Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Commander, an Epilogue

My family moved my father’s remains here to Israel last night. This is the hesped (eulogy) I gave at the burial.

This week of all weeks, seems so fitting for my father, Shimon Mayer ben Nissan,(z”l) to come here. There has been so much emotion already. We commemorated our fallen on Yom Hazikaron and celebrated the miraculous birth of the modern State of Israel. The opening of this week’s parsha, (portion) Bahar also lends itself beautifully to this moment.

וידבר ה' אל משה בהר סיני לאמר. דבר אל בנ"י ואמרת אלהם כי תבאו אל הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת לה'.

The word Ki Tavo-u, when you come, is in plural form, which is just how my father is arriving, the body and the soul are forever connected, but they are now physically separate entities. Ki Tavo-u is so perfect.

I would like to thank my mother, may she live and be well, for undertaking this sacred task of fulfilling our father’s wishes of being moved to Eretz Yisrael. Moving him was a huge project and intense on so many levels. Ma, I admire your perseverance and strength for seeing it through, despite the various obstacles that arose along the way. It is a chesed shell emet (a true, ultimate kindness). Your devotion to Dad is an example for all of us. May you go from strength to strength. I would also like to thank my sister Sarita and my brother Jonathan for escorting Dad’s remains, not only on the flight from New York to Israel, but also driving his remains themselves from Boston to New York. I’m sure Dad is proud and appreciative of this ultimate fulfillment of Kibud Av. As Dad would say, another Goldberg Super service…

This is all so surreal. What could be more final than death and burial? It is difficult for the mind to conceive that an end that was, is now, no longer an end. But, as Jews, we know that Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael can transcend the laws of time and space. The relationship that we Jews have with Hakadosh Baruch-Hu (Gd) pushes us always higher and tests the limits of the natural world. And it is here, in Eretz Yisrael that Am Yisrael has proven that we, as a nation of torah, can defy almost anything that is considered the usual order of things. What was final outside of Eretz Yisrael, has proven to be no longer final. What seemed to be the last stop of my father’s journey on this earth, was really just a pause, a timeout, if you will, until he found his way here, his homeland. The seeming finality, the chesed shel emet that took place in a Boston cemetery, is now improved upon with a chesed shell emet here in eretz Hakosdesh.

Every member of Am Yisrael is part of a collective soul. We say Kaddish for a departed soul, daven and learn for a soul because through torah and mitzvoth we connect not only with each other, and but also with those in the next world. We can lift up our own souls as we raise the souls of the next world ever higher. We know that what we do affects all Jews, past, present, and above all the future, our children. Today, although my father’s death occurred almost three years ago, cherished grandchildren, may they live and be well, can perform the chesed shell emet of laying their treasured grandfather to rest. A son in law, who could not attend the funeral in Boston, can now honor his beloved father in law here in Israel. The emptiness and the void that was created in that absence can now be filled. And as I stand here today, the remorse I felt after not having eulogized my beloved father in Boston, is now a faded memory, an ache that has dissipated and a wound that is healed. I am overwhelmed that Hashem has given me the unworldly gift of a second chance. I am humbled by having the zchut to stand before my father’s holy remains, and honor him in this way.

Shimon Mayer Ben Nissan was a quietly, exceptional person. When he was a young boy, one of his teachers read dad’s initials, S.M. Goldberg , and dubbed him “Simply Magnificent Goldberg” How prophetic that label turned out to be. My father embodied integrity in every aspect of his life. He never gave us long speeches about what was right and wrong, what was good and bad, what was moral and immoral, what was kindness and what was callousness. We learned it all just by watching him. We watched him work late a couple of nights a week to make up for the hours he missed when he left early from work on Fridays, and we learned honesty. He was a mechanical engineer who built power plants, but he rarely told people that he also had a law degree and was an active member of the bar, and we leaned modesty. We were never allowed to use words that degraded children who were challenged with special needs, and we learned compassion. We watched him greet a two year old before cooing over a new baby sibling, because he knew the two year was the one in need of attention, and we learned sensitivity. We watched him laugh at himself all the time and we learned not to take ourselves too seriously. We watched him thank our mother consistently for all she did for him and for us, and we learned to appreciate.

Dad was a man of few words, but when he spoke, everybody listened. He had a quick wit and a wonderful sense of humor.

He was the youngest of five children his father died when he was just 13 years old. Though from a secular family, he faithfully said kaddish for his father for 72 years. He was a devoted son to his mother, and he was a devoted husband to our mother for 51 and ½ years. He adored his children and cherished his grandchildren. He was a proud World War 2 veteran. While he was not financially wealthy, he always considered himself the richest of men and he never failed to let us know that we, his family, were the reason that he felt that way.

As a young boy, Dad was introduced to Zionism by his Uncle. My father grabbed hold of it with both hands and held onto it for the rest of his life. He took us all to ZOA meetings when we were little. He nurtured a love for Israel in all five of us. He may not have made it here himself for various personal reasons, but he willingly gave the land of Israel what lives beyond him, his children and grandchildren. When three of us made our way here to Israel and, even better, settled in Yesha, we had his full support and he beamed with pride. He kissed and held his Hyman grandchildren the day we left Newton, knowing how much he would miss them, yet he never complained. He hugged me, and with emotion choking his voice, told me he was proud of me. His support of our aliyah is a gift I will hold dear for the rest of my life. On what turned out to be his last trip to Israel, I had the zchut to introduce him to Efrat. He was thrilled. As he looks down and watches many of his grandchildren living and breathing Torah everyday in Harei Yehuda, in the shomron, and in Herzilia, I hope my father knows that he is watching the fruit that is blossoming from the seeds he planted so long ago.

