Jerusalem, June 18, 2001 -- My wife and I did something for the first time tonight. We went to the funeral of a terror victim. It was Rivki's idea -- she felt that we should go to show our support for the family and give honor to the deceased. She also said that hopefully, it would be our last chance to do so.
His name was Danny Yehuda, age 35, married with 3 little kids. He lived in a place called Chomesh, near Shavei Shomron. We got there early and were standing quietly waiting for the funeral to start. It was taking place outside the office of the Prime Minister. I was very apprehensive about the crowd reaction -- the people who came first were extremely vocal and if Sharon would have shown up, it would have turned into a political rally denouncing the government instead of a funeral.
Before the ambulance drove up with the deceased, Ruby Rivlin, Israeli Minister of Communications, came out of the building and made his way into the crowd. He is a right wing member of Knesset, but to his credit, did not use the opportunity to make any major political statements. He came right into the middle of the crowd and stood quietly as people shouted their frustration at him -- another innocent Jew had lost his life at the hands of terrorists.
It became a kind of contest -- some people yelling at the Knesset member and some yelling to God.
It was an eerie scene -- a lot of shouting yet a lot of crying by friends and family. Still the body had not arrived. All of a sudden, a tall Israeli with red hair cried out: “This is a funeral -- we must say Psalms to God in the merit of the victim. He began to shout out sentences of Psalms and many of us joined him. It became a kind of contest -- some people yelling at the Knesset member and some yelling to God. It represented to me a basic question that we all can ask ourselves -- when we have problems or difficulties, who do we turn to first?
EULOGIES AND TEARS
The body arrived in an ambulance. Another ambulance brought the family. Rivki and I stood near Danny's wife who was inconsolable. The crowd moved toward the family to show support while many were still yelling at Rivlin. The first we heard of another Jew being killed this evening came from a relative of Danny's who said, "Tell them someone else was murdered." Sadly, Rivki's hope that this would be our last opportunity to come to a funeral like this did not come to fruition.
The family cried out to Rivlin to please put an end to the violence and he wisely stood quietly. The crowd was asked to come close to the podium and Limor Livnat, Minister of Education, began to speak. There was a lot of booing during her words and it was beginning to look like the politics of the moment would overwhelm the mourning of the deceased. Then Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, from the Shomron area, began speaking and people asked for quiet in consideration of the deceased. There was not a sound as he delivered a beautiful eulogy.
Sadly, our hope that this would be the last funeral did not come to fruition.
He spoke about how this man had considered moving out of Chomesh because of the situation, but stayed and had just completed an addition on his house this week. He told us that he had been shot at last Thursday and by a miracle was saved. He spoke about the man as a husband and father who loved his family. As he spoke, the politics faded and the victim came into focus while tears ran down faces in the crowd. After two more speeches laced with pleas to Sharon to end the cease-fire and protect Israel's citizens, the funeral procession began.
And this, my friends, is why I am writing this letter.
WALKING IN UNITY
Some of you know that I have dedicated my life to try and bring Jews together. To educate those who don't know about the beauty of our religion, and to try and build bridges to Jews of all walks of life. As we started walking up the street to escort Danny Yehuda to his final resting place, I looked around. I saw a few men with long black coats, beards and payos (side-curls), some with knitted yarmulkes, some with head coverings that were obviously seldom worn, and some with no covering at all walking solemnly next to the ambulance bearing the body.
I saw women with wigs and long skirts, others with kerchiefs covering their hair, and others with no head covering and wearing pants. I saw Ethiopians and Russians, Americans and Sabras, walking together in silent respect for Danny Yehuda, their brother.
Whether Danny Yehuda kept Shabbat or ate Kosher food, I can't tell you. What I do know is he died because he was a Jew living in Israel. Ultimately, the people who killed him didn't care what his level of observance was when they attacked him this morning.
How great if we could all get together again, for a happy and joyous occasion.
Rivki and I feel very fortunate that we were able to be part of this group of people this evening. These are people who are bound by two things: the fact that we are Jews and that we live in Israel.
I couldn't help but feel a sense of intense pride that yes, we the Jewish people can still find common ground together. Yet, I instantly realized what the price had been for such unity. I thought how great it would be if we all could get together again for a different type of occasion -- something happy and joyous instead of a tragic procession. I realized it is possible to achieve this goal, and silently renewed my personal pledge to bring it to fruition.
Now we are crying. But hopefully soon we will be laughing together.