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A Place to Sigh: Israel Memorial Day

A Place to Sigh: Israel Memorial Day

Thousands of strangers come to the funeral of a soldier who was kidnapped, tortured and killed because of his Star of David.


I once went to a funeral – a spring funeral – at the military cemetery in Jerusalem. An Israeli soldier had been killed. Another name was added to a list, a long list, of Jews who have given their lives in the past 60 years so that the Jewish State of Israel might live.

I didn't know this particular soldier, but it didn't matter. He was one of ours – our children, our soldiers, our sons, our people. His name was Jason.

He had come to Israel alone, from Montreal, and had joined the Israel Defense Force. Now his parents, stunned, bewildered, jet lagged, disoriented, had hurriedly come to join him one last time – for his funeral.

The mother who brought forth a child from her womb would now return him to the womb of the earth. The father who dreamed of escorting his son to the marriage canopy, now followed him to the grave.

He was so young, their son. Old enough to be a soldier; old enough to have made aliyah, but barely finished with the business of being a boy. He thought he was returning to his ancient homeland to begin a new life. How could he know he was coming home to end his short sojourn in this world?

The funeral should have been a week earlier, but it took four or five days to find his body.

The funeral should have been a week earlier, but it took four or five days to find his body. You see, Jason had been kidnapped and then brutally slaughtered by terrorists. Then a huge snow storm in Canada grounded all planes. No one knew if his parents would arrive on time.

So thousands of strangers came in their place. They did not know Jason personally, but they claimed him as their own, perhaps because he had come to them alone. Like our father Abraham, Jason had left the safe and familiar to follow his God and to join his people in the Promised Land.

He wore their khaki uniform and stood side by side with his brothers and sisters, willing to endanger his life and, if need be, make the ultimate sacrifice for their welfare. In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh had buried Jewish infants in the walls and monuments memorializing Egypt's dead. Now, Jewish soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder, forming a living wall to protect Jewish children and keep them alive. Jason stood with them.

He was kidnapped, tortured and killed because of a khaki uniform, a blue and white flag, a Star of David. Because "in every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us." Because he was a glowing, living stone in our protective wall. Because he was a son of Abraham, a son of the covenant, a Jew in a Jewish land.

His parents spent 20 years or so raising him – through fevers and vaccinations and summer vacations and birthday parties and worries and hopes – many, many hopes. They were all laid to rest on that gray, spring afternoon in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Communal Sigh

I was swept along in the sea of silent marchers. They edged silently forward, crunching the gravel of well-tended paths beneath their feet. The air was heavy with silence and sighs. All along the paths they sighed. Old people and young. Thousands and thousands of them, parents carrying babies, students holding books, soldiers toting guns.

They stopped before the freshly dug gravesite and the sweeping, communal sigh was heard again.

They stopped before the freshly dug gravesite and the sweeping, communal sigh was heard again. They huddled together, each one alone, before that awful gap in the ground. The earth lay open and exposed, its surface turned back like flaps of skin on a human chest, ready for surgery.

Was the gaping hole a wound in the heart of the land? Or had the land opened its heart to embrace yet another son and gather in his war-torn body as his soul journeyed onward?

No one spoke. There were no words. Only heavy, heart-weary sighs.

The almond trees were in bloom. Frothy-white blossoms covered the mountaintop like spring brides hovering over still, sleeping grooms. Life and death mingled like old friends at a party. For some, life in all its turbulence would, meanwhile, go on. For others, time was forever stilled. The exact date was etched on stone.

Even the birds were still that day. Hundreds of trees grace Mount Herzl and thousands of birds daily fill the mountainside with their music. But that day all were strangely mute. Suddenly, one lonely songbird pierced the wall of silence with a stunning serenade.

"Do not despair! This is not the end! A soul has returned to his Maker, but there is still work waiting to be done, worlds to be built, songs to be sung. The world is alive with the promise of spring. God wills that life go on!"

Jason was no more, but Am Yisrael Chai – his people are alive.

The crowd listened to the Kaddish prayer and said a hushed, muted "Amen." Then sighed.

Cry in Peace

It is not easy to carry the burden of the Land of Israel. It is no simple matter to be deserving of this ancient, holy, demanding Homeland. For the Wandering Jew, even a small plot of land, just big enough to hold a military coffin, comes with a steep price. Even when the land is ours.

The cemetery is peaceful, quiet, very beautiful. The mountain is terraced with waves of neatly tended, low, square stones, each one lovingly landscaped and decorated, bordered with bright flowers and green plants. Each stone is carefully lettered with a name, parents' names, date of birth, place of birth, date of death. The letters are silent, but the stones cry – for those who died so that after two thousand years, the Jewish people might finally live – in peace – in their own Promised Land.

Those who lie here have a right to this exclusive piece of holy land.

Those who lie here have a right to this lovely hill, this exclusive piece of land overlooking the Holy City of Jerusalem. They have paid for it with precious life's blood. And we have a right to our Promised Land. But there is a price, even for a promise. When, I wonder, will the price be paid in full? My eyes wander across the seemingly endless rows of stones. They fill with tears.