Dad had many, wonderful, funny expressions. We quote him constantly. There is one line that he said almost every night and it always made us chuckle. I’ve been hearing it in my head over and over again these last few days. When he went to bed, he would say “I’m going to bed to lie down for a few minutes. In case I fall asleep, I’ll be right there.” It comforts me greatly to know, that when the almighty gives Am Yisrael rest from it’s suffering and hardships, and the time arrives for t’chyat Hamaiting, for all Jewish souls of the past to awaken and be together in etretz Yisrael, you Dad, will be right here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Horror And The Strength

Israel is still reeling from the horror of the terrorist attack that took place Shabbat night, in the town of Itamar, in Samaria. Yes, CNN, it was indeed a terrorist attack, and yes, arabs were the perpetrators. As we Israelis first heard the reports of the attack, our minds couldn’t comprehend the news, our hearts were broken and our cries pierced the air: “WHY?” We cried, we screamed, we questioned: how could this be? We asked so many questions, except for one: “Who would do this? What kind of person, or people could do this?” Why ask the question when we already knew the answer? Sadly, we knew exactly who was capable of such an act of brutality. Surely now the world would see it too, we hoped. It would see what surrounds us and lives amongst us day in and day out.

So we waited for the response, the outrage, the condemnation. We waited, for surely it would come. How can humanity not abhor such an atrocity? How could the world not scream out with us? What could the world say about five family members, including three children, being butchered in their sleep, other than this butchery of innocents must end? The world would surely condemn those who slit the throat of a four month old baby, right? Well, we received the world's response, and is was sorely lacking. The world had very little to say in the way of condemnation. Actually, that's not true. The world had plenty to condemn once Israel announced that she will build some new homes in Judea and Samaria. The UN raced to say that Jews building in these areas is not conducive to peace. That’s interesting. When did the UN race to say that killing a Jewish baby, a toddler an older brother and their parents isn’t conducive to peace? Oh, that’s right…it didn’t. I also heard no outrage from the “moderate” muslims of the world. You know the ones, the ones who say that violence isn’t part of Islam, yet do nothing to denounce it.

Israel really needs to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of her. Obviously, as we’ve seen time and time again, the world really doesn’t mind when Jews are killed. Did the Olympics committee stop the games when the Israeli athletes were massacred? No. Did the world cry out when eight yeshiva boys and young men were slaughtered as they learned over their holy books? No. Did it shout out “NO!” when a whole family was wiped out eating pizza? No. When a Passover Seder was bombed in Netanya did the world denounce the violence and the rhetoric of Jewish hatred that accompanied it? No. Unfortunately, I could go on and on with so many examples of the world looking the other way when Jewish blood is spilled. Six million Jews anyone? No.

The world is not crying for Israel. The world never does. And I don’t mind because I don’t expect it to. What bothers me much, much, more, is how we Jews keep asking, begging for the world’s approval. We keep giving and giving, hoping and hoping. We give our homes, our land, and worst of all, the lives of our children. It never matters what we do. We gave away Gaza. The Fogel family,ironically, was evacuated from Gaza. We were thanked with Katushas and with the world asking us to give more.To the world, nothing Israel does is good enough. It's about time she got that memo and just took care of herself.

When prime minister Netanyahu visited her grandparents’ home after the funeral, 12 year old Tamar Fogel, one of three orphans from the freshly murdered family, challenged him by asking, “If you do something, are you afraid the U.S. will do something to you?” In her hour of unrelenting grief and trauma she had the clarity and the strength to ask such a question right to the prime minister’s face, eye to eye. She’s an inspiration to us all. He, on the other hand, had nothing to say. What could he say?

Israel must be strong and unyielding in its claim on her homeland, every inch of it. From the Golan to Eilat. From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Form Itamar to Hevron. So the world won’t like it. So what? They don’t like us now. The Arabians won’t like it. So what? They want to kill us already. At least we’ll have our homes, our land and Please God, our children. We are surrounded by a culture which celebrates death. After the gruesome murders, candy was handed out in the streets of Gaza in celebration. Why should we care what people like this, who nourish this violence, think?

We, the Nation of Israel are a culture of complete contrast to the culture of death that surrounds us. We plant, we build, and we protect life and save lives all over the world. Once in a while, parts of the world thank us. Once in a while we get some credit. No one could deny what the Israelis did in Haiti. We kept Iraq from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, we mostly stand alone. That’s OK with me too, because I know who we are and what we are. We are the Nation of Israel. We know from where and from whom life comes. We celebrate life. Everyday we pray for it. We cherish it. We raise our glasses to it. We exist for it. We live for it.

May the almighty give comfort to the Fogel family and may the memories of the murdered be for a blessing and may the Almighty avenge their blood. Am Yisrael Chai.