From videos of Rabbi Leo Dee discussing his recent losses and the story of the Gush Etzion massacre in 1948 to a speaker asking for the inclusion of all Jews, Queens Jewish Center celebrated Israel. More than 60 people came to the two-hour event for Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days.
Everything we have in Israel now is because of those who died defending the nation, said Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center. Quoting Chazal, Rabbi Kerbel said, “Those who died for their country – nobody can match up to them in Gan Eden. Their lives are holy.”
Quoting Rav Kook, Rabbi Kerbel said that standing silently for fallen Israeli soldiers “contains within it the holy mitzvah of remembering the glory of the holy ones.”
Attendees stood while watching videos of Israelis stopping everything as a two-minute siren wailed honoring their dead. Since 1881, 24,213 soldiers and 4,255 civilians have died. Thirty-eight civilians were killed this year, said Rabbi Kerbel.
A video of Rabbi Leo Dee talking to the media was played. Rabbi Dee’s wife and two daughters were murdered on April 7, coming back from Tiberias.
“For too long, we’ve let a small minority say there is no such thing as right and wrong. Everything is relative.” “Any terrorist is justified to kill any innocent civilian because he has his ‘cause.’” “There is no such thing as a moral equivalence between terror and victim. The terrorist is always bad.”
The rabbi and his deceased wife tried raising their family with the values of “helping and caring for others, building community.” What values does the terrorist who murdered his family members have or teach? Is the terrorist “a product of a broken culture that doesn’t differentiate between good and evil? You are pure evil,” said Rabbi Dee.
“We build. They murder us. They destroy, but it’s your [the Israelis’] fault since you built in the first place.” “Israel, and good, is about building. Evil is about destruction. Israel is good. Evil is bad.”
The story of the Lamed-Hei (35) Haganah soldiers who died protecting the four Gush Etzion kibbutzim was told through a video. On January 11, 1938, 38 soldiers set out from Jerusalem with 100-pound packs to supply and defend the sieged kibbutzim. One soldier sprained an ankle requiring two soldiers to take him back.
Outnumbered 8:1 against hundreds of Arabs, the Haganah soldiers ran out of ammunition and were killed on May 13, 1948, and 127 inhabitants were massacred. Jewish people would not live in that area again until after the 1967 Six-Day War, when the children of the fallen fighters asked to go back. Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hei, south of Beit Shemesh, was established in memory of the Haganah fighters.
Rabbi Kerbel thanked Hashem “for 75 years of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael: being able to inhabit our ancestral homeland, being able to assert our Jewish pride, being able to help Jews in need, and being able to learn Torah unhindered.”
The keynote speaker, Yossi Ben Harush, teaches Jewish Studies at SAR High School. He is a veteran of the Second Lebanon War and a doctoral student in the Department of Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University.
Ben Harush spoke of Rav Kook’s need for all Jews: “the holiness, the nationalism, and the humanism.”
The nationalist dream for Zionists was a safe haven for Jews. For the religious, it’s a country with Torah. Humanists believe in more universal rights and values.
“They must unite within us, help each other and perfect each other,” said Yossi Ben Harush, quoting Rav Kook. All are needed, and extremes should not prevail, said Ben Harush.
The prayer said after a meal on Shabbos and holidays was almost the national anthem of Israel, said Rabbi Kerbel. T’hilim 130 speaks about the joy of redemption. Rabbi Kerbel sang it to the tune of “HaTikvah.”
Rabbi Yaniv Meirov of Chazaq said T’hilim 130 and 20. Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh chanted the Keil Malei Rachamim. Rabbi Elisha Friedman of the Young Israel of Forest Hills said the prayer for the Israel Defense Forces.
A festive Maariv and Hallel without a brachah were led by Herbert Schonhaut. After Dov Silberberg blew the shofar, people sang “L’shanah Ha’baah BiYerushalayim” (Next Year in Jerusalem). Israeli pickles, hummus, and chips were part of the refreshments afterward.