Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Yet another military funeral

I've been going to military funerals for more than 40 years. This says more about my age than anything else: people old enough have been going to funerals for 60, or 70, or 90 years. Though the funerals before 1948 weren't military, technically. So there's that. The young soldiers at the entrance to the cemetery handing out fliers explaining how to behave in the case of a rocket attack, however, are an innovation.

This was the second funeral I've joined in a week. The first was of Max Steinberg, a young American Jew who came here alone to defend us, so 30,000 of us came to thank him. Today it was 21-year-old Barkai Shorr, whose father, Yaron, I have known for 46 years. And that was the first thing I noticed about the crowd. There were thousands of us, not tens of thousands, from widely diverse social circles: People who went to grade school with Yaron, high school with Barkai, the synagogue of Barkai's grandmother, neighbors neighbors neighbors, professional colleagues of Yaron but also professional colleagues of Barkai, and on and on. Yet it was clear that people from different circles also knew each other. Maybe we really are just one big circle.

Yaron spoke on his son's grave in a clear and steady voice. He told us about his family, which has been living in Jerusalem for 180 years. He told about Barkai, whose single most important characteristic was his constant volunteering (I noted the large number of Magen David Adom staff, where he's been a volunteer for six years). He told about his name,which is a bit unusual; it's a mishnaic word for dawn, and he was born at dawn. Yaron quoted a Mishna which uses the word barkai: on the morning of Yom Kippur the High Priest started working when the barkai was bright enough to see down to Hebron. He told about Barkai's years at a yeshiva in Hebron. He told us that for the coming 180 years his family's clan in this land will have lots of descendants named Barkai. Finally, he told us all, the thousands of us, to volunteer, to commit acts of service for others, and each time to say to ourselves: Barkai. Barkai. Barkai.

That was the only time his own voice cracked.

The military cemetery sits on a high hill above Jerusalem, and as we were burying Barkai you could see the magic gold of Jerusalem at sunset, Jerusalem of Gold.

As the crowds were dispersing Hamas rockets from Gaza were being shot down over the hills to the west and one could hear the explosions.

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Every family is different, and each funeral is unique even within the structure of a military ceremony. Five years ago I was at a military funeral, that of Nitai Stern. I went there in the name of our son Achikam, Nitai's friend, since Achikam himself was fighting in Gaza. Here's what I wrote that day, about that funeral. I can hope there won't be any further ones.

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