I want to thank Howie Brecher for “filling the gaps” in my knowledge of the site selection for the new ”J”. I need to keep this letter short because I am headed to Saks. They are running a special on suits. 80% off! The suit is 5 sizes to small , however I can just cut the jacket down the middle and glue some extra fabric on to the pants. We are considering opening a “strictly kosher” restaurant in Georgetown Ohio. My three Jewish partners live out there and they want it close to them. We didn’t do a demographic study for the area, however my partners said “no problem, we promise to eat there at least twice per week.” We want the community to feel welcome so we are going to call the facility “The K.” That way people who would normally avoid Jews will patronize us. We want our restaurant to blend in with the rest of the non descript businesses. In today’s society, it would be politically incorrect to identify the eatery as “Jewish”. The general population might think we favor one religion over another. We also appreciate the fact that advertising a business’s Jewish roots is a guarantee for failure. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a full service Jewish recreational and family needs organization in Cincinnati? One with Racketball courts, an indoor swimming pool bigger than a bathtub an outdoor olympic size pool, ohhh, my bad. They have something like that in Mason called the Mason Rec Center, The Countryside Y, Lifetime fitness in Mason etc. I guess they are not Jewish. They close on Christian holidays. I do think Howie could have saved a lot of time and space if he would have simply said; “We selected that site because a few of the benefactors said so.”
Every year I am deeply moved by the unity that is reflected in the gathering of our community for Yom Hazikaron to remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror.
This year’s commemoration, which was filled to capacity at the JCC’s Amberley Room, also provided an uplifting transitional ceremony into Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Our new community shaliach, Yair Cohen, community educator Elizabeth Woosley, and the committee members for these events, did an exemplary job and should be applauded for their efforts.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was one of the world’s greatest authorities of Jewish law, was once asked by a student of his yeshiva in Jerusalem, if he could take time off from his studies to go pray at the graves of the “tzaddikim,” the righteous souls of the Jewish people in the northern cities of Tz’fat and T’veria, where numerous Talmudic sages and other great Torah scholars are buried. Such a trip would, of course, take away time from the student’s study of Torah. Rabbi Auerbach told this student that he should remain in the yeshiva and learn Torah and not take such a trip–but not because he did not think such a trip was worthwhile–for he then added: “In order to pray at the graves of the tzaddikim, the righteous souls of our people, there is no need to travel to those cities in the Galilee. When I feel a need to pray at the graves of the righteous, I go to Mt. Herzl—Israel’s national military cemetery in Jerusalem — to the graves of the soldiers who died al Kiddush Hashem, for the sake of the sanctification of God’s holy name.”
This story accurately expresses how we should feel about the men and women who gave their lives for the State of Israel. Those who made such sacrifices are referred to by our Tradition as “kedoshim,” as holy individuals. We may even extend such a perspective to those who currently serve in the Israeli army — who risk their lives to protect and save others — thereby performing the greatest mitzvah. Unlike terrorist regimes and organizations, Judaism and the State of Israel attribute no holiness whatsoever to the taking of human life, but only to its preservation. The death of one soul, even of an enemy combatant, and even if justified, is still a tragedy that we mourn, and that no soldier in Israel celebrates.
This year’s gathering featured Israeli soldiers who participated in the ceremony and who also serve in the choir of the Israel Defense Forces. Before the program was to begin, I privately introduced myself as a rabbi in the community and thanked them for their devotion to our nation: “You are ‘kedoshim,’ — ‘holy’ people who save livesm without whom our holy land could not continue to offer the great bounty of blessings that God has granted it. We who benefit from all that Israel provides us, spiritually and culturally, can only do so, because of you. Every year for over twenty years, the community has asked me to recite the memorial prayer, for those who have died fighting for the State of Israel. As someone who has not personally fought in the Israeli army, I always ask myself: ‘Who am I to recite this prayer for people like you who have fought for the State of Israel and who have surely lost relatives, close friends, or comrades, in the wars and battles to establish and preserve the State? Please grant me your permission to recite this prayer for holy people like you who are much more worthy to recite it than I.’”
The soldiers genuinely thanked me for my words but clearly were taken aback. As is often the case with those who serve in heroic capacities, with great humility they responded that they did not feel they deserved any special recognition for doing what was necessary to ensure the survival of the State of Israel and its people. Moreover, they told me that their permission was not needed for my prayer to be offered. As I continued to insist, they finally responded with a resounding: “Vadai!,” “Certainly!”
Truth be told, there are members of our own community who have served and serve in the IDF. It is, indeed, very humbling to know that these individualsare among those to whom we can now look for inspiration, in making a choice to give their lives, if called upon to do so, for the Jewish people.
We pray that God will continue to bless the holy soldiers of the State of Israel, but let us also pray that one day we will no longer have need for those soldiers. For it is our hope that memorial prayers for new victims of bloodshed and terror will no longer be recited–for the Jewish people or for any other people–and that holiness will be experienced only through the peaceful existence that defines the relationship of Israel and her neighbors.
Rabbi Hanan Balk
Golf Manor Synagogue