It begins to rain. Even in heaven, the tears will flow.

May 6, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 12

(10) Jim.Wright, May 14, 2012 3:31 PM


What does hate,anger and death profit a man?I read your articles daily and I still don't understand why terrorists wish to kill and destroy Israel and it's people.Why can't they see the truth?How do they stay so blinded by Hate.G-d forgive them,many times it is passed on through the generations,but I feel as if my heart has been ripped from my body.May the G-d of Abraham,Issac and Jacob keep All Israelis safe and protected.I only wish that I could be there.As an American who Loves Israel and the people,I am with all of you,in my Heart.G-d Bless all who stand with Israel,and with they're Military..

(9) Charlie Kalech, April 18, 2002 12:00 AM

Jason's memory on Yom HaZikron

Driving to reserve duty on the evening of Israel's Memorial Day, I approached a small park on the side of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway as the hour of 8pm approached when Israel would come to a standstill and stand in a moment of silence for the fallen as sirens sounded. I pulled to the side, parked my car and waited.

Nine years earlier, while I was serving my compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces after immigrating from the United States, a soldier's body had been found here. At that time, a standard terrorist attack was the abduction of Israeli citizens and their murder. There were also drive-by shootings and more massive attacks.

Yehoshua Friedberg's body had been found, several days after he'd been missing in March 1993. I was among the first to hear the news, having been stationed in the I.D.F. Spokesperson's Unit. I was touched in a way that I have never been able to shake. Like me, Yehoshua (Jason) had come to Israel from North America and was serving his compulsory service before beginning his life here. Like me, Jason travelled to and from his home in Jerusalem, where, like me he had a serious girlfriend. Like me, he left his family overseas, including his parents, to follow his dream. Yehoshua never got to follow his dream. He never saw his parents again. He never married that girlfriend. He never had children. I stood on that spot as the siren sounded. I thought of all the things that he never had, all the things which had been taken from him in a brutal murder, all the things which I am fortunate enough to have. As I have since the day it happened, I kept thinking, it could have been me.

I send this to you in the hope that you will post it and that what I have written will get to his parents and his friends. It is part of a longer peice I would like to share with them.

Like you, although I never knew him, Jason's life touches me deeply. His memory is a blessing and he is constantly in my thoughts.

(8) Anonymous, April 16, 2002 12:00 AM

Author's comments 2002

A PLACE TO SIGH: Israel Memorial Day 2000/5760

Your one-line summary:

Author's comment

Your comment on this article:

Today is Yom Hazikaron 5762, Israel Memorial Day 2002. Almost nine years have passed since the murder of Yehoshua Friedberg hy"d. In the original article which appeared in my book "Cinnamon and Myrrh" (1994), Yehoshua was called - correctly - by his Hebrew name. In this net version of the article, Yehoshua was incorrectly and inadvertently translated as "Josh". I wish to inform the readers that his English name was "Jason"; his Hebrew name was Yehoshua Yehuda.

In the past nine years, many other Jews have been killed defending the Jewish people in the Jewish Land. It is in the merit of these brave and selfless sons of Israel that our tiny, beleaguered state continues to exist, to flourish and please G-d, to slowly advance towards a time of true peace. May we merit it soon. Yaffa Ganz

(7) Rabbi Mordechai Bulua, April 27, 2001 12:00 AM

Rabbi eulogizes Jason (Yehoshua)

4 Iyar 5761
April 27, 2001

Dear Yaffa,
After reading your moving article, I felt I must write. I never knew Yehoshua personally. However, I am the rabbi at the Herziliah-Talmud Torah School in Montreal, where Yehoshua was a student. Our services are held in the gynmasium where Yehoshua's basketball jersey hangs on the wall as a memorial. Starting in the year 5759 (1998), I introduced during Yizkor the prayer for the Israeli Defense Forces. The prayer took on added significance for us, knowing that Yehoshua was killed while serving in the army. I asked his parents if I could speak briefly about their son before Yizkor. The following are a few of the thoughts I shared with my congregants.
Yehoshua was a very special young man. Poor students would often ask him for a loan which he gladly gave. When the student came to repay the loan, Yehoshua would show in his notepad that the amount was already crossed out and refused to take the person's money! Yehoshua was very careful about saying or hearing lashon hara. (evil speech)When people said something derogatory in his presence, he would walk out of the room to show his displeasure. Yehoshua loved learning and teaching Torah, and when he was home, he volunteered to teach Gemorra to the members of his shul. He was a natural communicator, and people marvelled at his teaching abilities.
These are just some of the qualities of the late Yehoshua Friedberg, May G-d avenge his blood, which should be immortalized. Yehi Zichro Baruch.

Rabbi Mordechai Bulua

Susanne cockle, April 16, 2013 1:43 AM

What an amazing young man. To walk out of a room when someone spoke negatively about someone. And to forgive loan's of fellow students. He was an inspirational young man. Thank you for sharing. I have a Flag given to my husband years ago from on of his cousins who served in the Israel Army. This is a very special flag to me and it hangs above my son's bed. I pray that the G-D of our father Abraham will continue to protect Israel and peace will come for The Jewish people.

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