Independence Day is a time for parades, flag waving, red, white and blue clothing and face paint, barbeques, perhaps a reading of the Declaration of Independence and public displays of Roman candles. But the real fireworks came from a pen wielded in Philadelphia in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson."When in the course of Human Events"...
On Tuesday, I sat in a small office at the JCC with 7 other women watching the burial of Gilad, Naphtali and Eyal, marking the end of an 18-day ordeal. Their bodies, wrapped in blue and white Israeli flags, were side by side beside the podium, while thousands upon thousands of Israelis from all walks of life, from all religious streams, from all political parties, marched into the city of the Maccabees, Modi'in, to be present as they were laid into the ground. It was an expression of a spontaneous day of national mourning.
After the three fathers said kaddish together, and passionate, eloquent eulogies were given, a visibly emotional Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to the podium. The pain of the entire nation and world Jewry was etched on his face.
The Channel we were watching was all in Hebrew. Although there were two Israelis among us, I tried my best to translate the essence of what was said, between choking sobs. I confess that there was no way in which I caught every word that Bibi said but I understood when he addressed the mothers and the fathers of these three boys. While acknowledging that he could not know their pain entirely, he indicated that he, too, had suffered a terrible loss 38 years ago by terrorists, in the same week as this heinous crime. July 4th 1976.
It was not necessary for Bibi to mention Yonatan, his older brother, by name nor to pronounce the word Entebbe. The audience knew well of what Bibi spoke: Operation Thunderbolt and the miraculous rescue of 100 Jews by Israel in the remote African airport of Entebbe, Uganda, 2,500 miles away from Israel.
There was no such miraculous rescue this time during Operation Brother's Keepers. President Peres said: "We prayed, each of us alone and all of us together, for a miracle...Sadly we were hit by the tragedy of their murder." But he said that despite the pain felt by the entire nation, the murderers' objectives would ultimately backfire. "Terror is a boomerang. It is aimed at us but it will harm those who send it."
Entebbe was a defining moment in the history of the Jewish people. It also served as a warning to every democracy from England to Spain to Turkey and France, that they, that no democratic state, that, in fact, no country is safe from terrorism. We have only to look at Iraq and Afghanistan, at Syria; anywhere that hatred and evil exists.
On July 4th, 1976, as the Tall Ships from around the world sailed into New York Harbor, Israel launched a surprise, lightning- quick operation to rescue the 105 Jewish and Israeli hostages and the French crew who refused to leave while other non-Jewish passengers were released by the Palestinian and German hijackers of an Air France Flight 139, from Israel to Paris, via Athens.
Led by Lt. Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, the operation was scheduled to be on the ground for one hour. In fact, the 200 elite troops were on the ground but 58 minutes. Eleven Russian-built MiG fighters were destroyed, all 7 terrorists and 45 Ugandan soldiers died, along with 3 hostages. Yoni Netanyahu was felled by a bullet from a Uganda sniper as he led the hostages to safety. The mission was later renamed Operation Jonathan in his memory.
Just as now during the interminable 18 days before the bodies of "our boys" were found in a field near Hebron, then Jews around the world followed the events at they unfolded from the moment the plane was hijacked on June 27th. When the news was announced that the Jews had been rescued by the Israelis, it was the topic of news on every TV and radio station, overshadowing the Bicentennial 4th of July celebrations. In fact, even the NYTimes changed the headline to read HOSTAGES FREED AS ISRAELIS RAID UGANDA AIRPORT. It was a feat of derring-do that was applauded around the world.
The Israeli Embassy had announced on June 29th, that two combat craft, the missile boats Yaffo and Tarshish,would represent Israel in New York harbor and remain in American waters for special events on the East Coast. Tiny boats compared to the Tall Ships that majestically sailed into the Hudson River and circled the Statue of Liberty, the Yaffo and Tarshish, bearing the Israeli flag, were applauded everywhere they sailed. In the course of events, these were the days when little
David defeated Goliath by careful preparation, ingenuity and courage. As we Americans marked our 200th anniversary, the reborn State of Israel reminded us that freedom is a value which must be fought for.
Thirty-eight years later the scourge of hatred and terror has not abated. Eyal's tearful father, Uri, spoke at his funeral. " Our tears are just because we are human," he said. "We have hearts of flesh and blood. We love people and we have love, we have love and it will win."
In this week's parasha, Balak, Bil'am gazes down at the Israelite camp from a distance, intending to curse them. Instead magnificent words of blessing and praise emerge from his lips: " How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel." This week, we saw the virtuous, righteous nation of Israel. The example of the parents of the three slain teenagers showed us remarkable grace, resilience and strength. Each of the families urged Israelis to remain united and refused to succumb to rage, to vengeance and retaliation.
Sadly, we have also seen cries of "Death to the Arabs" and very likely the reprisal murder of 16 year old Muhammad, a Palestinian boy abducted and killed in a forest in Jerusalem.
With all my heart, I hope that Bilaam's blessing will continue to represent the very best of humanity, nobility and Jewish values. The words of Naftali's father and mother, and the statement of Hussein Abu Khadeer should be paramount: "I am against kidnapping and killing, whether a Jew or Arab."
At our communal gathering Thursday evening, I shared the words of Rav Kook, first chief rabbi of Israel:
The pure righteous people do not complain about evil but rather they add justice,
They do not complain about heresy but rather they add faith,
They do not complain about ignorance, but rather add wisdom."
May we all seek to add justice, faith and wisdom to our own lives, to the community, and to the world in the name of Naftali Frankel, (z"l), Gilad Sha'ar (z"l), and Eyal Yifrach (z"l) whose lives were cut too short. And may we all merit to be worthy of the blessing of goodly tents and dwelling places.
Wishing you a shabbat shalom and a meaningful July Fourth,