Everyone’s Sons, Everyone’s Brothers

The levayah late Monday night of Nissim Sean Carmeli, H”yd, attended by 20,000 mostly strangers who feared that there wouldn’t be a respectable turnout for this “lone soldier” who fell in Gaza,  tells the story of connection, miracles and the way Am Yisrael values every single life.

Lone soldiers, in army parlance, are those who don’t have parents in Israel. They receive a few extra privileges, including assistance with housing and special vacation arrangements, in consideration of the fact that they don’t have family to pamper them when they come home for Shabbos and breaks, no one to do their laundry and prepare hot water for their aching, blistered feet.

But lone soldiers are also at a disadvantage when the worst happens and they fall in action. They don’t have the same roots in Israel, the same network of family, friends from school, shul, youth groups, parents’ friends and co-workers. How terrible it would be if one’s parents were to fly in for the funeral and have barely a minyan to say Kaddish for their son. What would that say about the country’s appreciation for their ultimate sacrifice?

It was that thought, and profound gratitude to Carmeli, one of 13 Golani soldiers killed in battle Sunday, that prompted 20,000 people to come to Haifa, religious and secular, young and old. They came from all over the country for a midnight funeral, facing hours of traffic jams on their way home, because, in the words of the notice asking people to attend, “it’s the least we can do for him and for our People.”

One participant, Anat, a 56-year-old teacher, explained why she had come from Tel Aviv for a perfect stranger.“Maybe because we didn’t know him, he represents everything,” she said with tear-filled eyes. “He is everyone’s son, everyone’s brother.”

Indeed, Carmeli, the 21-year-old from South Padre, Texas, who was described by his Chabad Rabbi as a “gentle, kind boy,” is everyone’s son and brother. And any Jew, anywhere, who gazes at his picture and those of the other fallen soldiers — young men who were literally moser nefesh to try to help end the dual terror threat of missiles and tunnels — recognizes them as sons and brothers.

The funeral also provided an opportunity to appreciate how much Israel is dependent on miracles, especially during this period of rocket fire and despite the accomplishments of the Iron Dome.

As the aron was being lowered into the grave, an air-raid siren went off. “People looked at each other and didn’t know what to do,” said Ilana, a Haifa resident and mother of five. “There was an announcement over a loudspeaker that everyone should turn off their cell phones, lie down flat on the ground and cover their heads with their hands. But it was too crowded for people to lie down, so we just stood there.”

(A day before, in Rishon LeTzion, large fragments fell from a missile that had been hit by Iron Dome, barely missing kindergarten children in what Channel 2 News called an open miracle. Mayor Dov Tzur, who visited the site after the incident, said: “We saw a small depression in the earth where the shrapnel fell in the playground. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if shrapnel had fallen in the yard while children were playing.”)

Finally, the huge turnout was a testament to how Am Yisrael values life. When Carmeli’s father recited Kaddish, and the crowd responded with a fervent “Amen!,” one person, Ruchama,  observed: “Let the enemy see this: This is our response. … We care about even one soldier.”

Some are critical of the raw emotion shown at military funerals. They argue that the pictures of grieving soldiers, crying openly, transmit weakness and encourage the enemy.

To the contrary: The feelings of achdus, the deep emotion and sadness that sweeps the entire country and Jews the world over, is strength. It shows just how much we care for each and every Jew, for the pain of every bereaved parent, widow and orphan who is left behind.

Our enemies can only look on with envy at a people that displays such concern and connection.

There are a number of meaningful projects underway that give us the opportunity to “adopt” a soldier in combat, to take the name of one specific individual in Gaza, “our” soldier, for whom to daven and learn and do acts of chessed that should serve as a protection.

It is that concern that we show for one another that brings nachas ruach to our Creator and ultimately merits Divine protection. At this time of year, during the Three Weeks, we need to “take advantage” of this difficult moment to strive for new heights in ahavas Yisrael so that we may merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, bimheira b’yameinu.