(editors note: please be sure to scroll all the way down to see the text of the remarks made at this year’s ceremony by AACI’s own Reesa Stone as well as the Barbara Sofer’s keynote address. Todah rabah and kol hakavod to both of them!)
“You came here because your heart was tied to this nation and you bound up your life with that of all of Israel.” Brig. Gen. Rabbi Rafi Peretz, Chief Rabbi of the IDF, speaking at a yahrtzeit ceremony for new immigrant lone soldier Michael Levine z”l, July 18, 2010
Those of us who live in Israel are accustomed to memorial days and ceremonies. In addition to personal observance of yahrtzeits for family members and friends, there are designated days in our calendar when we stop as a nation to commemorate the deaths of our leaders, soldiers, victims of terror and those who perished in the Shoah.
As immigrants, although we chose to come on aliyah and are aware of the perils of living in Israel, it is still difficult to accept that tragedies are a part of life here, especially when faced with a personal loss. AACI provides support for bereaved families and friends at the annual AACI Memorial Ceremony by honoring the memories of those who have sacrificed their lives while in service to the State of Israel or as victims of terror.
This year, the AACI Memorial Ceremony will take place on Monday, October 25, 2010, 17 Heshvan 5771 at 3 pm at the AACI Memorial Forest.
The AACI Memorial Forest was established in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund near Sha’ar Ha’gai, the site of difficult battles waged in the War of Independence. The first trees were planted at the site following the Six-Day War in 1967 to become a living memorial, connecting those who fell for their country with the land they loved.
Established in 1983, the annual Memorial Ceremony pays tribute to the more than 300 North Americans to date who have fallen in Israel’s wars, defensive actions and terrorist attacks. Each name is inscribed on the Memorial Wall of the Americans and Canadians in Israel, beginning with two Americans who fell defending Tel Chai in 1920 and continuing through 2010.
Volunteer Judy Ann Cohen has been involved in organizing the Memorial Ceremony for about 15 years. She noted that the ceremony usually attracts about 300 people from all over the country.
“The AACI ceremony in English is important to Anglo-Saxons…it speaks to them and many feel that it has more meaning for them than many official government or army ceremonies,” she explained.
This year’s ceremony, led by Memorial Committee co-chairmen Donna Grushka and Rabbi Jay Karzen, will include greetings from the leadership of AACI and Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF), the lighting of a memorial torch, prayers for the State of Israel and the IDF soldiers, laying of wreaths by the Consul General of the US Embassy, IDF, Hadassah International President Nancy Falchuk, and representatives of North American youth programs (including Young Judaea and Aardvark), an address by keynote speaker Barbara Sofer, and the reciting of El Moleh Rachamim and kaddish. The program will conclude with the singing of Hatikvah.
At the ceremony, the memory of Steve Averbach ז”ל will be honored and his name added to the Memorial Wall. Averbach made aliyah from New Jersey as a teenager. He served three years in the army and then joined the anti-terrorism unit of the Israeli police where he served for 22 years. On May 18, 2003 Averbach was riding the #6 bus in Jerusalem when a terrorist detonated his explosives. The bomb killed seven people and seriously wounded 20 others, including Averbach, who was permanently paralyzed from the neck down. This past summer, after seven years enduring hospitals and rehabs, Averbach succumbed to his injuries and died at the age of 44. He is survived by his wife Julie, four sons, Tamir, Dvir, Sean, Adam, his parents, David and Maida, his brother Michael and his sister Eileen Sapadin. (A moving tribute to Steve Averbach z”l can be found in Haaretz’s Anglo-File on Friday, Oct. 15, 2010.)
The theme of the talk by keynote speaker Barbara Sofer will be “There’s No Need to Airbrush Our Heroes.” Sofer is the Israel Director of Public Relations and Communications for Hadassah, and a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post. She is the author of several books and a well-known speaker on behalf of Israel and Zionist causes.
Bus transportation will be available to the Memorial Ceremony from Jerusalem. For additional information, phone AACI, 02-566-1181.
An organized trip is planned for members from around the country to visit the Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve and will conclude with the AACI Memorial Ceremony. Further details can be found on the AACI website. For registration, call the AACI office: 02-566-1181.
For those who would like to visit the Memorial Forest on other days of the year, AACI is now offering to supply a volunteer who will meet you, drive you to the site and guide you, including a visit to the nearby JNF overlook describing the 1948 battles to break the blockade of Jerusalem and Mahal Memorial. If you are interested, please call the AACI Jerusalem office (tel: 02-5617151) or Judy Cohen (02-6514392).
