This is how we live: last week I went to a memorial service for Eitan Newman, the young soldier blown up in his tank last year as he patrolled the dangerous Philadelphi road that separates Gaza from Egypt and weapons smugglers and terrorists.
Only a year ago, I paid a shiva call to his family. In the midst of her grief, his mother, Sara, asked me to tell this e-mail list to buy Israeli products, because the Israeli economy was hurting so badly. I was humbled by her request, and passed it on to you, and you responded with hundreds of heartfelt letters of condolence to Sara and her family.
The memorial was held at Himmelfarb, a religious boys’ high school where my son went. It was packed with Eitan’s family and friends, so many young men and women, many of them married and wheeling baby carriages. Those like myself, who had never met Eitan, spent the evening getting to know him, in what was a celebration of his short, beautiful life, a life filled with kindness and laughter and learning and giving. I looked at the videos of him and his friends –such a handsome, charming, clever boy. Beside me sat Esther Waxman, a friend of Sara’s, whose own soldier son was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. She had come to participate in an evening that could not have been easy for her. She had come to remember Eitan with love. Not a word of hatred or revenge or politics was heard that evening. And we left feeling like family.
A few days later, I rode out to Gush Katif and spent an afternoon speaking with Roz and Paul, friends who are farmers in Netzar Chazani. They have eight kids, seven boys, five of whom are army officers. I sat in the house they’ve built, saw the lettuce they grow in sand that brings in so many export dollars, and spoke with them about how their government is planning to throw them out of their house and land come August in exchange for….nothing. They are filled with faith that it won’t happen. Filled with love and forgiveness for their fellow Jews, who they think are mistaken.
Last night I attended a wedding. The bride was the beautiful young daughter of friends. I didn’t know much about the handsome groom.
The wedding was held in an elegant hotel. It was special. The dancing was amazing. Then someone said to me:” I don’t know how she does it.”
“Who?” I asked, puzzled.
“The mother of the groom. You must know, her daughter and husband .. last year, Cafe Hillel…”
I thought about it a minute, and then it dawned on me. The bride who had been killed in a suicide bombing the night before her wedding, along with her father, a well-known physician, who had run the emergency room at Shaare Zedek, saving the lives of so many terror victims. And now, a year later, another wedding. The bride’s brother.
I looked around the room. Many of these people had no doubt gathered the year before to attend his sister’s wedding, and had instead attended her funeral. And now they had gathered once again, to celebrate with joy, to make the bride and groom joyful, to dance and be happy.
I watched the groom’s mother, girlish as a bride herself, as she danced with the bride doing everything she could to make her happy.
I watched as the room swirled around them, everyone laughing, rejoicing. And then I watched the young groom suddenly break into the women’s circle, taking his bride by the hands and dancing with her as the room exploded with cheering, and clapping and happiness.
Whenever I think I can’t go on one more day, that the cisterns of grief are overflowing, ready to tip over and drown me, I never fail to be touched by the extraordinary spirit of the people of Israel, the most humane, giving, life-affirming people on the planet– whatever sick propaganda you might have read to the contrary.
I know we are truly God’s people. How else can you explain what I’ve just told you? Our enemies will never win.
Because love is stronger than hate.
Joy is stronger than sorrow.
And those who love life are stronger than those who value death.
Our enemies think they will win because they are willing to die. But I know we will win, because we are willing, despite everything we’ve been through, to go on living joyful, meaningful lives that are full of love.
I don’t know how it’s possible, but everyday, every hour, someone else shows me how it’s done.
God bless them.
And God bless all of you who love the people of Israel.