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A Funeral, A Name, and A Question

May 9, 2009 | by

One Israeli immigrant mourns the tragic loss of another. A stranger, yet a sister.

The funeral should have started at 9 am but was delayed until 11 to give her parents time to arrive on a flight from their home in Paris, France. What were her parents thinking on their way to Israel? Their daughter as a teen had chosen to come and make her home here and spend the rest of her life in the land of her ancestors. The rest of her life was only two more years. Then a Palestinian bus driver plowed his 11-ton bus full speed into a crowd of people. Most of those killed were soldiers waiting at a public bus stop.

You couldn't forget her name: Judy. It may surprise some to know that the origin for the common Western name "Judy" comes from the word Judith -- in Hebrew Yehudit. Yehudit means simply a "Jew."

At many funerals, the spiritual leader and friends talk about the departed. Here the speakers talk to the departed and we got to listen in. A rabbi spoke to Judy. Her Hebrew language teacher spoke. A best friend would miss Judy as she would miss a member of her own family.

A couple who had "adopted" Judy as a new and young immigrant, spoke of "our sweetheart." The mayor of Jerusalem spoke, not for the first time at the death of a young person. This must be his toughest part of a very tough job otherwise. A fellow soldier told how Judy wanted to make the army a career and rise even to the position Chief of Staff. One got the feeling that Judy might well have achieved that goal. Judy's father somehow managed to speak a few final words to his daughter, words he must have churned over and over in his head on the flight from Paris. But his understandable sobs were inevitable.

If you wonder how many come to these funerals, let me explain. Just over a year ago there was another funeral. A young man killed in Lebanon. A half-hour before the funeral was to start I sat in a coffee shop near Mt. Herzl, the military cemetery in Jerusalem. It was raining so hard that I couldn't see the other side of the road. At first I thought that no way was I going to get drenched going to the funeral of someone I didn't even know. But then I thought, he'd been in the land only two years, and had come home to Israel from the former Soviet Union. I thought that being new to the land, the soldier had few friends and only a mother, who was flown here for her son's funeral.

I decided to go to the funeral even in the downpour. And as I came over a rise and around the corner to the burial plot, to my surprise I saw a sea of umbrellas. At least 300 people stood under those umbrellas. And every last person there was drenched from the waist down because of the icy, blowing rain which, in the course of half an hour turned to sleet and then snow. But nobody moved. The honor guard stood at attention without flinching. They were drenched from head to toe. The word "honor" has a whole new deeper meaning for me now.

All was quiet at Judy's funeral, until they started to bring the casket in. Then the weeping began. How many who wept knew Judy personally? Probably only a very few. Yet still, Judy was my sister and Judy was my daughter and Judy was the woman who would not become the mother she was meant to become. Her children and her grandchildren who might have been, wept for her.

I think of Judy' father. No father should ever have to stand over the grave of his own daughter and weep.

And I think of another father, the one who drove the bus. He has five children. He was one of 200 Arab bus drivers that Israel allowed to carry workers into jobs in Israel from Gaza. The Jews trusted this Arab. And besides, what father with children of his own could mow down and murder other children? But it happened. Can anyone tell me why? If that father were my father, what would I think about my father now? About his killing other fathers' children, children just like me?

Some hours later, Shabbat begins. Despite any pain, sorrow, or mourning, Shabbat shall always be a time of joy and rejoicing. I awake in the night. The beat of a nearby disco pounds the air. At two in the morning I go down and end up talking to a soldier on weekend leave, out of uniform. I mention that I went to Judy's funeral yesterday. The soldier reacts. Everyone in Israel knows her name and the names of the other seven murdered.

"Why did you go to her funeral?" he asks me.

"So I can remember," I answer. "Why are you here at this loud disco in the early morning of Shabbat?" I ask him.

"So I can forget," he answers.

So he can forget that we are all Judy's. We are all victims of this hate and insanity. Only that some are more victim than others. And I wonder... when will this 18-year-old and all others like him be able to go straight from high school to university or work -- without having to give three years of a life to fight the hate?

Yes, how much longer? How much longer until it is the "funeral of hate" that we shall attend? Then for once we can dance on a grave. "Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, neither wasting nor destruction." God himself "will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth." Then "our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with singing" and "the joy of the Almighty will be our strength."

Yes, God, how much longer?


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