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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Yom Ha'Atzmaut Sameach!

A Letter from Sharon's friend, Danny.

Last night marked the beginning of Israel's Memorial Day. As night fell, the air-raid sirens sounded for a full minute. For one minute, the country stopped - standing still, at attention, heads bowed - remembering and honoring the 21,540 Israeli soldiers who have fallen so that we might live and be free.

Memorial Day in Israel is a day of solemnity, solidarity and grateful appreciation. There are no "white-sales". Everyone knows a soldier who has been killed, or one of the families that is mourning. While businesses and shops stay opened, entertainment centers are closed, and at precisely 11:00 AM the country grinds to a halt as the sirens sound again for two full minutes.

This is a especially poignant Memorial Day for me. As you know, just a week ago we got up from sitting shivah for my father. I am still in the "sheloshim" month of the year-long mourning process. My father's life encapsulated, in so many ways, the story of the Jewish people in the 20th century. He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1929 and was a young boy when Hitler took over. He experienced Kristalnacht and was saved , by the grace of God, arriving in New York with his parents and sister on the wings of war in September 1939.

Dad grew up as a Jewish immigrant in New York City, went to college and graduate school, was ordained as a Rabbi at the Torah Vada'ath Yeshiva and became one of the great Cantors of his time. His ability to interpret our prayers, melodies and folk traditions, to soar with his voice and spirit as if to heaven, earned him fans and devoted admirers world-wide.

My father always saw himself as a survivor - he had been targeted for death by the enemies of our people and he survived! His life had to count. Saving Jews, Jewish education and strengthening the State of Israel were major themes of his life. He was one of the founders of our local Jewish Day School, was involved in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry from early on and devoted himself whole-heartedly to Israel and Religious Zionism. While he taught us to be grateful to the United States for providing a place of refuge, we were brought up to see Israel as the home of the Jewish people and the future home of our family.

Dad fell into a coma while visiting here with us in Efrat for Pesach, passed away in Bikur Holim Hospital in Jerusalem and was buried on Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi where my brother Mike lives. Mom, Mike, Eddy and I sat shivah in Mom & Dad's apartment in Jerusalem which has been their home away from home in Israel for over 20 years.

My father often expressed his wonderment and gratitude at being part of this amazing Jewish saga. The little refugee boy, who had to flee for his life for the simple "crime" of being Jewish grew up to see the return of the Jewish people to Zion, to have a home of his own in the capital of Israel -Jerusalem, and to see most of his children and grandchildren rooted and flourishing here.

Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) just ended. It's solemnity and sadness gives way suddenly to the joy of Yom Ha'Atzmaut - Israel's Independence Day - I can see and hear the fireworks in the sky and have just returned from synagogue where we sang the Hallel and other prayers of thanks and celebration. "This is the day that God has made - let us rejoice and be glad".

Yesterday we remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice to bring us to this day - and now we are celebrating 55 years of Jewish Independence! Yes, we still face a world of enemies. Yes, the world still doesn't know what to do with us Jews. (So what else is new?) But we will survive and prosper, believing in ourselves and trusting in God.

Tonight's service ended appropriately with the singing of the age old Jewish statement of faith and confidence in the future: "I believe with a full belief in the coming of the Messiah. And even if he tarries, even so, I will wait for him until that day that he comes". May it be so speedily and in our days.

Hag Sameach! Happy Independence Day!

Danny (& Batya, Rafi, Ari & Nili)