Yihi Zichron Baruch –may the memories of the North Americans who gave their lives for the State of Israel serve as a blessing to all of us. We look forward to a year when no new names will need to be added on the Memorial Wall.
with thanks to Reesa Stone:
To the Averbach family and their friends, to the families of the fallen, members of AACI, members of Young Judea and the Aardvark youth programs, honored guests, friends,
Jewish life has the unique characteristic in that it is centered on the community. We are not simply individuals living our lives as well as possible, but we live our lives within a community, responsible for each other. As our sages tell us כל היהודים ערבים זה לזה all Jews are responsible one for the other. In ancient times, the Kohen Gadol would pray in the Temple on Yom Kippur and ask for forgiveness for the entire nation. Today, as individuals, we continue this tradition to pray for the entire community. On Yom Kippur in the Al Chait prayers we recite, “We have sinned, Forgive us, Let us atone.”
There is always a feeling of community. We are never isolated. We do not celebrate our simchas alone, we need a minyan at weddings, brit milahs or for any full prayer service. We are not expected to stand alone in our troubles. When we pray for an individual’s health, we ask that the patient be healed among all the sick of Israel. Nor do we mourn alone. To recite the kaddish – the mourner’s prayer – one must be surrounded by a minyan. When we comfort a mourner we say “may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” We share a common bond. One person’s happiness is everyone’s happiness. A single tragedy is a tragedy for the whole community.
The Jewish people share both history and destiny. Nowhere is this shared destiny more evident than here in Israel. When the State of Israel was founded almost 63 years ago, it was to gather together all of Am Yisrael, not just for those living here.
The English speaking community of Israel as represented by AACI is also unique. Of all the communities that have gathered in Israel, the English speaking community is one of the few who came out of pure choice; for love of the Land and love of the people.
All of us have chosen to make Israel our home, to throw in our lot with our brothers and sisters from around the world; to share in the destiny of our people. With that choice, comes obligation, to Israel in general, and to our own English speaking community in particular. We celebrate our shared simchas, and we are also here to help and support in the darkest moments.
So many of our people, in their prime, have given their lives to ensure the freedom and liberty of Israel. So many of our sons and daughters, whose names are etched on this memorial, have fallen in defense of our country, our Land and our people.
To our sorrow, this year we have added a new name to our list of fallen heroes; that of Steve Averbach. Steve spent his life in service of his people, protecting them to the best of his ability. His loss, and the loss of all those inscribed here, is deeply and keenly felt by our entire community.
May their memories be for a blessing.
our thanks to award winning author, Barbara Sofer:
No part of our statehood was won without sacrifice. Remember our names forever, goes the song. We are here today to do that, to stop and pause in our busy lives, to remember, to weep and to rise to our feet in applause and appreciation. Mostly, we are aware of the sacrifice of all the Isaacs who walked the road, yahad with all of us to the dreaded altar. Lovers, spouses, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents, children, I stand humbly before you to honor our dead.
I remember a time when I was a camp counselor in Connecticut when a plane flew so low overhead that I became terrified that it was an enemy attack. Irrational, I know. No one had fought on Connecticut soil since the British blasted the coast in 1812, and yet I can remember the sound of the plane today and the fear. I was 15. The lake was full of little kids. It was for me a moment like Holden Caulfield’s in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a realization that there was no way to protect them. As an Israeli, I’ve often had that feeling. Everyone we love – afraid. A spouse, a sister, a child is vulnerable. Here in Israel, as the late Steve Averbach used to say, “we’re all moving targets.”
When I was honored to be asked to speak at the memorial ceremony for the more than 300 whose names are listed on the Memorial Wall – North Americans, AACI associate members and their families who have fallen in service to the State of Israel or as terror victims – I couldn’t have imagined that Steve, who died on June 3, would be among those we stand here today to salute. In the seven years since Steve was mortally injured in a bombing, he overcame many health crises. Afterward he would be back, flashing his irresistible Cheshire cat smile, as he inspired a student group or raised funds to assist other victims of terror.
Steve, you ably represent both the soldiers and the civilians who are named on this wall. You served first as a soldier and then on the anti-terror police force. As a civilian, you taught people like me to shoot and defend ourselves. You were injured, gun in hand. For the seven years afterward, facing life as a quadriplegic, you displayed a soldier’s valor.
But Steve, if you were sitting here right now, you’d be on your guard about having me describe you with hyperboles. Stop the balderdash, you might say. Except you’d use another word that starts with B. “Don’t turn me into some kind of saint,” you would say.
