Of Funerals

Several weeks ago, I wrote about our 19-year-old grandson studying at an Israeli college, who attended his first funeral. It was not the funeral of an aged relative, but of someone only slightly older than him, who was killed fighting in the war in Gaza. Last week it was the turn of our daughter’s 13-year-old son to attend his first funeral.

The young, London-born soldier who was buried this week, Binyamin (Benjamin) Yehoshua (Joshua) Needham, had just turned 19 and grew up in the same town where our daughter and her family live. Our family did not know his, but then neither did most of the thousands who came to share the bereaved family’s pain.

There have been too many funerals in Israel in the past few months. Between those who were massacred, some of whom are only being ID’d now based on bone fragments and ashes, and soldiers killed in battle, no one in that small country has been unscathed. Beyond friendships and family, everyone shares a feeling that each person who dies defending their homeland, or who was murdered because they are Jewish and/or Israeli (for there are Christian and Druze and Bedouin Israelis dying as well) belongs to an extended family. When a funeral such as this one takes place, neighbors and those who drive in, flock to line the streets that the family drives on as they go to the cemetery, and then they follow and participate in the service. Those who are in another country would be considered strangers pay condolence calls during the week of mourning, sharing in the sorrow.

Our daughter and son-in-law gave their oldest, 13-year-old son the choice whether to accompany them to the funeral or not. He chose to accompany his parents to show his appreciation to Binyamin, a champion kickboxer who was the youngest child in a close-knit family. Present in our grandson’s mind had to be the realization that he, too, would be called on to lay his life on the line in just a few short years. Parents, like our children, who yearn to keep their own children safe quickly recognize that those children, barely reaching maturity, willingly accept the responsibility of protecting them.

Israel is engaged in yet another existential war for survival. Not only the survival of the State of Israel, but the survival of the people of Israel, Jews around the world, and, indeed, all those who wish to live in civilization rather than barbarism. We are in no doubt as to what “…from the river to the sea…” means. We are in no doubt about why Palestinians have consistently rejected a two-state-living-peacefully-side-by-side solution.

No one alive today was old enough to be a decision-maker or a voter in 1938 or 1939 when World War II was still a shadow on the horizon. World War 1 with its incomprehensible bloodletting had been a mere twenty years earlier and a war-weary England chose not to confront Hitler as he seized the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, the Rhineland, and Austria. A prescient Churchill warned that those who abandon honor in the hope of having peace will end up with neither. He was right. Instead of eliminating the Nazis in 1936 when it would have been relatively easy, England and the Allies were forced into a long and bloody second world war. Ignoring evil has never worked well in the past and it will not work well in the present. Even a thirteen-year-old who has been prematurely thrust into a dark reality understands that.

This Musing is dedicated in the memory of Benji Needham, age 19, and his fallen comrades.

With prayers for the safe release of Amit Buskila, who turned 28 while in captivity. May she and her fellow hostages return to us along with the bodies of those who were murdered after being taken to Gaza.

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