Monday, April 8, 2002

Memorial Flames

Memorial Flames
April 8, 2002


Tonight begins the commemoration of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.  Most of us will participate in ceremonies throughout the country, marked by speeches, poetry, and the lighting of six flames, each flame representing one sixth of the six million, six million, which in recent years, has been estimated as being closer to seven million. The enormity of six million people is so beyond human conception that, rather than overstate we understate. One small flame symbolizing one million people.

Holocaust day, Yom HaShoah, as we refer to it in Hebrew, has a second element, for some reason less emphasized. That is, Heroes’ Day –when we honor the bravery, in Hebrew, gevura, of  tens of thousands who risked their lives, and many times, lost their lives, in the war against the Nazi beast.

Jews are no strangers to death, nor are we strangers to heroes. I’d like to relate to you briefly, a short account of modern heroism, a simple story, not unlike many others, but still, heroism, in every sense of the word. A friend of mine, let’s call him Avi, not his name, but he would never forgive me if I used his real name, is a multi-faceted person, with many interests, talents and expertise. In the army he is a rabbi, or chaplain, as they are called. In real life he is, among other things, a first-class paramedic. When the call-up started, Avi received a phone call from one of the soldiers in his unit. It was Friday afternoon, a few hours before the beginning of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. “Avi,” we’re all here, we’ve been called up.” Despite that fact that he had not received orders, without thinking about it, Avi packed a bag and left his family for the base, joining the rest of the troops.

One might ask, what does a combat unit need with a Rabbi, but Avi doesn’t restrict himself to spiritual tasks. Rather, he takes part in all the unit’s activities, never knowing a quiet moment.

It wasn’t long before the unit received it’s assignment: Jenin. Jenin is the northern-most Shomron city today belonging to the Palestinian authority. It is also full of terrorists. Why? Prior to the beginning of the current  “Defensive Shield” war,  whenever Israel began retaliating against the PA, in response to terror attacks, the Arab terrorists fleeing from the IDF would run north, reaching Jenin. As a result the city filled up with more than its share of ‘natural terrorists.’ The city is divided into two sections: the regular city and the refugee camp. Most of the fleeing terrorists found shelter in the refugee camp, turning it into one of the most dangerous areas in the Shomron.  Jenin’s terrorist infrastructure includes the Fatah-based Al-Aqsa Brigades, the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization and Hamas. Numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilian targets initiated in Jenin. Of the thousands of weapons confiscated since the inception of the current military operation, (including over 2,000 guns and rifles, rpgs, etc, many many were found in Jenin. In order to eliminate terror, a house-to-house battle in Jenin was imminent.

Avi, together with his unit, made their way to the city of terror. Avi’s commander’s, learning that the unit’s Rabbi was also a paramedic, asked him if he would be willing to participate in the unit’s medical team. Avi’s response was immediate, “Yes, of course.” Avi is forty years old, married with a bunch of children, the oldest in the army and the youngest in nursery school.

The battle for Jenin began. Avi was called to duty, “A soldier wounded, in the refugee camp.” Avi quickly jumped into an APC – an armored personnel carrier, built like a tank, but smaller, and without a turret. Crowded in with a few other people, Avi found himself in the middle of the battle. The APC’s front entrance slid open and Avi found himself inside the camp, gunfire all around. Jumping out, he zigzagged from building to building, before finding the wounded soldier, treating him and getting him back to the IDF encampment.

A short time later, again, an injured officer. This time Avi had to run through a field, taking cover behind rocks, ducking down to avoid terrorist gunfire. As he told me, “I kept thinking how easy it would be to die here.” When Avi and the IDF doctor reached their destination, it was too late. The officer had died of his wounds. There was nothing they could do but return the officer’s body to the camp headquarters.

Avi came home for a few days, but made it clear. “I’m going back,” he said. He doesn’t have to, he didn’t receive call-up orders. He didn’t have to participate as a paramedic during the battle – his army job is as a Rabbi. When I asked him why he had gone in the first place, Avi said, “well the whole unit was there, so I had to be there too.”

Avi isn’t the only hero of the Defensive Shield War. Avi told me of others, who in everyday life sell insurance, drive taxis, teach in school, who all showed up for duty, one minute a civilian, the next minute a soldier, running their way through ankle-high mud, in the pouring rain, eating battle rations, dodging bullets, not always successfully. No complaints, no “why me” – ordinary, people, all of whom have one thing in common. They all know and say, (as Avi told me), “we are fighting for our homes.” This isn’t Falkland or Vietnam , it is a war for our houses, our yards, our families.

Just as there were heroes sixty years ago, so today, there are heroes – regular people who really aren’t so regular, or perhaps they are.

As I write this, writing about heroes, I’ve received very bad tidings. As tonight we mark the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day, another family is facing a personal holocaust. This morning a young man, a young hero from Kiryat Arba, serving in the IDF, was killed in the city of terror, Jenin. A fine person, from a fine fine family, gave his life for his people, for his land, a terrible price to pay for the crimes of Peres, Beilin and the like. Tonight, as we light the memorial flames, our thoughts will not only be of the six million.

Looking forward to good news,
With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder

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