Steve, I don’t want to airbrush you. American psychologist Carol Gilligan has warned us that the moment we idealize people, we distance ourselves from them, erase their existence as flesh-and-blood human beings whom we loved for who they were. We must continue to love them for their goodness, but also their faults, their high-mindedness but also their peccadilloes.
So for the record, you were more comfortable with a stein of beer in Mike’s Place than you were in a Talmud class. Your nickname was Steve Guns. Your mother made you apologize to a neighborhood builder because you vandalized his concrete foundation. You were angry that he’d uprooted trees. You told me that you if you hadn’t moved to Israel and channeled your restless energy into the IDF, you would have wound up in jail back in New Jersey.
I met you first on May 18, 2003, in the intensive care unit of Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem I had never seen anyone like you. Rambo was the only word that came to mind. The No. 6 bus driver stopped suddenly for a religious man running after them from the bushes. You noticed the man’s unshaven cheeks and the bulges in his jacket. You drew and cocked your gun, but the terrorist’s finger was already on the bomb trigger. Seven persons were killed immediately, 20 including you were injured.
You’d caused the terrorist, whose mission was to murder tens of men, women and children as the bus filled, to explode prematurely. Many passengers owe you their lives. The concussive wave of the blast savaged your lungs. A single ball bearing lodged between C4 and C5 in your back, the critical vertebrae that control upper and lower body mobility.
SEVERAL DAYS after you were hospitalized, Rebecca Lipkin, the producer of ABC’sNightline, phoned me with a request to find an Israeli and a Palestinian to talk about the road map. Two women physicians, one from Nablus, one from Efrat, agreed to talk. Both happened to be taking care of you. Yes, they could film you, you agreed, but you wanted to talk. Before millions of viewers, you protected the good name of Israel from an intensive care unit.
At first you wanted to die. Pull the plug, you ordered your parents. But five hard years later, when I asked you at your son Sean’s bar mitzva, you said you were “happy to be here. Totally.” You had become closer to your sons – Tamir, Dvir, Sean, Adam – although you regretted the limitations on what you could do for them, and of course, the burden you had placed on Julie.
You didn’t regret your decision to live in Israel.
For most of us, born in North America, living here, bringing up our children here, exposing them to the dangers of defending this country and confronting the terrorism was a heavy decision. Although we accept ideologically the equal responsibility of all Jews to defend this land, there’s no way to erase the knowledge that it was a choice.
In Building a Life, Alex Singer, whose name is inscribed on this memorial wall, addresses the weight of knowing he volunteered for military service while the sabra soldiers were drafted. “I spend the time thinking whether I made the right choice,” wrote home Alex. And to his Grandma Jean, Alex described the sensual hills with their curves and crevices. “Whenever we enter the hills, we move like marines, snort, pant and sweat, when we should be lying under an olive tree, drawing and sleeping. Oh well.”
Steve, you knew Alex Singer. You always attended his memorial ceremony. It was you who noticed that Alex was buried right next to his buddy Benjamin Levy. When Alex was killed preventing terrorists from penetrating the northern border on September 15, 1987, Paula Rutstein, an American immigrant in Karmiel, was pregnant with her first sabra. She and her husband Hanoch named him Alex. Alex Rutstein is 22, about to go into the army after yeshiva study. I asked Paula why she named her son for Alex Singer. “Because he was a fellow American. Because he came here and served, and he didn’t have to.”
Nor did the famed Mickey Marcus. He had left the military and had a promising law career in the US. He was asked to recruit potential military leadership from among retired generals. When he couldn’t find any, he volunteered himself. I thought of you, Steve, as I read our fellow American Tzippora Porath’s monograph on him. Marcus was boisterous, a kibbitzer, a welterweight champion boxer, a hard drinker. Walter Winchell used to think he was Irish.
Col. David (Mickey) Marcus helped build the Burma Road and was involved in the jeep convoy that broke the siege to Jerusalem. A young woman in the Palmah was his jeep driver. “You know you could get killed in a war like this. What made you come here?”
The American thrust out his wrist and said: See these veins? The blood of Abraham flows through them. That’s what brought me here.” That’s what brought him and a thousand other volunteers to the fight for independence. Brought him and subsequent generations of real men and women, with faults enough, and idiosyncrasies enough. But with the blood of Abraham and Sarah.
On July 11, 1948, Marcus was fatally shot by an Israeli sentry, a new immigrant who had trouble recognizing the Hebrew password.
What was the password?
Haderech shelanu. The road is ours.
Indeed, the road is now ours to shape. With humility, we can only offer you our gratefulness and our pledge to remember you always. May their memories be for a blessing.