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‘And by their splendour we prosper’

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“They were chosen… They sang… Now their voices are silent. The true sons of the race of David that fell with their sword in their hand. And by their splendour we prosper.”
by JORDAN MOSHE | Apr 19, 2018

These words of the late Israeli poet and journalist, Uri Tzvi Greenberg, encapsulate the sense that pervaded the Yom Hazikaron ceremony on Tuesday evening.

At the ceremony, held at Yeshiva College, the Johannesburg community came together to commemorate and celebrate the lives of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel. Jewish youth movement members read of the thoughts, dreams and prayers of those we have lost – not only to pay tribute, but also to recognise the significance of their lives.

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein read from the memoirs of the late Rabbi Yehuda Amital (of Yeshivat Har Etzion), in which he wrote about visiting his wounded students, who had taken up arms to defend Israel in the Yom Kippur War. “We came to them as Roshei Yeshiva, but there were moments that we were cut down to size in their presence, and we stood like students before their masters, awestruck by their greatness.”

Following the address of Israeli ambassador Lior Keinan, the commemoration of the fallen and celebration of their lives was beautifully rendered in song by the Solomon Brothers.

People attending the event recognised that those who made the ultimate sacrifice had afforded our lives an additional dimension of meaning. “Each one of the fallen has given each of us here tonight everything they had to give, nothing less”, said Ben Swartz, national chairman of the SA Zionist Federation. “It was handed to us unconditionally, with no terms or expectation of payback.”

In light of what we have been given, this question must follow: How are we to approach repaying this enormous debt, and how do we move forward into a future which acknowledges the lives of those who gave everything to ensure we can continue thriving?

“We make an effort here tonight, but we only start here,” said Swartz. “Tonight is fleeting: we leave and go home to comfort and security. We need to appreciate the immense debt of gratitude we owe. We need to teach our families and friends the importance of the State of Israel in the framework of being a Jew – whether here in South Africa or anywhere else in the world.”

Swartz concluded: “It is no secret that one of our greatest weaknesses as a Jewish community lies in our perceived differences. Those differences are, in fact, our greatest strength. Through unity comes strength. What better way to honour the fallen than by ensuring unity amongst ourselves?”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Natan Alterman’s poem The Silver Platter, dedicated to our heroes, was read out. Its last few lines seemed more apt than ever: “Then a nation in tears and amazement will ask: ‘Who are you?’ And they will answer quietly, ‘We are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.’ Thus they will say, and fall back in the shadows. And the rest will be told in the chronicles of Israel.”

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