered over. Wreaths were placed on the fresh grave by representatives of two municipalities. Eulogies were given. The command “fire” was sounded three times, as the flash from the rifles punctuated the night. The ceremony was over and people began to make their way to the exit, slowly, with a sense of walking together as family. In the midst of the multitude, I met a brother-in-the-Lord, an Arab-Israeli, native of Haifa, who pastors a Messianic Jewish congregation here. We’ve known each other about 30 years and joked as we walked, saying that we tend to meet each other most of the time while attending a funeral. His children all served or serve in the IDF.
It was reported that over 30,000 people had attended the funeral of someone they didn’t know, someone that they wanted to honor, someone who enabled Israel to demonstrate how much it is a community that values life and mourns with those who mourn. We wept yesterday many times during the funerals held for our sons who were no more. We wept for a “lone son”, whose death while defending this country drew us together as his family. We will weep again tomorrow for our other sons.
As of this writing, 28 of our sons have given their lives during the 15 days of this latest war. All who serve give something, while some who serve give everything. May their memories be blessed.
As the TV segment dealing with the deaths of the three lone soldiers concluded, the mother of one of the other lone soldiers said that while she was attending the funeral of her son, she asked herself how it was that so many people were in attendance, people whom she didn’t know and who did not know her son personally. The response was, “He was everyone’s son.” That’s the spirit of the nation, the spirit that unites, that encourages, that says we can, despite all the odds.
Hollywood can’t compare to real life. Every year, we see, hear or read stories about those who were killed by war or terrorism. In Israel, every such loss is like losing a member of the family and every effort is made to go behind the numbers and show the victims as individuals. The tears that flow from these stories can fill the Sea of Galilee! They touch the lives of families in every strata of society. These are the true reality shows that make an impact on our hearts, our minds and our memories. We don’t need a history class to remind us of national tragedies, or of attempts to destroy us as a people throughout our Biblical, and more modern, history. We need a release from the tears of the past, as well as from the present. So it is no major surprise that Memorial Day is followed immediately by Independence Day, a time to celebrate new life, a new beginning – as a people, as a nation, as families and as individuals.
At sundown today, we switched gears. Our national day of mourning turned to joy, as we began to celebrate our 71st year of national independence. Celebrating life is part of our national DNA. It is part and parcel of our national resiliency. It causes us to try to turn sorrow into joy and crying into laughter. It enables us to look with anticipation to the future and not to dwell on the difficulties of the past. It is engrained in the attitude that allows us to keep going forward and to see the good even in a bad situation. It appropriates the understanding that a cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). So, when we have an opportunity to celebrate, we take it seriously.
Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30.5).
Rejoice with us! Celebrate with us!
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.